By Guy J Sagi

Han Solo’s blaster – the actual prop used in the 1977 “Star Wars: A New Hope” – just sold at auction for more than $1 million. The backstory behind this historic pistol takes us into the hidden world of Star Wars, which used real, working firearms.

Originally, producer George Lucas ordered three models of Han Solo’s personal weapon, known in the film as a BlasTech DL-44 Heavy Blaster. Over the intervening 45 years, two were cannibalized for parts – leaving one complete pistol, whose serial number matches the serial number on the barrel in the movie.

That pistol just sold at an auction, conducting by Rock Island Auction Company, on August 27, for $1,057,500. Rock Island Auction Company, established in 1993, specializes in selling rare and collectible firearms. Apparently the bidding for Han Solo’s blaster was heated and competitive.

The story behind this “hero prop” is just as interesting and strange as the aliens in the famous Star Wars bar scene.

Beneath the prop is an actual working Mauser C96, or “Broomhandle” Mauser. This distinctive type of pistol was brandished by a young Winston Churchill during the Boer War, which raged across the South African savannah from 1899 to 1902.

Han Solo’s blaster sold at auction for $1.03 million on Aug. 27. Underneath the cosmetics is a real, working pistol. This one appeared in 1977 Star Wars hit. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company)

Lucas hired Bapty & Co., the renowned London-based prop firm that has created many of Hollywood’s most iconic guns, to make three operational blasters for the Han Solo character. All three were identical, at the time of delivery in 1976. Bapty & Co. decided to use the broomhandle Mauser as the skeleton for the now-legendary science fiction weapon.

Lucas shunned the then-popular trend of making his science fiction props shiny and new, requesting the movie’s guns have a “well used” look. The Broomhandle Mauser provided a solid foundation, along with the vintage World War I Hensoldt-Wetzlar Ziel Dialyt 3X scope and MG81 flash hider from the same era. The 9 mm was modified to use only blanks and the barrel was shortened to 3 1/2 inches.

Only one scope and mount were created for use as the movie was shot. If there was a malfunction in a DL-44 wearing the assembly, the optic was simply moved to another blaster.

Even after the Mauser was disguised with machine-tooled parts, it still functioned and fired blanks. Theoretically, it could also fire deadly bullets but such ammunition was never placed inside those prop guns. The filmmakers used blank-firing pistols to create genuine recoil, which adds drama during closeups, and made it easier to synchronize the sound track with the filmed action.

Alternative view of the actual pistol used in the 1997 Star Wars film by space outlaw Han Solo. (Courtesy fo Rock Island Auction Company)

Unfortunately, given the high demand by Hollywood for the historic and increasingly rare broomhandle Mauser, the originals were disassembled and used on other movie sets. As for the fate of the other two Broomhandles, they apparently fell victim to the gun turn-in efforts in the U.K. in 1997. Bapty & Co. still has five in inventory, but only the auctioned model wears serial numbers matching those that appeared in Star Wars.

Carl Schmidt served as armorer on the original Star Wars film and, along with serial numbers captured on film, was able to provide the detailed provenance, demanded by auctioneers and collectors alike. “Whilst not being in the exact form seen by millions in the film, the end result contains 80% of the last remaining pieces of this iconic prop,” Rock Island Auction, which handled the sale, said on the pistol’s official listing on its auction site.

And there’s new hope for “Star Wars” fans hoping to own a fully functioning replica. Shooting Illustrated’s Bob Boyd has made one and explained his technique.

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