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From what I remember from the Star-wars movies, it seems lightsabers have a dead mans switch, which requires the user to maintain activation of the blade. For example, in the fight between Mace Windu and Palpatine in Ep 3 you can see Palpatine's lightsaber deactivate when it flies out the window

Activation of the blade can also be maintained using the Force, as suggested on sci-fi : How do Lightsabers turn off and on?

Two separate, but related, questions:
Has there been a time where a lightsaber has been activated without physical activation by the user in 1) the movies (I-VII, Rogue One) and 2) the TV shows?

I'd be happy to accept sources from early drafts of screenplays/scripts that suggests it happens, even if it didn't end up on the screen.

EDIT:

to clarify the question based on comments...

  1. when I say physical activation I mean hand on lightsaber. I dont consider using the force to be physical activation, so thats OK. So the example of throwing the lightsaber and keeping it activated using the force is OK for this
  2. I'm only interested in movies and TV shows. so no comics or other types of media
  • I don't have a lot of time today to do better research, but I can think of a couple of places to look. I think it will be hard though, because of the kenetic factor of the force with force-users so one place I want to look is with Force Mimicers in the Darth Vader (2115) comic, another General Grievous--non force users using lightsabers. And maybe the non cannon Star Wars Freemaker Adventures--with a full-Kyber-made lightsaber of Rowan is reconstructing might have more unique properties... – Darth Locke Dec 9 '17 at 16:53
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    Are you considering use of the Force to be “physical activation” even if they aren’t touching it? Also, are we limiting this to TV and movies or are you open to any media? – Thunderforge Dec 9 '17 at 16:58
  • There's an episode in Star Wars Rebels where Ezra uses the Force to activate his lightsaber while it's clipped to a Stormtrooper's belt. I think it was from season 1, but I don't remember for sure. – Bob Dec 11 '17 at 1:58
  • Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/85811/… – Charles Apr 12 '18 at 21:25
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Yes

It can be turned on via the Force

In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan Kenobi uses the Force to reach for Qui Gon Jinn's lightsaber as he jumps out of the pit. While it's very brief, the sound a lightsaber makes when it is activated is heard while the lightsaber is being telekinetically moved, a split second before it makes it into Obi-Wan's hand. This indicates that he turned it on with the Force, rather than physically touching it.

It can stay on if you throw your lightsaber

Also, a lightsaber can still stay active if it leaves the person's hand. We see this in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader throws his lightsaber to bring down the scaffolding Luke is standing on. It appears to return as well, since the next time we see it amongst the chaos, Vader is reactivating it from his hand.

(Games, novels, and such have described this technique as a "saber throw", and it can be done on a lightsaber that otherwise has a deadman's switch by keeping it on via the Force).

2

Metal was usually chosen to make up the hilt, but a casing carved from the Brylark tree, wood that is strong as metal, would also work.[19]. Some hilts were even crafted of gems.[20] The weapon drew power from an appropriately-sized power cell.[21] Parts that would work to make a lightsaber include modulation circuits and an energy gate. Ones that were necessary include a blade emitter shroud, the emitter matrix and some type of activator to turn the weapon on and off. Other parts that could be added include handgrip ridges and a blade length adjuster.[21][16] Some lightsabers also featured a non-lethal low-power setting used for training.[22] Single-bladed lightsabers usually had a belt ring so they could be hung from a belt hook, or a wheel-shaped attachment that slotted into a matching belt clip on the owner's belt when not in use.[23][8][24][25][21] http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lightsaber

"Has there been a time where a lightsaber has been activated without physical activation by the user in 1) the movies (I-VII, Rogue One) and 2) the TV shows?"

So the issue with this question is that it is somewhat multi-faceted to try and answer it. If this paragraph from Wookiepedia is accurate, then it appears in most situations, a lightsaber has to have an activater to function as a lightsaber. But, because many of those that use Ligthsabers are Force Users, they can probably hit the activater kennetically without physically touching the actavator. However, the page also does state, "Ones that were necessary"--so there may be ones that have no activation switch--but IMO the purpose of not having one, would I think then either rely on a Force User to turn it on and off at will (meaning only a Force-User can turn it on or off) and/or that there could in theory be ones that are always on...

