“Thank the maker!” Hemet local builds and sells Star Wars props for a fortune
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
In a galaxy not so far, far away, one skilled craftsman is revolutionizing geek culture right in our very own living room – err, make that his living room. Jordan Dunn, founder of SoCal Saber Service in Hemet, builds film-quality, high-end lightsaber replicas for people all over the world.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, everybody has always wanted their very own Star Wars lightsaber. Dunn, 26, was no different, and he got serious about his hunt almost three years ago. Determined to find a collectible Starkiller lightsaber from the 2008 video game “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed,” he found out that there was an entire subculture dedicated to crafting these fictitious weapons.
From hobby to hit-seller
“Essentially it was a hobby,” explained Dunn. “I used to work for Tyco Electronics, and I learned a lot of skills there…but I discovered this hobby of building lightsabers – I didn’t know it was a thing. I honestly thought it was kind of silly at first.”
He decided he wanted to try it out himself. With soldering experience already under his belt, Dunn purchased an empty “Luke – Return of the Jedi” hilt and performed his first install.
“I got into it, and I started building my own,” said Dunn. “It kind of grew from there. Because of the popularity of [Star Wars] with the new films coming out, I just found out I was really good at it.”
Today, Dunn finally has that prop that he searched for, three years ago, displayed proudly in his apartment. He admits that he plays with it at least once a day. “I consider it functioning art.”
Dunn’s lightsabers range in price from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.
“They’re quite a long process, especially depending on what a customer wants,” explained Dunn on building the lightsabers. The saber “hilts” can take anywhere from a few weeks to an entire year to finish; some of his customers ask him to improve upon already existing hilts, while others want them completely made from scratch. He cannot even count how many he’s made so far, but it’s in the high hundreds.
From scratch to saber
Computer-operated machines play a large part in the molding process of the exterior hilts, which are made from blank aluminum billets. Dunn currently outsources the machine work to his colleague, Aaron Tromley of Solo’s Hold, which are then shipped to Dunn, who completes the products.
“I specialize in electronics,” said Dunn. “I make them function, make them work. I make them high-end working props.” Having prior experience with circuitry and wiring, Dunn’s expertise has evolved exponentially since his time at Tyco. He goes so far as to replicate the interior structures of the lightsabers like kyber crystal chambers, which consists of installing very small components in a very limited amount of space.
He programs circuit boards and designs SD cards that give the sabers unique sound effects, quotes, and even theatrical music from the films. Dunn also chemically weathers the sabers by hand to give them an aged/rusted look, which includes acid aging, iron oxidation, applying pure concentrated sulphur, sandpapering and other methods.
True to design…almost
The attachable and detachable glowing blades won’t cut your hand off, but they can definitely take a beating. They are made out of blow-molded polycarbonate, complete with mirrors at each end to carry the high-powered LED lights, topped off with machine bullet tips.
“These things withstand some heavy, heavy hitting,” said Dunn. “A lot of people like to, but some of them are so expensive that people won’t. I wouldn’t go out bashing something worth five grand on a tree or with my friend.”
The blades are also motion and contact sensitive, meaning that when they are waved through the air or struck against a surface, you can hear those accompanying “hum” or “kssh” sounds you recognize from the films.
Dunn says he owes a lot of the credit to his collaborators as well. “I’ve never met so many great people in one community,” he remarked. “It’s helped me out a lot.”
Rick Ryo of GOTH-3Designs helps 3D print the internal raw brass and nickel steel chassis, while other designers, like Dmitry Shtok from ShtokCustomWorks, Todd “Darth Alice” Johnson, and Bradley Lewis – one of the head designers of EA Games/Bioware, have helped him perfect his craft along the way. Using internet forums as their headquarters, he and his partners have spent hours tirelessly replicating movie-quality props based on reference photos from the films, cartoons and games. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had an eye for detail,” he said. Dunn has learned that his primary customer base is nostalgic middle-aged to elderly men, purchasing something collectible they couldn’t have as a child. Although some of his clients are local in Southern California, Dunn frequently deals with buyers from across the globe.
“I also have a lot of international customers,” he said. “A lot of my customers are in Singapore and Japan.”
Then of course there are also those that procure his props for cosplay (dressing up as characters).
“People who want to go to conventions spend thousands of dollars on their outfit or costume, and this is the final piece to it.” Currently, he is collaborating with Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult fame to create a completely custom lightsaber.
Right now, Dunn has his hands full at home with both commissioned work and his family. Together, they rule the galaxy as father, mother, and son; he has a one-year-old son and a fiancé of three years, whom he is marrying at the end of the month.
Eventually, he plans to expand his saber clientele, but would like to make in-house machining a possibility first and foremost. He believes that his hands will be plenty full in the years to come, especially with a new generation of Star Wars films engrossing the masses.
“Even when the movies stop – the way I view it is there’s always going to be collectors,” he said.
You can check out Jordan Dunn’s work at socalsaberservice.com, or on his Facebook page SoCal Saber Service. May the force be with you!