Monday, July 20, 2015

Episode VII: The 2nd Teaser, Celebration Anaheim, and Vanity Fair

In April, Star Wars Celebration Anaheim took place. There we got our first real look at Episode VII, starting with the second teaser trailer.



WOW.
It's funny. Much like the last teaser, this one doesn't really tell us all that much about what's happening. We just get little glimpses. It is a teaser after all, not a trailer. But those glimpses are so much more powerful and rich with detail than they were in that first teaser. But the biggest thing about the teaser isn't so much any specific detail, but the way that all the aspects of it build into one idea. I'll explain in a bit.

That voiceover. Hearing Luke's lines from Return of the Jedi again gave me all kinds of chills. Normally reused lines aren't my favorite thing in trailers, but this made it really work. Part of it has to do with the fact that it ties The Force Awakens back to the Original Trilogy in a way nothing else has yet, but there's also the fact that it seems to imply a lot about the movie's story. Luke is talking primarily about three things: the Force, family, and the idea of passing on that power to someone new.  The lines sync up with the footage and highlight specific ideas:
"My father has it" - We see Vader's burnt helmet, probably taken from the Endor funeral pyre. Who took it, and what significance does it have?
"I have it" - A cloaked figure with a robotic hand reaches out for R2-D2; almost certainly Luke.
"My sister has it" - A short alien figure passes the famous saber of Anakin Skywalker to a woman who we assume is Leia.
"You have that power, too" - This is the big one. In ROTJ he was, of course, talking to Leia, but the way the line is removed from the rest of the exchange, it's different. The screen is black, as if Luke isn't speaking in regard to anyone specific. It feels like he's speaking to us. That whole idea—"you have that power, too"—is something that was hugely important to the Original Trilogy, with Luke essentially standing in for us, the audience. We were Luke in the OT; Ben Kenobi and Yoda weren't training Luke; they were training all of us. Symbolically, the trailer seems to hand over the reins of Star Wars to the people again. It's no longer going to be us staring into windows watching monks and politicians go about their idiotic business as in the prequels; this is a story made for us, here and now. I may be reading too deep into that, but it feels right.

There's a big theme in the teaser: relationships. Not only is Luke talking about his family, but all through the trailer we see people reaching out to one another in various ways:




And, of course, it ends with the epic nostalgia moment that is seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca reunited on the Millennium Falcon.


"We're home" is that last beat that sent us all into tears of joy. And it's not just a nostalgia trip, either. Han and Chewie's friendship was never the deepest, exactly, but it always felt real. Maybe like two best friends, maybe like a boy and his dog, but it was always one of the more authentic-feeling things in Star Wars. I've written on this blog before about how Star Wars needs to be a personal story in order for it to be great, and this feels like it's going to do that exactly.

Also there's a bunch of rad stormtroopers and spaceships.





One of them is chrome and has a cape. A CAPE. And her name is Captain Phasma. It's like photon mixed with plasma. It's a cool name.


A quick, light highlight reel from the opening panel where the teaser was first shown:




Shortly after Celebration Anaheim, Vanity Fair revealed their epic photos taken on the sets of The Force Awakens.











Pretty cool stuff.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Episode VII: Title and Teaser

One aspect of the Episode VII production that I did comment on in a timely manner was the casting announcement—which you can read here—hence why I'm now skipping it and going straight to the title and teaser announcements.




Before we talk about The Force Awakens' title, let's quickly look back at all the previous movie titles. There are two things that I think are most important in a Star Wars title:
1. It must be accurate to the movie  - This should go without saying, really.
2. It needs to be catchy and/or ear-pleasing. Something that feels nice to read and hear.
3. It needs to be exciting. "Active" titles that use verbs or other words that imply action are good.

1977: Star Wars - A lot of people forget that Episode IV: A New Hope wasn't originally called that. It was Star Wars, plain and simple. Short, catchy, epic, and exciting.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back is epic. Arguably the best Star Wars movie title. It's exciting, active, and perfectly accurate to both the events and tone of the movie.

