The Graflex Flash in the Galaxy, Far Far Away

Curator's Note

The Graflex 3 cell flashgun occupies a distinct position within film history. Prop maker Roger Christian utilized these common, though well out-dated photographic tools, for the hilt of the iconic Star Wars lightsaber. As fans later endeavored to make their own replica Star Wars lightsaber to the exact look and specifications of the film prop, the Graflex flash became an intensely sought-after item on eBay and other online marketplaces. A pristine copy can fetch upwards of $400 regularly on eBay. 

But with this intense popularity comes a clash between cultures online. Those who wish to physically manifest their fandom via the construction of their own authentic lightsaber (a task that every Star Wars fan knows is a rite of passage for a Jedi) and those of photography enthusiasts who still wish to find and utilize this authentic photographic equipment for their own artistic and technical experiences.

Photographic communities online regularly warn sellers of authentic Graflex flashes not to “sell to Star Wars fans who will ruin” the flash. To be clear, these flashes were mass-produced during the heyday of 20th-century photographic enthusiasm and were not rare items. And yet, so fervent is the desire of Star Wars fans to use these flashes in their prop replicas, the price of them has skyrocketed online. Third-party machinist businesses have begun selling unlicensed metal-shell replicas of the Graflex flash so fans can use a replica flashgun to make their replica lightsaber. Further, these same businesses are also producing replica flashguns which include electronics so they can operate as working flashes, allowing photographic enthusiasts to have a chance at acquiring a working replica of the flash to use with their authentic 4x5 press camera. That both the lightsaber replica and a working Graflex flash embody the past for their respective fans while, simultaneously, allowing them a link to their present fandom is no small coincidence. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, flashguns and lightsabers are, after all, “elegant” objects “from a more civilized age.”

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