Yellow lightsaber appeared canonically on-screen for the first time in The Rise of Skywalker, even though it nearly appeared already fifteen years earlier in Revenge of the Sith. Yellow is therefore a rare lightsaber colour: what does it represent, and what is its history?
“More Good” or “More Evil” Colour?
Rey was showed wielding a yellow lightsaber in the closing scene of TRoS. This lightsaber, more than anything, represented the new beginning, and its colour was picked to reflect that.
Perhaps we might also call the colour of Rey’s lightsaber “gold” to better evoke the feeling it stirred in majority of the audience, and that it was probably meant to: bright, a source of light, like the sun. Just like the sun, its wielder radiates its life-giving power. Rey, as the new Master of the Jedi Order, is now the source of light for the rest of the Galaxy, illuminating others, chasing the darkness away. In that sense, yellow is likely meant to be “more” than blue and green, if we wanted to draw an imaginary line from “most good” to “most evil” colours.
Yellow lightsabers have, however, appeared in Star Wars before, albeit in secondary material. They appeared frequently in sources that are no longer canon, mostly in video games or old comics. There, yellow often used to represent rather the “middle ground”. On our imaginary colour scheme, it would be situated between red and blue/green. For example, in the early stages of SWTOR online game, players had to be “light” enough to be allowed to use blue lightsabers and “dark” enough to use red ones, but yellow was accessible to everyone.
In other media, yellow was often used by “neutral” Force users if any appeared, to reflect that its wielder was not a Jedi (not wielding the traditional blue/green), but not a Sith, either. Moreover, sometimes, when authors wanted to depict Sith wielding different colour lightsabers than red (usually simply for visual purposes), they picked yellow.
The last mentioned approach to yellow often applied to another colour – orange. Orange, however, has not been canonically portrayed on-screen so far. After the show of Rey’s yellow lightsaber, it is now likely that if a “neutral” colour is required in the future, orange is going to fill the niche previously reserved for yellow, whereas yellow will take its place among the blues and greens of the Jedi Order.
Inspired By Legendary Heroines
Yellow lightsabers became somewhat iconic among the fans thanks to other appearances in the former canon. In Knights of the Old Republic, yellow (double-bladed) lightsaber is wielded by one of the central characters of the story, Bastila Shan. The similarities of Bastila to Rey have been pointed out several times (however they mostly apply only in a very broad sense – a brown-haired heroine with ponytails, wielding a staff-like weapon, who is capable of forming a Force bond, and forms it also with a masked Dark-sider). It is not inconcievable that while fishing for inspiration, J.J. Abrams and his team picked up some elements from (overall fairly popular) Bastila, even if without much reflection.
In the same game, yellow was told to be the colour of the Jedi Sentinels. For the purposes of game mechanics, Jedi Sentinels represented middle ground between Jedi Guardians (using blue lightsabers by default) and Jedi Consulars (using green). Sentinels were investigators, focussing on practical skills rather than pure combat or the depths of the Force.
This likely served as inspiration for the one now-canonical appearance of yellow lightsabers preceding The Rise of Skywalker. Yellow sabers were wielded by Jedi Temple Guards in The Clone Wars (and SW: Rebels) animated series. Those masked guards were a specific caste of Jedi, tasked with security of the Jedi Temple. Interestingly, the guards did not wield common lightsabers, but the double-bladed or “pike” variant. It is likely that this was also inspired by the design of Bastila Shan, which had been iconic already when the series were made.
Almost In Revenge of the Sith
This brings us to the last and perhaps most interesting issue regarding the appearance of yellow lightsabers on-screen. A yellow lightsaber almost appeared in Revenge of the Sith, fifteen years before Rey was showed wielding it. Among the Jedi defending the Jedi Temple, there is Master Cin Drallig, portrayed by the actor Nick Gillard, who was a stunt coordinator for all the prequel films (Cin Drallig is his name spelled backwards with the “K” missing). His actual role on-screen was extremely limited, he basically died during the defence of the Jedi Temple, which Obi-Wan later reviews on the holorecording.
However, even with such a minor role, Cin Drallig’s picture made it into promotional material and encyclopedias – and with that, it was necessary to give him his own lightsaber. Nick Gillard, being the stunts coordinator for all the films, had a pick of his lightsaber colour, and he requested to have a yellow lightsaber. And one of the original concepts indeed counted on this idea. Eventually, however, George Lucas overruled the decision, reserving the only unusual colour for Mace Windu, and keeping the run-of-the-mill Jedi in greens and blues.
The character of Cin Drallig eventually received more background in The Clone Wars series and in other media. He was placed in charge of the Jedi Temple Guards – and we can already see the line of thinking of the creators here. Drallig died while defending the temple, so it made sense to put him in charage of it. It also, however, made sense to give the Guards yellow-bladed lightsabers as a homage to Nick Gillard’s unfulfilled wish.