1981: When Star Wars was re-released in 81, it was subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope. A New Hope makes sense given the movie's story, but it's rather flat and boring. However, since it's only a subtitle and wasn't even used at the film's release, it kind of doesn't matter.

1983: Return of the Jedi isn't as powerful of a title as the originally-proposed Revenge of the Jedi, but it makes more sense. After all, it's not as though Luke or any other Jedi actually takes revenge at any point—unless we're counting Vader offing Palpatine at the end? In any case, Return of the Jedi sounds a little too close to the title of The Lord of the Rings' 3rd-and-final book, The Return of the King, but it's still a pretty good title overall.

1999: The Phantom Menace. Honestly, it took me a long while to figure out just what the "phantom menace" was referring to. I suppose Darth Sidious's hologram does kind of look like a ghost, but only kinda. It's also not an active title. Rather than the "phantom" attacking or revenging or actually doing anything, he's... menacing? To be fair, that's a pretty accurate picture of what goes on in the movie, but in that case I think I'd rather have a title like "Attack of the Droid Army" or something that actually describes what action there actually is in the movie.

2002: Attack of the Clones is probably the silliest title, but it's definitely active. It was said by many that the single best part of the entire film was the Battle of Geonosis at the end, so maybe it's fitting that the movie takes its title from that.

2005: Revenge of the Sith is easily the best-fitting title. Not only does it perfectly describe what happens, but it also parallels Return of the Jedi and its original Revenge title. Any Star Wars fan worth their spice knew about the Return/Revenge dichotomy, and the Revenge of the Sith title was instantly embraced.

2015: The Force Awakens.
It feels like it's halfway there. On one hand, it does have a verb—"awakens"—but as verbs go, "awakens" is about as soft as you can get. It's a bit gentle for what is supposed to be an epic action movie. TFA also uses "the Force," which is something that, oddly, no previous Star Wars film has done. It makes sense to reference the Force, so it's nice to have that in a title. On the other hand, we have zero point of reference at this point for what "the Force awakens" actually means. Was the Force asleep? Is it getting more powerful? Is it actually the Force that's waking, or are people in the Galaxy waking up to the Force? I'm left here with questions, but not in a good way. "Awakens" is just too soft a word to denote the primary action or arc of the story. Now, perhaps when the movie is out it'll all make sense. But for now, The Force Awakens is, for me, a title that works just fine, but doesn't exactly soar.


Now then, onto the first teaser trailer:



Well, "teaser" is certainly accurate. We barely see more than glimpses of anything. And here's the worst part: they're teases of things we've already seen, either through official press photos, video messages from JJ on the set, or leaks. Seriously, just about everything in the trailer short of the little ball droid and the crossguard saber were things we'd seen before. In fact, a lot of the teaser felt like a summary of the leaks so far: the stormtrooper helmets, the new X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon, the concept art of Daisy Ridley's character on her speeder, etc. However, since I haven't actually covered any of those leaks, I suppose I'll actually go ahead and give my thoughts on everything in the teaser.

John Boyega in a desert! And that's all we see. He's clearly in distress, but why? No idea.

A ball droid! Also in a desert! Also with no context. He looks good, at least.

Daisy Ridley riding a fudgesicle! I have no thoughts, really.


These new stormtrooper helmets are RAD. Seriously, they might be my favorite trooper helmets ever. Not even joking. The two shots of the troopers we see implies a heavy assault situation of some kind. I liked the intensity of it.



Oh yes. Here we go. X-Wings in flight. We have never seen X-Wings look this good before. It's a new design, but it's actually very close to the old Ralph McQuarrie concept art for the original X-Wing. And having them against the water like that shows just how fast they're going. It's really intense.


And here's a pilot guy. The Rebel pilots were my favorite part of the OT, so this makes me happy for no good reason.

