SabersPro sells high-end lightsabers for 'Star Wars' fans

Sergey Kogan and Lev Glushkovskii of SabersPro with some of the lightsabers they sell. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

For $11.99, you can buy a "Star Wars" lightsaber produced by toy giant Hasbro under license from Lucasfilm Ltd. that is made of plastic and does not light. It is marketed to young children and comes with a warning not to “swing, poke, or jab at people or animals.”

For $89.95 to $660.95, a Long Island company called SabersPro will sell you what a certain Jedi might call an elegant toy for a more civilized age, consisting of an aluminum hilt and impact-resistant polycarbonate blade with sophisticated sound and light effects. Light-emitting diodes on some of the company’s blades are programmed to mimic a lightsaber igniting and extending and sputtering on contact with another. Some, equipped with gyroscopic motion detectors, make “realistic lightsaber noises in response to motion,” according to the SabersPro website.

Started last year by two Melville men, Lev Glushkovskii and Sergey Kogan, SabersPro belongs to a mostly unlicensed cottage industry of saber prop manufacturers and resellers. The companies serve a largely adult market of fans of the 1977 movie and its many lucrative spin-offs. They include collectors, duelists who reenact screen battles or choreograph their own, and cosplayers who dress up as denizens of the "Star Wars" universe at events like next month's New York Comic Con.

Some companies avoid the term “lightsaber” on their websites, or include a disclaimer that they are not associated with Lucasfilm or its corporate parent, Disney; SabersPro’s website uses the term liberally and has no such disclaimer, though Glushkovskii and Kogan say they are not violating trademarks.

Glushkovskii, 19, and Kogan, 43, are brothers-in-law who immigrated to the United States from Russia roughly 3 and 25 years ago, respectively. Glushkovskii studies at New York University’s Stern School of business; Kogan, who studied computer science at Stony Brook University, is a software engineer for a bank.

They are both "Star Wars" fans, with friends immersed in its universe of games, action figures and comic books. Kogan recalled his introduction to the original movie during the twilight of the Soviet Union when he was 10 or 12: “At that time, nothing ever officially came out. The first time we were able to see Western movies they were on VHS and poorly translated.”

The futuristic universe he glimpsed was vivid and unlike anything he had seen on television or movies from the USSR. “The effects, the space ships, the sounds. … When you’re 10, your imagination runs wild. I couldn’t tell the rubber was rubber. It looked very real to me.”

Glushkovskii and Kogan considered selling custom T-shirts and figurines, but decided “nothing says Star Wars more than the iconic Lightsaber,” according to the SabersPro website. For Kogan, the saber was “an interesting piece of technology” with powerful chivalric symbolism. “The  idea of defending the galaxy with a laser sword against blasters was inspiring to me,” he said.  

Their company has no brick-and-mortar stores and no employees. They hired 15 independent contractors to do marketing and customer support. The two principals work with a Chinese manufacturer on saber designs and keep their sabers in three warehouses in the United States,  the United Kingdom and Spain. Their business model does not allow SabersPro to customize its sabers, as some competitors do, Glushkovskii said, but those custom jobs take as long as six months.  SabersPro delivers in as little as a week, a little longer for higher-end models whose electronics need to be checked before they ship, he said.

The two would not say how many sabers they sell or the value of their sales, citing  competition in the crowded industry.  

The "Star Wars" universe is owned and curated by Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion. Early lightsaber toys, brought to market under license by toy company Kenner from 1977 to 1985, were crude by today’s standards, said James Zahn, editor in chief of The Toy Book, the leading trade publication for the North American toy industry. “The quickest way to put them out was to do … blow-up sabers,” Zahn said in an interview. “By the time they got to ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi,’ they started doing four-foot-long hard plastic sabers that had holes in the top so when the kid swung it around it made a whooshing noise.”

When Hasbro acquired Kenner in 1991, it relaunched the "Star Wars" line, adding a saber feature that let users extend them with a flick of the wrist.  In 1996, a children’s advocate placed the $24.99 "Star Wars" Electronic Luke Skywalker Lightsaber on its list of the year’s Ten Worst Toys, citing the potential for “blunt injury.”

Over the last 15 to 20 years, more than a dozen companies – Hasbro included – have released more sophisticated saber replicas targeting what Zahn called the “kiddult” market, competing with and sometimes sourcing from Chinese manufacturers. AliExpress, the Chinese e-commerce site, lists 4,000 “lightsaber toys” at wholesale prices.

