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May the Fourth: The Small Arms of Star Wars

A long time ago, well, in 1977 at least, George Lucas created a new science fiction universe in his immensely popular film Star Wars. That first film, later retitled A New Hope, would spawn a saga that spanned eleven movies and many other related television programs, books, comic books and other media. Operating on a relatively limited budget and within the constraints of 1970s special effects, the first Star Wars movie relied on physical props and practical effects to simulate the far away galaxy. Some of the most iconic props were the “blasters” wielded by both the rebels and the Imperial forces they fought against. The majority of these weapons had their origins in real-world 20th century small arms, modified in various ways to make them appear more futuristic (…or should that be ancient?).

Using the small arms collection held by the Naval History and Heritage Command, here is a look at the small arms of Star Wars: A New Hope to celebrate May the Fourth. We will describe the fictional weapon and its prop and then show the actual small arm upon which it was based. Note that the designations used for the movie weapons come from available online sources and are assumed to be correct. A number of these weapons were also used in the sequels, along with new additions to the Star Wars arsenal based on other actual weapons or created using computer animation. To keep this brief, we will focus only on the main weapons from the first movie and may the force be with you, always.


DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol

Leftside of 9mm L2A3 Sterling submachine gun. Black metal finish with black plastic pistol grip. The stock is folded beneath the gun. A curved metal magazine is laying next to the gun.

Probably one of the most memorable weapons in Star Wars, aside from the light sabers, is the pistol carried by Harrison Ford, playing Han Solo, the rogue smuggler who turns out to be a hero. The DL-44 was based on a modified German C96 Mauser “Broomhandle” semi-automatic pistol. The props used in the movie included an actual C96 firing blanks, a metal replica and rubber copies, the details of which differed between each version. The C96 was modified by the addition of a telescopic sight, a flash hider and various other small details. The flash hider used for one version of the prop came from a US M3A1 .45 caliber “Grease Gun” Submachine Gun, another weapon in the NHHC collection. Although NHHC does not have a C96, we do have a very similar Model R-713, a select-fire version of the C96.

DT-12 Heavy Blaster Pistol

Right side of .22 caliber Mk I Ruger automatic pistol. Metal pistol with dark patina, highy angled grip aith wood grip panels.

One of the less well-known weapons in A New Hope was carried by Greedo, a bounty hunter working for the criminal, Jabba the Hutt. Greedo threatens Han Solo with his DT-12 inside the cantina on the planet Tatooine. Solo gets the drop on the bounty hunter and ends his career rather abruptly. Greedo’s pistol was a modified Ruger target pistol in .22 caliber long rifle with various attachments added for the movie. The pistol only appears in this one scene and, due to Greedo’s rather abrupt demise, is not seen again.

E-11 Blaster Rifle and DH-17 Blaster Pistol

Right side of 9mm L2A3 Sterling submachine gun. Black metal finish with black plastic pistol grip. The stock is folded underneath the gun.

One of the most widely used weapons in the Star Wars movies was the British Sterling Submachine Gun. This weapon served as the basis for the Imperial E-11 blasters, which are seen throughout the movies carried by Stormtroopers and numerous other characters. The movies used both functional weapons firing blanks and non-firing replicas. To make them appear less like a Sterling and more like a blaster, metal rails covered the barrel cooling sleeve, the magazine was shortened, and a telescopic sight was added to the top of the receiver. The E-11 appears in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as a number of other Star Wars movies.

The Sterling Submachine Gun also served as the basis for the DH-17 used by both the Rebel Alliance and Imperial forces. The weapons first appear in one of the opening scenes in A New Hope when an Imperial Star Destroyer captures and boards the Tantive IV, a Rebel blockade runner. The Rebel forces desperately try to defend the ship against the Imperial onslaught with their DH-17 pistols. The same weapons later appear in the hands of Imperial personnel aboard the Death Star space station. The movie props all appear to be resin replicas cast from the Sterling with the folding stock removed and a new barrel attachment and telescopic sight added.

DLT-19 Heavy Blaster Rifle

Left side view of a German MG34 machine gun. Metal gun with dark patina, black plastic pistol grip and black plastic buttstock. 

Another standard Imperial weapon seen in A New Hope is the DLT-19, which is carried by Sandtroopers on Tatooine, Stormtroopers on the Death Star and, after he captures one, by the Wookie Chewbacca. The weapons were based on the World War II era German MG34 Machine Gun with only minor modification. In a similar manner to the E-11, metal rails were added to the barrel cooling sleeve to help disguise it. The machine guns remained otherwise unmodified and were amongst the more easily recognizable weapons in the movies.

RT-97C Heavy Blaster Rifle

Left side of a Japanese Type 98/Type 1 aircraft machine gun. The gun has a long metal tubular barrel. The rear of the receiver and pisotl grip have brown wood covers.

Imperial forces operating on the desert planet Tatooine included the Sandtroopers, Stormtroopers specially equipped for the harsh terrain. In addition to carrying different equipment, the Sandtroopers also had some unique weapons. One type of “blaster rifle” carried by these troops was based on the World War II German MG15, a machine gun normally mounted as a defensive weapon in aircraft. The MG15 is fed from a 75-round capacity “saddle drum” magazine, which is also used on the weapon in Star Wars. In addition, the “blaster” is modified by the addition of three different telescopic sights and what appears to be a length of electrical cable. Unfortunately, NHHC does not have an MG15, but we do have the Japanese copy, the Type 98/Type 1, which is nearly identical and provides a good stand-in.

T-21 Light Repeating Blaster

Left side of an American Lewis machine gun. The barrel is a large diameter tube with fins at the rear. Brown wood pistol grip and buttstock. 

Another weapon carried by the Sandtroopers in the deserts of Tatooine is based on the Lewis machine gun. The Sandtrooper leading the patrol searching for the rebels in the Mos Eisley spaceport is carrying this weapon. The Lewis gun was used by both the British and US forces, and since the production of A New Hope was based in England, the prop was most likely built on the British .303 caliber Mk I Machine Gun. However, since the US .30 caliber Model 1917, US Navy .30 caliber Mk VI, and the British Mk I are nearly identical, we will use a Model 1917 to represent this weapon. The prop was only slightly modified from its original configuration by having the bipod removed and a section of corrugated tubing added to the barrel cooling shroud just forward of the receiver. 

Jawa Ion Blaster

Right side of Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk 3* Short Magazine rifle. Rifle has full-length dark wood stock with hooked semi-pistol grip. Metal triangular magazine loaded on underside of stock.

The Jawas were scavengers living in the harsh desert terrain of the planet Tatooine. They salvaged machines, including the robotic droids, to repair and barter with the planet’s other inhabitants. In order to secure the droids, they used “blasters” that fired an ion burst to disrupt the machine’s circuitry. One type of “ion blaster” used by the Jawas was built from a very truncated British No. 1 Mk III Lee-Enfield Rifle. The rifle’s stock was cut back to the wrist and the barrel and forward portion of the stock were cut back to just in front of the magazine, and a No. 1 Mk I Grenade Discharger is attached to the muzzle. Although the weapon only appears in one scene, it is significant because the Jawas use it to capture the droid R2-D2, one of the movie’s main supporting characters.

Published: Mon May 06 14:37:16 EDT 2024