And here we have the thing everybody was talking about: the crossguard/broadsword lightsaber. I like the crossguard. Star Wars has always been more fantasy than science fiction, so a medieval-style laser sword makes sense. Also, the blade looks "rough," almost like it's either a very old saber or one cobbled together without the usual expertise of a Jedi, which implies some interesting things about its origins and its wielder.

And here we have the Falcon. I'd say it's nice to see her, but for some reason this shot doesn't do a thing for me.

Last thing to mention: the voiceover. It's a dark, possibly non-human voice, referring to "an awakening," both of "the dark side and the light." So at least we know now that "The Force Awakens" is an appropriate title, probably. But we still don't know what the awakening means. Are there new Force-users popping up in the galaxy? What exactly is happening with the Force?

So, overall, what did I think of the teaser? Meh. Saber aside, it didn't reveal anything new to the hardcore fans who'd been following Episode VII news, and it "teased" mostly in ways that didn't create interest. The shots were so short and out of context that it really didn't do anything other than say "this is a movie that exists." Which we already knew. After watching the teaser, I think my interest for the movie actually went down, not up.


Bonus Round: Trading Cards!

After the reveal of the teaser, Lucasfilm released photos of fictional trading cards for The Force Awakens meant to mimic the old trading cards for the OT films. This is where most of the new characters' names were revealed.










There's not really much to say about the names, other than the fact that BB-8 is about as perfect a name as anyone could have for that little guy.


Next up: the second teaser.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Episode VII: JJ Abrams

So it occurs to me that I haven't really been writing much at all about Episode VII, despite it coming out last this year. So, starting now, I'm going to hyperspace backward in time and cover all of the big moments in Episode VII news.

I already wrote about the Disney purchase and the announcement of the sequel films themselves, so you can read that here.

First up: J.J. Abrams' announcement as director.


JJ is an interesting filmmaker. On one hand, he's a genius that makes great stories. He's had a hand in creating lots of TV shows—Lost, Alias, Fringe, etc: fantastic stuff. He's also made some great movies: Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8, etc. On the flipside, he's got a bad reputation among some fans for essentially turning Star Trek, a highly cerebral science fiction franchise, into a dumb roller coaster ride. While I do definitely agree that the two Abrams Trek films are disappointments and only hurt Star Trek (particularly the second one, I don't particularly share the concerns about his involvement with Star Wars. Here's why:

It's been said more than once that Abrams only made Star Trek in order to help his friends, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, get their Star Trek movie made. He lent his storytelling ability to the project, yes, but he was largely there to pass forward Orci and Kurtzman's vision for Star Trek. Almost every single major fan complaint about the new Trek films is due to decisions made by Orci and Kurtzman, not Abrams. While Abrams is to blame for the "style" of the new Trek films, the real problems with those films were on a script level.

Also, JJ has said repeatedly that he didn't really understand Star Trek, and did the best with what he could. And that's not a crime; countless Trek directors didn't know what they were doing when they stepped into the captain's chair. If one thing is largely true about the Abrams Trek films, it's that they're never lazy. There are countless bad story decisions for sure, but the guiding hand behind the camera is never not trying. In any case, while JJ apparently didn't "get" Trek, he certainly seems to get Star Wars.

With Super 8, JJ showed that while he may not understand Star Trek's cerebral nature, he absolutely understands the Lucas/Spielberg filmmaking style of the 80s—which, of course, includes Star Wars.  There's a throughline in all of Abrams' films: feeling. In Abrams films, what's happening in the story, no matter how trivial or how epic, always matters to the characters. Mission Impossible III was the first time in the M:I series that the characters actually cared about anything or were ever in emotional jeopardy rather than only physical. More than that, the cast actually had chemistry. They weren't just Hollywood characters running around in a generic spy plot; they were people that the audience cared about. Star Trek, for all its faults, carries that torch. Kirk and Spock have personal stakes in what happens. Perhaps that's part of the problem: Trek can't be objective and cerebral when its characters are dealing too much with emotion. But just because that style is a bad fit for Trek doesn't mean it's a bad fit for Wars. Quite the opposite, honestly.

