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Cool as a Dead Star: The DL-44 Blaster Airgun Turned Solo Movie Prop

This gun needs very little introduction. Even Californians can recognize the DL-44 Blastech Blaster. This one, though, is special. Not only is this a one-of-a-kind reproduction of a classic galactic war film prop, it is also a working BB gun. This blaster began life as an Umarex Legends M712, and it’s being auctioned to benefit the Student Air Rifle program.

Umarex is known for their incredibly detailed historical reproductions, but the DL-44 transformation was executed by Chris Turek (aka the UpNorth Airgunner). The auction, which will be hosted on Gunbroker from May 4th to May 10th as part of the annual May the 4th Be With You celebration.

The history behind the iconic blaster featured that has been in an exponentially expanding universe of movies, games, and books that takes place in a galaxy far away is not easy to chart.

Let’s start with the facts. Back in the early 70s, the design team working to make A New Hope weren’t thinking about any kind of lasting legacy. They were making props. They had a habit of using real objects as the base for their designs. To add some futuristic details, they used “greeblies.” A greeblie is simply something added to a prop to make it look less like the original object. Many of these greeblies were found by “kit bashing,” the practice of cannibalizing model kits to produce new, and original results.

The base of the original DL-44 is obviously a C96 Mauser. The C96 wasn’t a typical C96, but one with a take-down bull barrel. This made it easy to add on the flash-hider—which came off of a MG81.

Where did George Lucas’s team find all of these gems? They had gone to England for some of the filming of A New Hope, and worked at Elstree Studios. Elstree had its own prop house, but there was a gold-mine to be found at Bapty & Co., one of the largest prop weapon suppliers in Europe.

Bapty & Co. opened at the end of World War I. Imagine the stockpile of surplus guns that they could have acquired at the end of European and global conflicts. The collection at Bapty is supposed to be mind-blowing.

The team at Bapty provided the C96, the scope mount, which they made themselves, and the scope—a Hensoldt & Wetzlar Ziel Dialyth 3x scope.

With a couple of “mystery dials” and some cooling fins off the engine of a model airplane, and a strip borrowed from a keypad of a calculator, the C96 took on new life.

This became Solo’s blaster. Resin “stunt guns” were cast to use in holsters and non-shooting scenes, and with some of the Imperial officers. Some variations of those resulted in a new branch of the DL-44 family tree: the Merr-Sonn Blaster. You have to dig deep to find the mythology of Merr-Sonn, which (according to film historians) predated Blastech.

You don’t have to look far to find more variations of the Blastech blaster, though—just look at the “cantina scene” in A New Hope. That was filmed in California, and the prop team couldn’t import the DL-44 they’d been using at Elstree. Too much paperwork.

Instead, Lucas’s team had to build a new one, a gun that’s come to be known as “The Greedo Killer.” This one looks like the other (commonly known as the “Hero” prop), but it has one key difference that gun-nuts like to geek out over. The flash hider isn’t from an MG81 (they were crazy hard to find in the States, pre-internet). Instead, they borrowed the flash hider off of an American M3 grease gun.

The Umarex M712 adds yet another challenge for anyone wanting to recreate a DL-44. This airgun is built to the specifications of the automatic version of the C96, designated the M712. As such, it has a detachable magazine that, for the Umarex, holds the CO2 and the BBs.

To make this DL-44 work, you’ll need the mag. But for display purposes, this blaster has a faux mag that will fit flush with the bottom of the mag well. The gun looks much more like the prop with this configuration.

The rest of the details are executed meticulously. While the original pieces and parts are exceptionally hard to come by (an original MG81 flash hider might be the most expensive flash hider in the world), there are suitable options available.

The greeblies on this version are meant to be inspected at close quarters. Though the scope is a reproduction, it is even stamped with the markings of the original. While no one has even seen this fine print on the big screen, it is the attention to detail that makes this project unique.

And in keeping with the “used-future” ethos that defines the early (and late) film aesthetic, this blaster has been weathered to look well loved. 

The whole project has been executed flawlessly. For the die-hard galactic star war fan, this would be a serious win. Though there are reproductions available, most are built from plastic toys. They don’t stand up to close scrutiny, and they feel light. The ones that are solid rarely have a functional component.

The best part may be the auction itself. Umarex is steadfast in their support for the Student Air Rifle Program. The Han mythos will bring a new awareness of a program here, not in a galaxy far far away, that teaches discipline, safety, and responsibility to a generation of kids who may not otherwise have any access to shooting sports. If you don’t win the auction, you’re encouraged to donate here to the Student Air Rifle program.

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4/25/2019 8:12 AM
Where is the auction being held?
4/29/2019 1:10 PM
Customer service of Umarex USA is absolutely fantastic! Just wanted to give Umarex a special 'Thank you' cause great customer service is rare these days. Umarex USA, AWESOME!
5/1/2019 9:25 AM