Building a Live-Ammo-Firing Han Solo Blaster
Harrison Ford carried a paperweight in the Star Wars films. Here's how a sci-fi fan created a working blaster if his own.
The 2013 holiday season was quite joyous for sci-fi film fans when one of the most-iconic prop guns—the blaster Harrison Ford wielded as the galactic smuggler turned hero, Han Solo, in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”—went to auction a mere four days before Christmas. Fetching $200,000, the nonfiring replica undoubtedly made a heck of a stocking stuffer for one lucky earthling, who wished to remain anonymous. While I can understand wanting to own something used by a particular movie star or in a particular film, I have a hard time wrapping my brain around paying six-figures for a paperweight, particularly when it doesn’t even emit colorful bolts of matter-disintegrating light—or have the ability to fire live ammunition, like the one I built for a fraction of the price.
As a kid all of 5 years old when “Star Wars” first graced the silver screen in 1977—the original, best version when “Han shot first“—I knew what my father meant when he leaned over and whispered, “That’s a Broomhandle Mauser,” which kindled my fascination for the pistol with the funny-sounding name and ultimately planted the seed for this project. It ignited not only a childhood fantasy to possess a blaster like Han Solo’s (who is arguably the coolest character in the “Star Wars” franchise) but, more importantly, it provided nearly four decades to cultivate the gun-related grey matter to determine exactly how to make a truly better blaster.
To produce such a cinematic semi-automatic sidearm of quality, a worthy, working specimen is needed. While some would settle for nothing less than a pristine pistol, despite being my first handgun purchase, I knew enough to search for a diamond in the rough—a pistol that may not warrant anything more than a passing glance, much less a screen test. Unfortunately, the “parts gun” I procured as my first pistol couldn’t memorize a basic function test. Sure, it was good for one round, maybe even two, but after that it malfunctioned like a droid smitten by the silica-based landscape of planet Tatooine.
Armed with a detailed technical manual I found online (which was essential—especially for a handgun containing a single screw) it took several weeks of sporadic tinkering through trial and error, until I was able to determine the problem was twofold: First, what seemed to be a bargain was actually a “parts gun” comprised of components from both C96 and M1930 variants. Second, the pistol’s many mismatched parts included a worn bolt-locking block, which integrated the pistol’s fire controls with its barrel extension.
The part was coming loose from the lock-mechanism frame during recoil and causing the sear not to reset despite complete extraction of the fired case, a fresh round in the chamber and the bolt being in battery with a fully loaded magazine of 7.63×25 mm
Mauser ammunition. As a result, I contacted Senior Curator of the NRA National Firearms Museum, Doug Wicklund who referred me to a Broomhandle aficionado in Dallas, TX to complete the recitation.
With repairs complete, I focused on learning about each of the components that gave Solo’s blaster its eye-catching aesthetics. One online source claims the British prop house (Bapty & Co.) reused a heavily modified Broomhandle originally used by Frank Sinatra in the 1966 movie “The Naked Runner.” In that film, Sinatra plays a former World War II sharpshooter armed with a C96 Mauser that breaks down to fit in a briefcase. A barrel extension was threaded to interface with the pistol to form a carbine-length barrel assembly. The gun also featured a scope base bolted to the left side of the receiver. When the time came to build the Han Solo blaster for “Star Wars,” the prop house used the barrel and barrel extension from “The Naked Runner” and discarded the carbine barrel, the scope and wooden stock. In addition, receivers were swapped for one containing a similar scope base on the opposite side of the receiver.
Another website suggested the nozzle from a fire extinguisher was used to form its flash hider, while another one alluded to the cone-shaped muzzle device of a World War II-era German MG81 machine gun. The latter seem most likely, especially considering the optic, a Hensoldt & Wetzlar Ziel Dialyth 3X riflescope was also war surplus and of the same manufacture. The piece that proved the most difficult to identify was the scope mount. I suspected it was German-military surplus as well, then I discovered the scope base and mount was custom made by Bapty & Co.