George Lucas has said many, many things about Star Wars, but one thing seems relevant here: Star Wars is an emotional story, not a cerebral one. That isn't to say, of course, that Star Wars can't be intelligent or stimulate the audience on an intellectual level, merely that Star Wars is primarily meant to pull at the audience's heart and soul. It's the relationships between people that make the Star Wars original trilogy work so perfectly, and why the prequels often fell flat. Everything that matters in Star Wars matters because it matters to the characters. Luke joins the Rebellion not out of blind principle, but because the Empire made it personal by slaughtering his family. Han saves Luke in the Battle of Yavin because he's come to care for Luke as a friend. Luke throws aside his anger towards Vader out of unconditional love for his father. It's those personal connections that made Star Wars great, and what can make it great again.

Now, of course, you may be wondering: if JJ Abrams wasn't able to make Star Trek great despite making the story personal and emotional, how is Star Wars going to be any different?

"It's not what you say, it's how you say it."
A writer tells a story; a director determines how that story is delivered. A script sets up the drama; a director makes you feel that story. If Episode VII's story is solid, JJ can knock it out of the park. Which leads me to my next point...

JJ is not the only one making the movie. Kathleen Kennedy, a producer who's worked with Lucas and Spielberg for decades, is the current president of Lucasfilm. From a creative standpoint, she effectively has George Lucas's old job: to oversee the story and guide it, even if not directly hands-on. Furthermore, Episode VII's script is largely written by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It's not JJ Abrams alone making Episode VII: it's a dream team of incredibly talented people who are in the perfect position to make a great Star Wars movie.

So, yes, given everything I've seen of Abrams' work (all his movies and a good chunk of his TV career), I think he's a great choice to direct the next Star Wars movie. Last thought: in Super 8, we met a cast of children who were completely unimportant, aside from the fact that they were people, and at the end of the day, that's good enough. For all the talk about destiny and the Force, if there's one thing that made Luke Skywalker a great character, it was that he was essentially just a person. If Abrams can make us care about a group of annoying kids in the 80s, I can't wait to see what he does with the Skywalker legacy.


Next up: the movie's title and the first teaser trailer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rebels: "Spark of Rebellion"



So here we are, at the start of a new Star Wars TV series. This first episode (movie?), "Spark of Rebellion," isn't necessarily ground-breaking, but it kicks off Rebels with a pretty good start.

"Spark of Rebellion" is lots of fun, and lays the groundwork well for the characters and story. That being said, that's almost all it does. It understandably spends a lot of time introducing all the characters and setting the tone for the show. It's a fun ride, but it does definitely feel like the "spark" for what's to come later.

The music is one big standout in this show. Whereas The Clone Wars almost never used the classic John Williams themes, Rebels uses them all over the place—some might say even too much. But then again, it's probably better to have recognizable, good Star Wars music than not, so I'm not complaining.

Ezra Bridger is an interesting protagonist. Most viewers of the Original Trilogy found themselves relating to the naive Luke, but more cynical viewers could relate well to the world-weary Han. In Rebels, Ezra acts like somewhat of a combination of the two: naive and good-hearted, but often also trickster-like and self-serving. And just like Han and Luke, he finds himself in a group of rebels fighting the Empire. Ezra is just barely on this side of likable, which is good. He's certainly off to a better start than Ahsoka was in the Clone Wars movie. It's curious that they're introducing not one but two Force-users (three? four?) into Rebels already, but we'll have to see how it plays out.

