Spoiler warnings: we’re guessing at some stuff in Star Wars: The Force Awakens here, and this article also continues spoilers for both trilogies to date and a couple of new canonical novels. Enter at your own risk…
Up there with the most iconic weapons ever to feature in science fiction, Han Solo’s BlasTech DL-44, which Star Wars legend tells us has some ‘special modifications’ the smuggler made himself, is a prop that many fans thought they may never see used in anger on screen again. Yet there it is, in the second teaser trailer in the hands of its rightful owner aboard the modified ship that got him through Episodes IV and V despite its quirky ways. It’s also in prime position for this amazing poster…
The design work of Star Wars’ set decorator Roger Christian – who, alongside production designer John Barry, was one of the first people hired by George Lucas as he prepped Star Wars – Solo’s DL-44 became something of a proof of concept for the use of greebles in the Star Wars universe.
A word derived from a George Lucas-ism (“greebles” was how he described anything he couldn’t specifically define), “greebles” became the term Industrial Light and Magic coined to describe the mechanical parts that litter the surfaces of ships, models, and sets of the “used” Star Wars universe, but could well have been the brainchild of the British duo.
The importance of greebles to Star Wars probably can’t be overstated. They serve both to give its fantastical locations and devices a grounding in reality (if you haven’t read Ryan Lambie’s article on them, you should), but also helped keep the cost of production down by allowing props and sets of seemingly infinite detail and intricacy to be constructed from what is essentially scrap metal, spare parts, and the fine art of “kitbashing” – breaking apart Airfix-type model kits and repurposing the plastic parts as required rather than having to cast or sculpt parts from scratch.
In a fascinating interview with Esquire, Christian recalls that “if I bought airplane scrap and broke it down, I could stick it in the sets in specific ways — because there’s an order to doing it, it’s not just random. And that’s the art of it. I understood how to do that — engineering and all that stuff. So George said, ‘Yes, go do it.’’And airplane scrap at that time, nobody wanted it. There were junkyards full of it, because they sold it by weight. I could buy almost an entire plane for 50 pounds.”
Thus, Christian brought the same greebley approach to the design of the handheld weapons to be used in the movie. Probably alongside Karl Schmidt, the then-Gunsmith of prop-hire company Bapty & Co, he worked to adapt the eye-catching Mauser C96 pistol (the same as would later be used to create the Merr-Sonn Model 44 blasters for Imperial officers in the film) to his purposes for Solo’s distinctive weapon.
“I had been successful showing George my idea of adapting real guns so that they’d look used and natural,” Christian told Esquire. “For Han Solo’s blaster gun, I wanted it like a Western gun, so I stuck old sights [apparently a Hensoldt & Wetzlar Ziel Dialyth 3x scope also dating back to World War II] on it and everything [there’s the muzzle from an plane-mounted machine gun, various antenna – or not, as the case may be – and other appendages]. And I called John Barry and I said, ‘You better get George around here to see this idea,’ because we could afford to do it this way. Plus these work, you could fire them and get the recoil, on-set, and not like actors going, ‘Beep beep.’ So George came around, and that was the point where I’d either be fired or stay on. But George just smiled. And he stayed with me to help make Princess Leia’s gun the same way.”
Interestingly, though, there is no definitive DL-44 design, a problem that has proved a catalyst for much debate and a great deal of research among the prop/cosplay-obsessed niche of the SW fandom (read this amazing article by Tested for a taste of that). What is for sure is that the blaster Christian and Schmidt made, known by obsessives as the ‘Hero’ prop from A New Hope, is missing-presumed-lost-forever. No one really knows what happened to it after filming the first movie, and new props were built for Empire and Jedi – one of which — a stunt replica cast in resin from the A New Hope original, as opposed to the heavier live fire ‘Hero’ item — sold for an eye-watering $200,000 to an anonymous buyer in 2013.
Indeed, the very first time we see Solo in Star Wars, and thus our first sighting of the DL-44 — for his infamously re-jigged encounter with Greedo — was filmed using a replica rather than Christian’s original model.
The reason for this was that the cantina sequence was not shot at Elstree like the majority of the interiors, but in California, and getting the live-firing prop out of the UK was simply too much trouble. Fittingly, this weapon — which utilizes a different muzzle — is often known as the ‘Greedo Killer,’ but whoever shot first, it wasn’t Han’s first side-arm he was shooting.
The brief glimpses we get of the DL-44 in The Force Awakens trailers aren’t enough for even the most eagle-eyed prop-sessive to discern whether it’s changed much since end of Return of the Jedi, or if it is even meant to be the same weapon as Han wielded in the original trilogy. Han’s character poster doesn’t seem to indicate any radical changes, save for a black muzzle.
So, unless you are fascinated by such minutiae, what’s more interesting is the rumor that it may have a new owner by the end of the film. Concept art depicting Rey, and shown alongside her costume replica at Star Wars Celebration, certainly shows her carrying a DL-44, and it would appear to be the Star Wars way to kit out its heroes with distinctive weaponry (though Luke pulls a DL-44 on Yoda during their first meeting).
This idea of a change of owner has also been built up by rumor reports from Making Star Wars that describe a gun – whether or not it’s the gun is far from clear, though – being handed to Rey by Han for protection before they enter a ‘stronghold’ (potentially the location of Maz Kanata – on the ‘Green Planet’). That location sounds a lot like the castle we see the Falcon approaching in the recent TV ad, which itself is situated in a position a lot like the lakeside where we have seen Stormtroopers picking over ruins before being attacked by the water skimming X-Wings – there’s a view in the full trailer where you can see the plume of surface spray first seen behind the ships in the original teaser approaching head on.
