Origin of the Blaster: Han Solo’s Weapon in Star Wars – Rewind
Did you know Han Solo’s iconic blaster, the “DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol” in Star Wars was actually based on a handgun used by the Nazis? In this episode, we talk about the Mauser C96 Pistol, the origin of a few interesting Star Wars props and I quiz Comedian, Writer and Producer, Jay Black who is a much larger Star Wars nerd than I ever knew. This is a good one!
There’s a famous scene in Episode four of Star Wars – this was the very first Star Wars movie – A New Hope. Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi and the two droids have left the Cantina at Mos (moss) Eisley spaceport and we see Han Solo back in the cantina, greeted by a Bounty Hunter named Greedo. The two have words, Greedo threatens Han and then Han’s blaster shot kills Greedo and he leaves the bar. The age old question in Star Wars nerd circles was “Who shot first?” And it mattered because this is the first time we meet this man who is a main character and we should know whether or not he would shoot someone without being shot at. It was a further controversy when the rerelease of the film in 1997 edited in Greedo shooting Han first and missing, then later edited again to make the two shots more simultaneous. George Lucas has said that the original Storyboard had Greedo shooting first and missing. But we’re not here to talk about who shot first – we’re here to talk about what Han was shooting.
I have an older friend whose father fought in World War Two. And he showed me this gun. A German Mauser C96. His father got it off of a German. It had a big red number nine inscribed into the grip. What was interesting about this gun was that it didn’t look like the normal hand gun. The middle section of it was big and square. And it had a wooden carrying case that doubled as a shoulder stock. You could take the gun out of the case, close the lid and attach the case to the back of the gun as a brace. And I know you might not be people who are into guns, but this thing has a long history.
If you look up the origin of the Mauser C96, it’s much older than I thought. It was designed by Josef, Fidel, and Friedrich Feederle and was sold to governments, civilians and military officers. It predates the first World War. It goes back to 1896 and it was used in the Boer War. For a time it was a very popular gun in the British military, but became primarily used by Germans in The First World War. It Some German soldiers used them in World War Two. So yes, it was actually a gun used by the Nazis. It’s been released in versions that fire 7.3mm and later 9mm. It’s most well-known nickname was the Broomhandle because of the rounded grip that resembles the end of a broom stick, but it was also known in Ireland as the “Peter the Painter” from it’s use in the Easter Rebellion and the Irish Civil War. Even Winston Churchill used a C96 Broomhandle in the 1898 Battle of Omdurman. The gun was even the standard issue for police in China for a time.
It’s really a strange looking gun. Some of them used a magazine that would feed from underneath, and some were clip fed from the top. There were dozens of variants, which is a thing that happens when a firearm is in use by militaries for such a long time. Everyone wants their own custom version of the gun. The Mauser company produced around a million of these guns from 1896 to 1937.
It was a very popular gun, even though it’s not commonly seen today.
It’s 1977 and George Lucas is creating this space film. The budget was only $11 million dollars, which was not a lot for a movie of its scope – that’d be about like $50 million in today’s money. So for a movie set in space, on several planets, on star ships and with special effects, aliens and just about everyone of those characters needing a weapon, they were looking to cut corners anywhere they could.
Enter Bapty & Co. Bapty was the company that was a professional weapons and prop supplier to films and they were given the charge of creating these space-age weapons from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Many of the weapons were just modified from existing weapons. For example, the blaster rifles carried by Storm Troopers were modified from the Mk4/L2A3 Machine Gun. This was a British World War II sub machine gun. But to the Empire, they were the Imperial BlasTech E-11 Blaster.
And when it comes to our beloved Han Solo, there’s some character development to consider. Han is a cowboy. He’s rough and tough – I mean this is the guy that shot first, right? He’s a smuggler, a ruffian and the kind of guy that you pick up in a space port in Mos Eisley and pay good money to smuggle you to Alderaan. So when choosing his weapon, they looked for something that a guy like that would carry. Han’s character was sort of a space-version of Clint Eastwood from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. There was a time in the old west in which Cowboys started being over-run by a newfangled world – New technology, trains, and a faster moving world. That’s Han Solo. He’s an old fashioned space smuggler. If he were in the 20th century America, he’d be sporting a six shooter.
The gun that Solo Carries is called the Blastech DL-44 Blaster pistol. This is what it’s called in the fictional Star Wars universe. It’s said to be a standard weapon of both military and civilians in the galaxy and fires, quote ‘cohesive bursts of light-based energy called “bolts.”’ It’s capable of piercing storm trooper armor and are accurate but said to overheat quickly. They appear throughout the Star Wars movie – if you remember when Luke is in the swamp with Yoda, he’s got one with him there, but when you see this gun – it’s forever linked with Han Solo. This is the Han Solo gun. And if you really want to get into the geeky Star Wars cannon, Han’s actual gun was given to him by Tobias Beckett and there’s a whole backstory about how Han removed the scope so he could draw it faster, but that’s all really getting into the Star Wars geekdom.
When you watch the movies and see this weapon, you’re seeing a combination of three things. Some of them were actual working Mauser C96 firearms. Some of them were firearms that had been altered so they couldn’t be fired. And some were just props, made out of wood or molded out of rubber or resin. The first Han Solo pistol was a real gun. It had been used previously in a 1968 Frank Sinatra film called the Naked Runner – it’s literally the same pistol. And it’s featured prominently. You don’t even have to go watch the movie – the gun is literally on the poster. You may not recognize it, because it had the stock extension and a silencer, but that’s the same gun. For Star Wars, Bapty & Co. added a sort of conical barrel shroud to it and changed it a bit for Han Solo. Many of these additions and modifications came from actual parts from other guns. From then on, it’s not exactly sure what Han is carrying – throughout the films, he carried a combination of many versions of the DL-44 blaster. Some were resin-cast props, some were actual converted Mausers. But as the series went on, the movies were successful and there was more money in the budget, the gun definitely gets more elaborate with dials and buttons.
It’s not known where all of the blasters from the film ended up. The third movie of the original trilogy was Return of the Jedi and after filming wrapped, Art Director James Schoppe (schoppie) was given one of Han’s Blasters from the film as a memento. In 2018, that resin-cast DL-44 was auctioned for $550,000.
If you want one, however, you can make your own. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on an original Mauser C96, you can buy the parts to convert it to the DL-44 Blaster yourself. Seriously. There are instructions online. Because of course. You never know when you’re going to be cornered by an Alien bounty hunter collecting debts for Jabba the Hut. And hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
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