The rest of the characters don't get much chance to shine, aside from Kanan. And even he seems to be somewhat of a mystery. We basically learn that he's a former Jedi and... that's it. Kanan is the former Jedi-now-turned-freedom-fighter. Zeb is the gruff muscle guy. Hera is the pilot and moral center of the team. Sabine is the explosives expert with cool armor. Chopper is a mean astromech droid. It'll be cool to see how the crew develops, but for now, they're just kinda there.



There's even less to say about the villains. Agent Kallus is a competent but generic Imperial officer so far, and we don't even really meet the Inquisitor yet. Darth Vader shows up via hologram in the extended cut of the episode, which is somewhat unnecessary aside from one interesting detail: Vader says that the Emperor wants Force-sensitive children killed only if they can't be used as weapons. It was assumed before that the Empire wiped out all the Jedi indiscriminately, but the idea that the Empire was also using Force-sensitives as tools (like the Inquisitor himself?) is a whole new wrinkle. It's not that dissimilar to Mara Jade's role as the Emperor's Hand in the Expanded Universe, but this is the new canon.


Lastly, there's one other thing to mention: Obi-Wan Kenobi's holo-message. It's implied that this is the message Obi-Wan sent out during Revenge of the Sith to all remaining Jedi after Order 66. It's also the Clone Wars version of Obi-Wan, still played by James Arnold Taylor. This is the passing of the torch from The Clone Wars to Rebels, using Revenge of the Sith as a midpoint.

At the end of the day, "Spark of Rebellion" is a fun start, but it'll be great to actually get into the meat of the story later on.


7/10


Extras:

"Spark of Rebellion" on StarWars.com

Rebels

So it's been a while since I posted anything, huh?

Now that Star Wars: Rebels has finished its first season, I'm gonna go back and review every episode of it. I'll also put "extras" at the end of those posts, like StarWars.com's "Rebels Recon" series.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Star Wars

The first draft of the Star Wars screenplay was famously different from the final film. J.W. Rinzler and Dark Horse Comics recently adapted that original screenplay as an eight-issue comic miniseries, The Star Wars. I read it yesterday; here are my thoughts.

First of all, it cannot be overstated just how different The Star Wars is from Star Wars. The plot barely even resembles the movie, and while many characters' names are similar, the actual characters themselves are completely different. Here's a quick list of some of the major differences:

-Versions of Luke, Anakin, and Leia are in the story, but they are all completely unrelated to one another.
   -Luke Skywalker is an older, gray-haired, battle-hardened war general.
   -Anakin Skywalker is Annikin Starkiller, a young hotheaded Jedi.
   -Leia is more spoiled and stuck-up than in the film, and she is princess of the planet Aquilae rather than Alderaan.

-The film character of Anakin/Darth Vader is actually four separate characters in The Star Wars:
   -Annikin Starkiller, the young Jedi
   -Darth Vader, the non-Jedi brutal war general
   -Prince Valorum, a Sith Lord
   -Kane Starkiller, Annikin's father, who is revealed to be more machine than man

-The Jedi and the Force are all very different
   -The Jedi-Bendu are actual knights, not spiritual monks. No philosophies of non-violence are ever mentioned.
   -The Knights of Sith, a rival sect of Jedi, are villains, but not pure evil as in the films.
   -The Force is always referred to as "the Force of others," and is never explained.
   -The Force is never said to have a light or dark side, and no morality is ever applied to it.
   -Jedi don't display any supernatural abilities other than being unusually good with swords.

-Planets
   -Coruscant is named Alderaan
   -The film versions of Alderaan and Tatooine seem to be combined into the desert planet Aquilae, which somewhat resembles Arrakis from Dune.
   -Yavin is the homeworld of the wookiees, and their story is near-exactly the same as the Ewoks' story in Return of the Jedi.
   -The Death Star is merely named the Space Fortress.

