Guns and Gear

Han Solo DL-44 Heavy Blaster Prop

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, a prop master built what would someday become a cultural icon. Shortly after, he destroyed it.

Almost lost to history, the DL-44 Heavy Blaster might be one of the most recognizable prop firearms ever made. Three were originally made for the filming of Star Wars: A New Hope, but today only one survives.

Recently sold for over $1 million, this is a piece of history any firearm or movie enthusiast can enjoy. 

Special thanks to Palmetto State Armory for letting us get access to this rare treat. Keep a look out for more news about PSA’s Freedom Museum Collection.

LOST AND FORGOTTEN

The story of the Han Solo blaster is a sad tale but an understandable one. In the mid-70s, no one could have known how big Star Wars was going to be. To date, the Star Wars franchise’s box office is about $10.3 billion, with many more untold billions in merch. The cultural impact of Star Wars makes it easily one of the most important film releases of the 20th century. 

But 50 years ago, no one knew that was going to happen.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) had a $415,000,000 budget, but A New Hope (1977) had a budget of only $11,000,000 ($56mil-ish adjusted for inflation). Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), directed by Steven Spielberg, was the other huge sci-fi movie of that year and had a budget of over $19 million ($96 mil adjusted for inflation). My point? Star Wars: A New Hope was on a pretty tight budget, and the props reflected that big time.

Instead of inventing whole new guns for the universe, Star Wars used real firearms that were clugged together to look like new guns. This saved them a ton of money on props, but also added a more realistic and lived-in look to the movie.

DLT-19 Heavy Blaster Rifle

Stormtrooper BlasTech E-11 blasters were modified Sterling L2A3 submachine guns. BlasTech DLT-19 Heavy Blaster Rifle used modified MG34 machine guns, and the BlasTech T-21 was based on the Lewis gun.

But to the point of our story, the DL-44 Heavy Blaster used by Han Solo was a modified Mauser C96 pistol. With a cut-down barrel, Hensoldt-Wetzlar ‘Ziel Dialyt 3x’ scope, and MG81 flash hider, the C96 became the DL-44 and, in so doing, one of the most iconic prop guns ever made.

But that fame would come later.

After filming for A New Hope ended, the prop company responsible for making the guns, Bapty & Co, did what they always did and reverted the props to their normal forms. Parts were taken off, barrels were rewelded, bits and pieces packed away and forgotten.

While three DL-44 blasters were made for the filming of A New Hope, none survived. 

A NEW HOPE

Bapty & Co is a prop house that still makes movie props in the UK. Tony Watts acquired the company in 2000 and, through almost pure luck, discovered the key parts of the Han Solo blaster between 2010 and 2018. 

The Hensoldt-Wetzlar ‘Ziel Dialyt 3x’ scope, the only one used for the three props, was discovered in oddments boxes in 2010. The scope mount was found in 2018. The C96 Mauser base pistol feared lost in 1997 due to the UK’s government hand-in, was discovered to exist still — complete with the rewelded barrel.

Carl Schmidt, the lead armorer for the film and a master prop maker, came out of retirement for one special job: to remake the DL-44 Heavy Blaster.

The final result, an iconic piece of movie history once thought to be lost forever was reforged. This new version is about 80-percent correct to what is seen in the movie. After the prop department made the guns, the art department would take over and add gizmos and widgets to the props to make them look a little more spacey. Those accouterments are left off of this version. 

LIVE AND IN PERSON

The Han Solo blaster went up for auction as lot 1247 in August 2022 at Rock Island Auction Company. Rock Island estimated the value at between $300,000 and $500,000.

It sold for $1,057,500 — by far, the most ever paid for a movie prop firearm. It now belongs to Palmetto State Armory in their Freedom Museum Collection.

I got the chance to see, touch, and hold the DL-44 Han Solo blaster, and while you might not be lucky enough to get to touch and hold it, you will be able to see it in the near (we hope) future. 

Palmetto State Armory will be opening a museum in South Carolina where it will display many of the awesome firearms it has acquired.

Complete details aren’t ready yet, but from the small amount I’ve already seen, this will be a must-see museum for any firearm enthusiast.  

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