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Star Wars Fans Will Love France’s New Sport

Master Yoda, dust off his French, he must. It’s now easier than ever in France to act out Star Wars fantasies, because its fencing federation has borrowed from a galaxy far, far away and officially recognized lightsaber dueling as a competitive sport. Of course, the LED-lit, rigid polycarbonate lightsaber replicas can’t slice a Sith lord in half, but they look and even sound remarkably like the silver screen blades. Plenty realistic, at least, for duelists to work up an impressive sweat slashing and stabbing in organized three-minute bouts. The physicality of lightsaber combat is part of why the French Fencing Federation threw its support behind the sport and is now equipping fencing clubs with lightsabers and training would-be instructors. Like virtuous Jedi knights, the French federation sees itself as combating a Dark Side: the sedentary habits of 21st-century life.

French organizers have produced competition rules intended to make lightsaber dueling both competitive and easy on the eyes. Combatants fight inside a circle marked in tape on the floor. Strikes to the head or body are worth 5 points; to the arms or legs, 3 points; on hands, 1 point. The first to 15 points wins or, if they don’t get there quickly, the high scorer wins after 3 minutes. If both fighters reach 10 points, the bout enters “sudden death,” where the first to land a head or body blow wins, a rule to encourage enterprising fighters. Still nascent, counting its paid-up practitioners in France in the hundreds, not thousands, lightsaber dueling has no hope of a place in the Paris Olympics in 2024. But to hear the thwack of blades and see them cut shapes through the air is to want to give the sport a try. Or, as Yoda would say: “Do! Or do not. There is no try.”

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