Making Star Wars’ report frames the handover as part of the ‘passing of the mantle’ ethos of The Force Awakens, and uses the idea as fuel for the rumor that Rey has some kind of familial backstory, possibly as the daughter of Han Solo and Leia.
[Just yesterday, though, we received a new TV spot that shows Han giving Rey a different blaster – the same silver one we’ve seen in other spots. So this rumor might not actually refer to Han’s blaster.]
Making Star Wars is certainly not the only site to suspect this to be the case. The Star Wars story, let it be said, is essentially the story of the Skywalker family, so it would make sense that the offspring of Han and Leia would feature. Certainly, the recent trailers focus on Rey’s family, and the use of “Han Solo and the Princess (Love Theme)” as the basis for the full trailer’s score has done much to reinforce this view. Oh, and there’s this little nugget, from Allure of all places, in which The Force Awakens’ hair designer, Lisa Tomblin, says Rey’s style is “a style that was cool, practical, and different – and not so fussy… it’s a nod to Princess Leia.” Star Wars is not a franchise known to take its imagery and ‘nods’ lightly now, is it?
The non-canon Expanded Universe depicts Han and Leia as having three children: twins Jaina and Jacen, and a younger brother Anakin. Long story short: after living a childhood spent on the run from safe haven to safe haven, getting kidnapped by enemies of their parents keen to exploit their potential affinity to the Force, and drawn into various adventures, the twins become Jedi.
However, Jacen – who sees his grandfather’s stint as a Sith Lord from a more sympathetic point of view than Jaina – turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Caedus. After his tragic fall, he kills Mara Jade, the wife of Luke Skywalker, before eventually being defeated and killed by his own sister in the novel Legacy of the Force: Invincible. I mean, if that doesn’t sound like a possible plot synopsis linking ‘Rey’ with ‘Kylo’ and facing them off across the new trilogy, what the hell does?
There is certainly a little bit of mirroring going on in there poses in this poster that could lead us to think there’s a link…
Oh, and these…
The rabbit hole goes deeper, though…Come on down.
Of all the detective work and speculation I’ve read in the last year or so (er, quite a lot), this is without a doubt my favorite snippet. It comes courtesy of a forum member at StarWarsNewsNet, and concerns a supposed Easter Egg in the Star Wars Rebels episode “Empire Day.”
In that episode, an eagle-eyed viewer noticed the character Sabine examining a viewscreen showing a schematic and some Aurebesh text that should translate as “See File = 11/27/13 For the most recent strategy and tactics from Imperial Outer Rim high command”. That date – the 27th of November, 2013 to sensible people who format their dates correctly (joke) – has little significance to the history of Star Wars, other than it being the release date of Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars Legacy Vol. 2 #9, one of the gazillion expanded universe comics to appear over the years. Look at that comic closely, though, and you’ll see it features a young female scavenger by the name of…Ania Solo, a descendant of Han And Leia.
It gets even better, though: the story tells us that Ania Solo is living on an out-of-the-way backwater planet, minding a junkyard when she comes across an imperial droid carrying a lightsaber, an event that proves the catalyst for her heroic adventures. Which all sounds awfully…well, familiar (is that a pun, if it was, pardon it).
As SWNN’s own Echo-7 points out in this excellent editorial on spoilers, it all seems a bit too convenient given J.J. Abrams’ penchant for mystery box approach. Yet, over a year down the line since that crackerjack easter egg hunt, the idea that Rey’s journey is based on the concepts laid down for Ania Solo seem to hold more credence than ever.
There are also persistent, insistent rumors that Rey becomes the owner of the DL-44 because Han is no longer around to take it back from her by the time the credits roll. That, in some sort of climactic showdown on the forest planet, our favorite Corellian scoundrel meets his end.
Even I, a self-confessed spoiler junkie, have stayed away from the majority of rumors, spoilers, and conjecture regarding this possible outcome — essentially, because I can’t fully deal with it as a concept without wanting to scream ‘nooooo’ — but I know the idea originated with rumors that Ford wasn’t involved in the final ‘everyone together’ scene shot at Pinewood. It’s an idea that is seeming to make more and more sense as time goes on, too. Who, for example, is Rey crying over in the trailer? Han? Chewie? Both (oh lord, the feels)?
Despite being consistently aloof, offhand, and dismissive of the fandom generated by Star Wars, in a manner that would have made Alec Guinness proud, Harrison Ford agreed to return and bluff his way through another script full of technobabble, proving to everyone that – despite what he once told George Lucas – he can in fact say “this shit” very well. He’s even turned up at publicity and fan events like Celebration, a fact that has raised eyebrows among even the die-hardest of fans.
Could this participation be more than a thumbs up, though? Could it be because Ford knows this is a one-shot deal, his final time holding that blaster? What was it that lured Ford back to the table after he spent the previous 30 years attempting to get as far away from Han Solo as he could possibly manage? Could it possibly be the chance to give the character a death scene he supposedly wanted for him in Jedi? A grand sacrifice to redeem a scoundrel…the death that George Lucas wouldn’t grant him?
All speculation, of course, but — as is the way with Star Wars — fascinating speculation.
Off you go, then. Strike me down in the comments, but I shall become more powerful…