Rebel Moon: What Are the Oracle Swords and Where Did Laser Swords Originate in Sci-Fi?


Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire, the first in a two-part science fiction film from Zack Snyder, began streaming December 22 on Netflix. An R-rated, allegedly three-hour director’s cut is still coming this year, and the sequel, The Scargiver, will launch on April 19. Rebel Moon was pitched as a Star Wars sequel to Lucasfilm in 2012 after the acquisition of the company by Disney. Rebel Moon’s precept was a Seven Samurai narrative set in the Star Wars universe, seemingly in the period after Return of the Jedi and the fall of the empire. Rebel Moon retains some artifacts of its origin in Star Wars’ universe – a decapitated empire, Nazi-inspired villains, an army of soldiers bred to conquer worlds, mystical technology, and glowing swords that are so hot they can cut through almost any material.

Rebel Moon
Rebel Moon

Release Date
December 22, 2023

Main Genre

Grand Electric, The Stone Quarry

After the release of the trailer, some Star Wars fans cried foul because of the glowing swords, despite the publicly known history of Star Wars’ origin (George Lucas wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie but could not get the rights). Snyder did not steal laser swords from Star Wars because Star Wars did not invent them. Snyder did what George Lucas did in the 1970s when he crafted his sci-fi epic from the worlds of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Alex Raymond’s and Don Moore’s Flash Gordon, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, and other works from his youth. Just as Snyder adopted the motif of the plasma sword, Lucas drew the lightsaber from previous swords that could burn through any material.

Stream on Netflix

What Are the Oracle Swords?

Nemesis, played by Bae Doona battles a spider alien with glowing oracle blades in Rebel Moon Part One

Rebel Moon retains much of its mystery. Like those who saw Star Wars in 1977, we are coming into this universe without the benefit of 40+ years of novels, comics, and Wookieepedia entries. The first sword we see wielded is blue, and it is used by a villain, turning upside down the color themes of Star Wars. The swords are physical blades made from an alien material called oracle steel. This steel is either superconductive to heat or has some exotic properties that allow it to be enveloped by plasma or activated atomically (becoming nuclear). Like the lightsaber’s engineering, the oracle swords are not explained completely, and we do not yet know what the colors mean in Rebel Moon. Snyder promises there will be more colors than just red-orange and blue.

In their activated state, the oracle swords are too hot to handle, and the wielders of the swords must have their hands amputated and replaced by cybernetic prosthetics in order to hold them and to activate the effect that turns oracle steel molten-hot instantly. The blue variety, that we see Kora (Sofia Boutella) and Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein) fight with in The Scargiver, may have some other technology (possibly, wearable gauntlets) we have not yet seen.

Related: 9 Things You Miss in Rebel Moon

The Amputation Motif

Darth Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker's hand on Bespin
Walt Disney Pictures

Rebel Moon is adopting the motif of limb loss from Star Wars with its oracle swordsmen/women. Because the wielders of oracle steel swords must have their hands amputated and replaced by cybernetic prosthetics, Snyder’s new mythology is embracing the narrative event that befalls both Anakin and Luke Skywalker (as well as other Jedi in the prequels) and injecting the psychological impact of this event on the heroes who undergo the rite of passage. In Star Wars, the Jedi practice a tradition of lobbing off limbs to render their enemies defenseless, so they do not have to kill them. In Rebel Moon, the amputations are willful – a ritual. This voluntary amputation of the hands speaks to the devotion of the wielders. The loss of the hands can come with phantom pain in addition to the trauma of losing the sense of touch in the fingers. The hands are as much an input organ as a piece of anatomy that we use to interact with the world.

Rebel Moon has a better understanding of the motifs of Star Wars than the sequel trilogy did. Did anyone get their hand cut off in the sequels (ignoring Snoke)? No. It was anti-Star Wars. They purposefully fought against the motifs, not understanding that these are not clichés but the DNA of the franchise. George Lucas once summed up his perspective of Star Wars‘ narrative form saying, “It’s like poetry, sort of. They (the stories) rhyme.”