The reason your question is so difficult to answer is because one has to consider the following when interpreting what one sees on screen:

  1. Even when a character kenetically pulls an in-active lightsabe towards themselves, it's hard to say if they are manulay switched on through the activator switch or if they are kennetically pushed before they are really in-hand, as the blade seems to come out so instant in some cases!

  2. The flow of the blades themselves relies on @ 3 factors. The kyber crystals beings used (ie: Kylo Ren's is "unstable"), the inner design that may also contribute to the energy flow, and some Force Users may be able to control the flow (ie: Obi-Wan's slowing flows out when first fighting Darth Vader in A New Hope). So again we don't necessarily ever know what factor is actually the most responisble for whatever dynamic any give lightsaber may have--if a a different force-user could have an advantage over another's lightsaber, because of their relationship with the force and/or because of new comic (Doctor Aphra) that some Force Users can become "cyrstals" and thus their may be a stronger link between a crystal and force-user since the crystal can be "consious"...

  3. The philosophy or artistry behind using a Lightsaber. One of the reasons we may not of seen "flashier" moves, might be similar to Martial Arts or Fencing in that there are general rules, preferences, and "honorable" aspects in using the weapon. There are 7 forms of Lightsaber techniques the Jedi use. Considering that the films tend to fixate on characters that are Jedi or were once Jedi, it seems possible that traditional use in combat is often what is portrayed on screen.

So again we don't necessarily know what factor is actually the most responisble for whatever dynamic any give lightsaber may have with it's user in terms of where the control really is--if a different force-user could have an advantage over another's lightsaber (The Last Jedi Trailers and TV Spots imply we may see this in more than one way with more than one lightsaber), because of their relationship with the force and/or because there might be instances where a crystal wants to be with/is more telekenetic towards a certain force-user. Maz Kanata (The Force Awakens) tells Rey Anakin's/Luke's lightsaber 'calls and/or speaks' to her and in the new Doctor Aphra comic we learn of an instance where an ancient Jedi becomes a "conscious" kyber crystal...

Even the scene with Darth Vader fighting against Luke in Return of the Jedi, Vader throws his saber---we don't know if it stays on because it was not either manually or kenetically turned off prior to him throwing it or if it stayed on because Vader made it kenetically so! It's a matter of scemantics on how one is turned off also!

There are scenes where characters pass lightsabers to eachother when the blade is active--so again don't know if it's because they haven't been turned of (and just will remain on) or if they are beig kept on via using the Force???

So some of those *could be examples when they are kenetically being used/activated, but I don't think there is a clear-cut instance of that happening on screen yet. Where we see someone turn it on very clearly before it's in hand.

However, between the information that Wookieepedia gives on the idea that there may even be lightsabers out there without an activator [switch] and given some of the newer mythology (The Forces Awakens, Doctor Aphra, Darth Vader 2017), I think we could eventually see one.

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In The Last Jedi:

One character activates a lightsaber that kills another character, using only the Force.

Although, as this is Episode 8 it may fall outside the scope of your question.

  • I only just saw episode 8 today, but yes, this is probably the most explicit example of force only activation – Simon Dec 16 '17 at 10:23
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Might be a bit of the stretch and not necessarily from the movies - haven't seen episode 7 so far and I'm missing most of Clone Wars and the newer animated series:

In the older Start Wars games on the Super Nintendo Luke is able to throw his light saber like a boomerang, which stays activated and then returns to his hand. So it doesn't get activated by using the force, but it's clearly kept active by it.

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    Regarding the “boomerang”, Vader does that in Return if the Jedi while fighting Luke, so it’s definitely not a game-only thing. – Thunderforge Dec 9 '17 at 17:02

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