Zahn’s theory of the origin of the kiddult saber market was a confluence of factors. He pointed to the 1999 release of "Phantom Menace," the first of the "Star Wars" prequels, featuring an acrobatic, three-way, 4 1/2-minute lightsaber duel between Jedi  masters and a Sith Lord.

It grew along with social media, where enthusiasts could share tips about saber sourcing and footage of home duels. A lightsaber subreddit that started in 2012 now has 149,000 members; a YouTube search for “lightsaber duels” returns a seemingly endless feed of clips from movies and series from the Disney universe, fan films and organized saber competitions. One video has 293 million views.  

Finally, Zahn said, fan conventions became mainstream. Hundreds are held across the globe in any given year. The biggest draw hundreds of thousands and are major marketing opportunities for saber replica companies.

SabersPro typically sees a sales bump before a convention, the company said in a news release this year, along with what Glushkovskii said in an interview was an increase in inquiries from customers about "what would look cooler and how they can be more in character." 

But none of these companies can legally describe their wares as lightsabers, Zahn said. That’s because Lucasfilm registered a trademark for the word lightsaber in connection with toy swords in 1979. It later registered designs of lightsaber hilts and saber sounds, punctiliously describing one in the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as an “oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor.” They are among roughly 130 of the company’s "Star Wars" trademarks and copyrighted designs.

Disney and Hasbro are undoubtedly aware that comparatively tiny companies are moving product, “but I don’t think it’s anything that moves the needle,” Zahn said. “Hasbro already has their customers and they know they’re going to buy pretty much anything they put out that might be a collector-focused item.” Toy and game sales for Hasbro's partner brands, a basket that includes entertainment properties from Marvel and Disney-owned "Star Wars," earned the company nearly $1.2 billion in fiscal 2021. Hasbro noted in its 2021 annual report that its sales were "supported by numerous streaming and broadcast television series of our partners" — Disney+ offers a massive and seemingly ever-growing trove of "Star Wars" content — but the company did not break out its saber sales. 

Disney, Lucasfilm and Hasbro did not respond to requests for comment. There is no public record of cease-and-desist letters the companies might have sent out, but Lucasfilm and Disney have sued companies selling replica lightsabers without permission. In 2006, Lucasfilm won a $250,000 settlement from a Maryland lightsaber company it sued in U.S. District Court in California. In 2016, it sued an Oakland, California man who sold lightsaber classes “which purport to teach students how to use ‘lightsabers’ and/or perform as ‘Jedi;’” under a 2018 settlement, he agreed to stop any “infringing use” of Lucasfilm trademarks and to abandon a trademark application he had filed for his school that resembled a Jedi design.

Rena Seplowitz, who teaches intellectual property law at Touro Law Center, said SabersPro appeared to be on shaky ground. “If Disney is using lightsaber the name in connection with the product, there continues to be a strong mark. Here you’re talking about a competitor with the same product, using the same name with the product. It’s classic trademark infringement.”

A key question, said Seplowitz, was “What’s motivating this company to use ‘lightsaber’ instead of some other word, like 'sparkling sword' or just a brand name? Because it’s trying to take advantage of the goodwill associated with the Lucas-Disney product.”

Indeed, the SabersPro website invites visitors to “Awaken the Force” by taking advantage of a limited-time 35% discount on all sabers, including models like the $198.95 Luke, $311.95 Darth Maul and $403.95 Anakin, all names shared with prominent "Star Wars" characters. Other models like the $178.32 New Hope, $117.12 Awaken and $149.89 Menace evoke the movie titles "A New Hope," "The Force Awakens" and "The Phantom Menace."

Glushkovskii and Kogan said they respected trademarks. “We make sure not to use trademarked logos and we don’t associate ourselves with Lucasfilm,” Glushkovskii said. In a subsequent interview, he said that he and Kogan were "trying to remove" the names from their website, and said they don't use the full names of characters. There are several Obi Wan models, but no Obi Wan Kenobis. 

Kogan said the company was insulated from infringement claims “so long as we don’t associate with a character directly. … We keep everything in the area of law.” And, he said, companies like his ultimately feed demand for "Star Wars" intellectual property. They are  “beneficial to Lucasfilm to keep culture and community alive,” he said.