Who Is Nemesis in Rebel Moon?

The main cast of Rebel Moon Part One standing next to a large ship preparing to take off

Nemesis, played by Bae Doona, is one of the fighters recruited by Kora to come defend the farmers on the moon, Veldt. Nemesis wields two cleaver-like oracle swords that turn red-orange when activated. Nemesis lives on the mining planet of Daggus where she serves as a kind of superhero vigilante to the poor workers. Nemesis’ children were killed by the Imperium, and she had her hands amputated so she could use the oracle swords to avenge her children. Given the chance to fight the Imperium, she joins the suicide mission.

In the scene on Daggus, Kora finds Nemesis in the middle of resolving a situation with a native, spider-like alien, whose eggs cannot hatch because of the miners’ pollution and has taken a child captive. The spider alien, Harmada, is an Ogumo, played by Jena Malone, who worked with Snyder on Sucker Punch and Batman v Superman.

Related: Star Wars: 10 Characters and Groups Who Could Play the Villain in a Ret-Con of the Sequel Trilogy

The Inspiration for Star Wars’ Lightsabers

The fahren knife, one of the inspirations for the lightsaber in Star Wars
DC Comics

George Lucas did not invent the laser sword. Like many elements of Star Wars, Lucas created analogues to aspects of other sci-fi and fantasy. The theme of the lightsaber, a blade that could cut through virtually anything by burning through it, is widely believed to be owed to Jack Kirby’s New Gods. In the DC Comics, the fahren knife was a blade created from the flesh of a New God which would burn through anything and anyone, including Fourth Worlders. A fahren knife, made from the body of Orion, was used by Mister Miracle to stab Darkseid in the face and kill him.

Attention is given to the fahren knife as one of the inspirations for the lightsaber due to the numerous other parts of New Gods that Lucas made homage to: The Source/The Force, Darkseid/Dark Side, the father/son conflict, boom tubes/hyperspace, Genesis City/Cloud City, and more.

The Plasma Swords’ Origins in Sci-fi

Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon in Flash Gordon (1980)
Universal Pictures

Jack Kirby did not invent the concept of a blade that could cut through anything. Like Lucas, Kirby also drew on the motifs of sci-fi’s past to shape his characters and stories. The furthest back that we can trace the energy blade is Edmond Hamilton’s Kaldar, World of Antares, published in 1933 in the pulp magazine, Magic Carpet. In Kaldar, there is a lightsword that is like a normal, metal sword until a button is pressed, and it is enveloped by a plasma or force field that shines and enables it to cut through anything. We do not know if Lucas or Kirby read this story or one of the stories that picked up the idea in the decades that followed.

The laser sword, or forcefield blade, would appear in Isaac Asimov’s The Traders (1944) and Larry Niven’s Ringworld (1970). Outside of sci-fi, we also have the elven blade, Sting, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, published in 1937. It does not become hot and burn through regular steel, but it glows blue when in the presence of goblins and orcs.

The Lightsaber and Oracle Blades are Unique

Blue oracle swords being used in fight with Ed Skrein and Sofia Boutella

What makes the lightsaber and oracle blades more than just a laser sword trope is the uniqueness of each technology. The lightsaber is built with a kyber crystal or krayt dragon pearl, and it takes its color from the energy imbued to it by a Force user. The color of the crystal and blade reflects the personality of the weapon’s builder. Sith wield red, Jedi wield blues and greens, and grey or dark Jedi may wield yellow, orange, pink, plum, purple, or indigo.

The oracle swords in Rebel Moon, at least the red-orange variety that Nemesis wields, involve a change to the body. They can only be wielded by their owners who have cybernetic hands or special gauntlets. Snyder and his co-writers, Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad, understood that they had to create a mythology around the swords if they were going to create this kind of weapon. It required some connection to the person who wields it.

Read Our Review of Rebel Moon: Part One

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