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Original ‘Star Wars’ blasters

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side…”
Han Solo – ‘Star Wars A New Hope’ (1977)

In May, we announced the launch of a £20K+ crowdfunding campaign to add two iconic weapons from a galaxy far, far away to the Royal Armouries collection. With your help, we hope to display two of the iconic blaster pistols used in the original ‘Star Wars’ films – an Imperial Stormtrooper ‘E-11’ and Rebel trooper ‘DH-17’.

This pair of ‘blasters’, created by film armourers Bapty & Co. from 1950s vintage Sterling submachine guns for the original ‘Star Wars’ film franchise,  will be displayed at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

In this post, we delve into the galaxy of ‘Star Wars’ blasters and take a closer look at some of the real-life weapons that inspired them.

‘E-11’ Imperial Stormtrooper blaster

One of the most iconic designs in the ‘Star Wars’ universe is the blaster used by the Imperial Stormtroopers. Look familiar? This was actually the Sterling Mk.4 submachine gun, or L2A2 in British Army speak. Still a service weapon at the time of production, the firearm was modified with additions including a WW2 German machine gun sight, black flanged ribs (actually plastic drawer runners from B&Q) and a photocopier part. The distinctive curved magazine of the ‘Sterling’ was also cut down to hold only a few rounds, to alter the fairly well-known silhouette of the weapon and suggest a ‘power pack’ in place of a conventional box magazine.

side view of the 'Star Wars' Imperial blaster

‘EH-11’ Imperial Stormtrooper blaster

‘DH-17’ Rebel blaster

Another example of a weapon modelled on real gun design is the DH-17, a close-combat blaster pistol which, in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, was used by Rebel Alliance soldiers in starship combat. The DH-17 blaster was made using the same Sterling L2A3 sub-machine gun that was used for the E-11 blaster, only this time the prop was fitted with a different barrel component and modified scope. In ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, the DH-17 blaster props were modified from real Sterling machine guns and they were able to fire blanks.

close up of the star wars 'Rebel' blaster pistol

‘DH-17’ Rebel blaster

close up of the Star Wars Rebel blaster DH-17

‘DH-17’ Rebel blaster

A less obvious example of a real-world gun adapted for the movie is the blaster pistol issued to some Stormtroopers and dubbed ‘Sonn-Blas SE-44C Blaster Pistol’. Just as before, this too is based upon a real gun – a Glock pistol fitted with a carbine chassis system to change its appearance (the Glock being a rather well-known movie gun). The movie ‘Dredd’ also used this approach to create the ‘Lawgiver’ pistol.

Han Solo’s iconic ‘DL-44’ blaster pistol also draws on a familiar firearm design. As many fans will know, this was a modified Mauser C96, one of the first semi-automatic pistol designs and the first to see commercial success (over one million were made).

Fans spend a great deal of time and money replicating the props of the movies, and blasters are no exception. A handful of live firing prop replicas have even been built in the United States. Strangely, as IMFDB.org points out, the new props are modified replica ‘Schnellfeuer’ machine pistols rather than the true C96. This was presumably done because replicas of the Schnellfeuer are more easily available.

We need your help

The ‘blasters’ used in the ‘Star Wars’ movie franchise are among the most iconic weapons in popular culture. The unique opportunity we have to acquire two of these original movie prop weapons will help us to continue telling the story of the development and impact of arms and armour on the history, people and cultures of Britain, the world and beyond.

Man half in shadow holding a star wars blaster across his chest

Royal Armouries curator, Jonathan Ferguson, holding the ‘DH-17’ rebel blaster

Our expert curators believe both props were assembled for use in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980), and it is likely that the base guns themselves were also used in ‘A New Hope’ (1977).

They will go on permanent display in autumn 2019 at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, as part of our ‘Collecting Cultures‘ exhibition about the role of arms and armour in popular culture.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, this project has already resulted in the acquisition of a ‘pulse rifle’ from ‘Aliens’, a collection of remarkable swords made by Peter Lyon, swordsmith to the ‘Lord of the Rings’ motion picture trilogy, and even a ‘Vampire killing kit’.

So you see, ancient weapons really are a great match for a good blaster.

“May the force be with you”

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