For $11.99, you can buy a "Star Wars" lightsaber produced by toy giant Hasbro under license from Lucasfilm Ltd. that is made of plastic and does not light. It is marketed to young children and comes with a warning not to “swing, poke, or jab at people or animals.”

For $89.95 to $660.95, a Long Island company called SabersPro will sell you what a certain Jedi might call an elegant toy for a more civilized age, consisting of an aluminum hilt and impact-resistant polycarbonate blade with sophisticated sound and light effects. Light-emitting diodes on some of the company’s blades are programmed to mimic a lightsaber igniting and extending and sputtering on contact with another. Some, equipped with gyroscopic motion detectors, make “realistic lightsaber noises in response to motion,” according to the SabersPro website.

Started last year by two Melville men, Lev Glushkovskii and Sergey Kogan, SabersPro belongs to a mostly unlicensed cottage industry of saber prop manufacturers and resellers. The companies serve a largely adult market of fans of the 1977 movie and its many lucrative spin-offs. They include collectors, duelists who reenact screen battles or choreograph their own, and cosplayers who dress up as denizens of the "Star Wars" universe at events like next month's New York Comic Con.

Some companies avoid the term “lightsaber” on their websites, or include a disclaimer that they are not associated with Lucasfilm or its corporate parent, Disney; SabersPro’s website uses the term liberally and has no such disclaimer, though Glushkovskii and Kogan say they are not violating trademarks.

Sergey Kogan and Lev Glushkovskii of SabersPro with some of...

Sergey Kogan and Lev Glushkovskii of SabersPro with some of the lightsabers they sell. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Glushkovskii, 19, and Kogan, 43, are brothers-in-law who immigrated to the United States from Russia roughly 3 and 25 years ago, respectively. Glushkovskii studies at New York University’s Stern School of business; Kogan, who studied computer science at Stony Brook University, is a software engineer for a bank.

They are both "Star Wars" fans, with friends immersed in its universe of games, action figures and comic books. Kogan recalled his introduction to the original movie during the twilight of the Soviet Union when he was 10 or 12: “At that time, nothing ever officially came out. The first time we were able to see Western movies they were on VHS and poorly translated.”

The futuristic universe he glimpsed was vivid and unlike anything he had seen on television or movies from the USSR. “The effects, the space ships, the sounds. … When you’re 10, your imagination runs wild. I couldn’t tell the rubber was rubber. It looked very real to me.”

Glushkovskii and Kogan considered selling custom T-shirts and figurines, but decided “nothing says Star Wars more than the iconic Lightsaber,” according to the SabersPro website. For Kogan, the saber was “an interesting piece of technology” with powerful chivalric symbolism. “The  idea of defending the galaxy with a laser sword against blasters was inspiring to me,” he said.  

Their company has no brick-and-mortar stores and no employees. They hired 15 independent contractors to do marketing and customer support. The two principals work with a Chinese manufacturer on saber designs and keep their sabers in three warehouses in the United States,  the United Kingdom and Spain. Their business model does not allow SabersPro to customize its sabers, as some competitors do, Glushkovskii said, but those custom jobs take as long as six months.  SabersPro delivers in as little as a week, a little longer for higher-end models whose electronics need to be checked before they ship, he said.

The two would not say how many sabers they sell or the value of their sales, citing  competition in the crowded industry.  

Ronald Lares dressed as Darth Vader from "Star Wars" and Chris Feehan and Anthony Palpadino dressed as Storm Troopers in 2015. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

The "Star Wars" universe is owned and curated by Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion. Early lightsaber toys, brought to market under license by toy company Kenner from 1977 to 1985, were crude by today’s standards, said James Zahn, editor in chief of The Toy Book, the leading trade publication for the North American toy industry. “The quickest way to put them out was to do … blow-up sabers,” Zahn said in an interview. “By the time they got to ‘Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi,’ they started doing four-foot-long hard plastic sabers that had holes in the top so when the kid swung it around it made a whooshing noise.”

When Hasbro acquired Kenner in 1991, it relaunched the "Star Wars" line, adding a saber feature that let users extend them with a flick of the wrist.  In 1996, a children’s advocate placed the $24.99 "Star Wars" Electronic Luke Skywalker Lightsaber on its list of the year’s Ten Worst Toys, citing the potential for “blunt injury.”

Over the last 15 to 20 years, more than a dozen companies – Hasbro included – have released more sophisticated saber replicas targeting what Zahn called the “kiddult” market, competing with and sometimes sourcing from Chinese manufacturers. AliExpress, the Chinese e-commerce site, lists 4,000 “lightsaber toys” at wholesale prices.