-Relationships
   -There are echoes of the Skywalker family relationships from the films. Kane Starkiller, whose more-machine-than-man body echoes Darth Vader's, has two children, his oldest son Annikin and his younger son, Deak. Leia has two younger siblings, a boy and a girl, who are twins.
   -Leia and Annikin have a relationship very similar to the Han/Leia romance from the films, but with the added bonus of the romantic scenes from Luke's rescue of Leia in the Death Star.
   -Han and Chewbacca don't meet each other until late in the story. Also, Han is a green alien.

I could list more and more differences, but it would take entirely too long. Suffice it to say that while plenty of names are the same between versions, virtually nothing about the story or who the characters actually are is the same.


When I first began reading the story, I was completely engaged in it. It felt familiar, but a lot closer to Flash Gordon or John Carter of Mars than Star Wars ever was. It was... older; a bit more gritty. Less concerned with moral platitudes and more concerned with epic science fantasy war storytelling. As I read along, a thought crept into my head: could this story actually end up being better than Star Wars? After I finished the book, I mentally responded: Pfff, no.

The Star Wars is fascinating reading, but it has no actual story, at least not one worth telling. Two movies' worth of plot is crammed into a single story, with endless amounts of action and adventure, but absolutely none of it means a blasted thing.

Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker: it means something because he means something to us. Watching him grow up over the course of three movies is powerful and relatable; it gives the entire saga meaning where it would otherwise be the tale of a bunch of random people no one cares about running around and blasting each other. And that's what The Star Wars is.

There are entirely too many important characters in The Star Wars (at least 21 by my count, over Star Wars' ten) and none of them grow or change in any way whatsoever. The only development of any kind is the fact that Annikin and Leia suddenly decide they're in love with one another—not too long after he punches her in the face. It's a whole thing. Additionally, the fact that the Force almost doesn't exist is a problem. Without the Force and its literalization of good and evil, the story loses a profound amount of meaning.

So yes, I'm very glad that The Star Wars was never made in its first draft form. Epic battles and a vast universe paint a wonderful canvas, but without the character and meaning to fill it out, it's an empty canvas.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Musings on the Lightsaber

I've spent a long, long time compiling knowledge about lightsabers—both in-universe lore and behind-the-scenes information about the lightsaber props themselves. I figured I'd share.



Behind the Scenes

1. Lightsaber props were made from random junk.
The original lightsaber (Luke/Anakin's in Star Wars) was an old press camera flash handle (a Graflex 3-Cell) with strips of black rubber T-track glued onto its sides to make "grips." Darth Vader's saber was made from a different flash handle (a Heiland MPP), but otherwise followed the same process. Ben Kenobi's saber was made from a shower faucet, a gear, a sink knob, a clamp from a flash handle, and the shell of a World War II British grenade. It wasn't until Luke's second lightsaber showed up in Return of the Jedi that a handcrafted, custom-machined lightsaber prop was first used.


2. Saber props used to actually "glow."
The original "lit" lightsaber props actually had a rotating pole with reflective tape on the blade, so that when a light was shone through the camera lens, the light would bounce back, thus creating a shimmering effect. VFX technology had advanced by the time of The Empire Strikes Back, so this idea was completely thrown out in favor of simply painting over the film footage in post-production.



In-Universe

1. Lightsabers aren't actually made of light
This "fact" is possibly not canon any longer due to the recent continuity changes, but it's been pretty well-established in the Expanded Universe thus far that lightsaber blades aren't "lasers;" they're tightly-wound loops of coiled plasma (the stuff stars are made out of) held in place by a magnetic field. So really, they're plasma chainsaws.


2. Lightsaber blades are opaque
Saber blades apparently block energy, like force fields and blaster bolts. So it makes sense that they'd also block light. This is a screencap from The Clone Wars season 1, "Defenders of Peace:"


Apparently whatever light is shining on Ahsoka is actually brighter than her lightsaber. As someone once put it, "it's like shining a flashlight on a glow stick." It'll still cast a shadow.


