How The Adam Project Managed To Dodge Disney's Legal Department

If you grew up in the '80s, you'll want to watch "The Adam Project," Netflix's new family sci-fi flick starring Ryan Reynolds. It's a love letter to the films I watched as a kid, with "Flight of the Navigator" vibes and a plot that's reminiscent of "The Last Starfighter."

Reynolds stars as Adam Reed, a time-traveling pilot who goes rogue to save the woman he loves, then ends up trapped in his own past. It's an intriguing setup with a familiar feel, calling on family sci-fi tropes and pop culture references to conjure up the sort of retro-futuristic vibe that was commonplace in family films of the '80s. Think comfy, Amblin sci-fi flicks on lazy Sunday afternoons with the family and you're in the right ballpark. Obviously, the references come thick and fast, with plenty of nods to all the classic movies. But there's one reference that walks dangerously close to ripping off "Star Wars" — Adam's suspiciously lightsaber-shaped weapon.

Coming from the future, his jet is packed full of cool, futuristic tech. And while most of it is DNA-locked, that isn't much of a problem for young Adam as they are, after all, literally the same person. The not-lightsaber is one of those gadgets and it's used frequently throughout the movie during a handful of impressively fast-paced fight sequences. "It's not a lightsaber," grunts future Adam. But young Adam is having none of it. I have to admit, I was with young Adam on this one. They were just one hyperspace jump away from declaring the Force is strong with this one. Thankfully, Disney's legal department was a bit less strict.

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age

The weapon itself clearly takes inspiration from "Star Wars" in its design. The twin-blade style is obviously based on Darth Maul's iconic weapon from "The Phantom Menace" ... but there are some differences. Director Shawn Levy has pointed out that it really isn't a lightsaber — and that's how they got away with it. "When it came time to design that device, that is actually called a mag cell," he explained. "I don't know why. We can ask Jonathan Tropper. It's like, M-A-G, capital C, Y-L. Magnetic cylinder? I don't know. I had to design it."

The weapon itself seems to act more like a blunt stick than a lightsaber, albeit one with a bit of added oomph. In fact, at one point, future Adam performs an impressive, earth-shattering move when he jumps into the air, jabbing the Mag Cyl into the ground in front of him. The resulting shockwave is enough to take out a whole group of futuristic soldiers. Not quite your standard lightsaber, then, even if it does look like it. "Basically, fear of lawsuit led me to multiple design iterations so that it was never just going to be a shafty beam of light, especially a double fighty thing, like Darth Maul used to wield," Levy continued. There you have it, folks. It may look like a lightsaber, sound like a lightsaber, and cut through trees like a lightsaber, but it just isn't, okay? Even if young Adam thinks it is.

Star Wars kid, eat your heart out

Right from the start, it's clear that "The Adam Project" pegs young Adam as a nerd. He's smart, savvy, gets bullied at school, and spends all his time playing video games at home. Of course, he loves "Star Wars," too. It's a cute nod to the '80s sci-fi that clearly inspired "The Adam Project." But it's more than that, reminding us of the very different viewpoints between young and future Adam. After all, he's the same person; he just views things a little differently in the future.

"So, the kid, the kid really does react to it the way any kid would, which is, is that a lightsaber?" explained Ryan Reynolds. "And my character says, 'It's not a lightsaber.' And he's just convinced it is, which I love that as a bit of a [running joke]." The weapon makes several appearances throughout the movie, each time with a raised eyebrow from young Adam who swears it really is a lightsaber. This nudge and wink to the audience feels like a fourth wall break, even if it isn't. It all feels a bit like "Deadpool," if I'm honest, which is appropriate considering it's Reynolds swinging the not-lightsaber.

"To be clear [...] there is no lightsaber in the movie," confirmed Levy. And he's right, there really isn't. But even the mere mention of one is bound to have sent the film's legal team into a cold sweat.

Absolutely, definitely not a lightsaber

Essentially, it all comes down to branding. The Mag Cyl is different enough that it isn't a lightsaber, it merely looks a bit like one. The weapon's details and features are distinct enough to separate it from George Lucas' classic laser swords. "So no, we didn't need permission this time," said Shawn Levy. And that's rather handy. After all, with the cross-franchise potential of his other big movie, it looks as though he may need to call in some favors. "We're saving those cards for when we really need it on 'Free Guy' movies."

In Levy's "Free Guy," Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, a video game NPC who becomes sentient and eventually masters the open-world game that he lives within. Leveling up his skills and in-game weapons, he even pulls out a lightsaber while the "Star Wars" theme plays in the background, and Millie (Jodie Comer) exclaims: "That's a lightsaber, dude!" That exact same line is also used by young Adam in "The Adam Project" when future Adam finally shows off what his Mag Cyl can do. So, while it definitely isn't a lightsaber, it also really kind of is.