Zahn’s theory of the origin of the kiddult saber market was a confluence of factors. He pointed to the 1999 release of "Phantom Menace," the first of the "Star Wars" prequels, featuring an acrobatic, three-way, 4 1/2-minute lightsaber duel between Jedi  masters and a Sith Lord.

It grew along with social media, where enthusiasts could share tips about saber sourcing and footage of home duels. A lightsaber subreddit that started in 2012 now has 149,000 members; a YouTube search for “lightsaber duels” returns a seemingly endless feed of clips from movies and series from the Disney universe, fan films and organized saber competitions. One video has 293 million views.  

Finally, Zahn said, fan conventions became mainstream. Hundreds are held across the globe in any given year. The biggest draw hundreds of thousands and are major marketing opportunities for saber replica companies.

SabersPro typically sees a sales bump before a convention, the company said in a news release this year, along with what Glushkovskii said in an interview was an increase in inquiries from customers about "what would look cooler and how they can be more in character." 

But none of these companies can legally describe their wares as lightsabers, Zahn said. That’s because Lucasfilm registered a trademark for the word lightsaber in connection with toy swords in 1979. It later registered designs of lightsaber hilts and saber sounds, punctiliously describing one in the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as an “oscillating humming buzz created by combining feedback from a microphone with a projector motor.” They are among roughly 130 of the company’s "Star Wars" trademarks and copyrighted designs.

Disney and Hasbro are undoubtedly aware that comparatively tiny companies are moving product, “but I don’t think it’s anything that moves the needle,” Zahn said. “Hasbro already has their customers and they know they’re going to buy pretty much anything they put out that might be a collector-focused item.” Toy and game sales for Hasbro's partner brands, a basket that includes entertainment properties from Marvel and Disney-owned "Star Wars," earned the company nearly $1.2 billion in fiscal 2021. Hasbro noted in its 2021 annual report that its sales were "supported by numerous streaming and broadcast television series of our partners" — Disney+ offers a massive and seemingly ever-growing trove of "Star Wars" content — but the company did not break out its saber sales. 

Disney, Lucasfilm and Hasbro did not respond to requests for comment. There is no public record of cease-and-desist letters the companies might have sent out, but Lucasfilm and Disney have sued companies selling replica lightsabers without permission. In 2006, Lucasfilm won a $250,000 settlement from a Maryland lightsaber company it sued in U.S. District Court in California. In 2016, it sued an Oakland, California man who sold lightsaber classes “which purport to teach students how to use ‘lightsabers’ and/or perform as ‘Jedi;’” under a 2018 settlement, he agreed to stop any “infringing use” of Lucasfilm trademarks and to abandon a trademark application he had filed for his school that resembled a Jedi design.

Rena Seplowitz, who teaches intellectual property law at Touro Law Center, said SabersPro appeared to be on shaky ground. “If Disney is using lightsaber the name in connection with the product, there continues to be a strong mark. Here you’re talking about a competitor with the same product, using the same name with the product. It’s classic trademark infringement.”

A key question, said Seplowitz, was “What’s motivating this company to use ‘lightsaber’ instead of some other word, like 'sparkling sword' or just a brand name? Because it’s trying to take advantage of the goodwill associated with the Lucas-Disney product.”

Indeed, the SabersPro website invites visitors to “Awaken the Force” by taking advantage of a limited-time 35% discount on all sabers, including models like the $198.95 Luke, $311.95 Darth Maul and $403.95 Anakin, all names shared with prominent "Star Wars" characters. Other models like the $178.32 New Hope, $117.12 Awaken and $149.89 Menace evoke the movie titles "A New Hope," "The Force Awakens" and "The Phantom Menace."

Glushkovskii and Kogan said they respected trademarks. “We make sure not to use trademarked logos and we don’t associate ourselves with Lucasfilm,” Glushkovskii said. In a subsequent interview, he said that he and Kogan were "trying to remove" the names from their website, and said they don't use the full names of characters. There are several Obi Wan models, but no Obi Wan Kenobis. 

Kogan said the company was insulated from infringement claims “so long as we don’t associate with a character directly. … We keep everything in the area of law.” And, he said, companies like his ultimately feed demand for "Star Wars" intellectual property. They are  “beneficial to Lucasfilm to keep culture and community alive,” he said.

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