3. Lightsabers aren't that bright
For some bizarre reason, lightsabers rarely cast light on other objects near them. Now, in the OT era, this makes sense, as special effects technology wouldn't necessarily allow for that. Or perhaps the science of saber blades is, in fact, much more complicated than we might think, and they really don't cast light on other objects somehow. But then we have scenes like this one from Attack of the Clones:


Clearly, lightsabers actually do illuminate their environment, just to a minor degree. So perhaps they're just not very bright? Maybe the white core of a saber is just an optical illusion of sorts, not actually something bright enough to be white. But The Phantom Menace seems to contradict that.


Here we can see a close-up of Obi-Wan's blade, and (in a brilliant VFX move) it seems that the saber blade is behaving exactly as a white-bright light source does when a camera focuses close to it. In order to counteract the brightness of the blade, the overall exposure is turned down, causing the normally-white blade to appear solid blue. This is proof, of sorts, that lightsaber blades are, in fact, colored blades so bright that they appear white at the center. And they are REALLY bright...


Luke holds his saber up against the sky on Tatooine and it still appears white at the core. So if that's a real representation of the light level of a blade, that means it's brighter than the sky itself, possibly as bright as the sun. And yet it still doesn't actually cast light on other objects.

So yeah. The light levels of a saber blade don't make any sense. The only potential way to justify it is to say that the "camera" is picking up the lightsaber blade the same way cameras often pick up real-world replica lightsabers. Here's an old picture of me holding my Master Replicas Luke FX saber:

Spoilers: it's not actually that bright. At best, it's a solid light blue, but never white like that. The camera overadjusts for the low light and makes it look brighter. Of course, that wouldn't explain why lightsabers in the blinding twin-sun light of Tatooine look white, but oh well.

It seems like for the time being, this is one in-universe mystery that will go unsolved.


4. Sabers move funny



It's a common misconception among geeks that since lightsaber blades are "made of energy," they're weightless, thus when you swing a lightsaber, you're essentially only swinging the handle. That's only partially true, and a lot more complicated.

While plasma is essentially weightless, this doesn't mean that wielding a lightsaber is the same as holding the hilt. George Lucas himself was insistent during the filming of the original Star Wars that lightsabers were supposed to be incredibly heavy due to the incredible amount of energy coursing through them. However, as the OT films progressed and fights became faster, this idea was somewhat dropped. The "official" EU explanation for sabers having weight has been that the magnetic field created by a saber blade causes it to drag through space, essentially simulating mass where there is none.

Now, to be technical, there is a difference between "having mass" and "being heavy." Lightsaber blades do seem to have the inertial effect of mass, as Jedi seem to have to "work with" their blades as any swordsman would. Additionally, lightsabers do have some force of impact on things they hit. Battle droids not only are sliced in half by lightsaber blades, but also buckle under the force of the hit. When Yoda throws his lightsaber at a clone trooper in Revenge of the Sith, the saber "sticks" in the trooper's torso, like a thrown sword or knife.

However, saber wielders don't seem to react to their blades being ignited whatsoever. There's no kickback from the ignition, no sudden weight seems to be applied, no-nothing. It just flicks on as if it were always there, although once it's on, the "simulated mass" inertial effect seems to apply. So the blade itself isn't necessarily "heavy;" it just behaves like a sword when it's swung.

Random interesting note: In the Clone Wars season 1 episode, "Hostage Crisis," Padmé holds Anakin's lightsaber hilt and notes that it's heavy. This might be a reference to the behind-the-scenes "weight" aspect, although realistically speaking, the hilt would actually need some weight in order to provide adequate balance for the "mass" of the blade. Otherwise it'd handle like a baseball bat.

Of course, the "real" reason lightsabers seem to have mass is because the actual props used by the actors do, in fact, have mass, and there's no way to film around that and have it look real. But then again, lightsabers are intended to behave like swords anyway. Lucas himself was insistent upon that fact. So in the end, lightsabers are a bizarre intersection of myth, wonky science fiction, and real sword physics.