Okay, for the handful of you who might actually read this to keep tabs on me or what I do, I owe you some catch-up. Later. Right now, what I want to talk about (me and millions of others, apparently) is Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
More specifically though, I want to talk props, mostly prop guns.
As most of you probably know, the prop firearms for the original Star Wars trilogy, starting with the 1977 release of A New Hope, were largely built off WWII surplus firearms. This was partly a logistical decision (hey, what can we get ahold of?) and partly grew out of Lucas’ desire to create a universe that felt ‘lived in’. Thus, we have our classic Stormtrooper Sterling submachine guns firing the galaxy’s most inaccurate laser beams (sometimes filmed using blanks), Han Solo shooting a dressed-up Mauser, etc. Seeing as how these movies, if you include pre-production, are as old as I am, I never really questioned that much; I knew them as a kid as “BlasTech”s long before I knew them as Nazi surplus or war trophies.
The prop scavenger instinct is more ubiquitous and compelling than midichlorians though, especially in television or on a tighter budget movie. Firefly provided a great game for gun geeks of “name that randomly chosen prop gun they chose to put in their sci-fi”, for example, or “hey, guess which movie they took that armor from” (Starship Troopers, in case you’re wondering). But Star Wars, as a franchise, has become huge, and known in part for its design aspects thanks to folks like Ralph McQuarrie. So here’s the thing; when you’re making new Star Wars movies, do you:
- Stick with the WWII theme
- Design entirely new props from scratch
- Update the WWII recycled thing 40 years or so, since the sequel takes place about 40 years after the first movie, and build off firearms of the 1980s?
Apparently the design is a mix of 1 and 3, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that. Thanks to a nice spread in Wired magazine, which someone else has already uploaded carefully in all its glory HERE, we can see a ton of the new prop designs.
I like the throwbacks to the WWII design elements of the originals, and we still see some of those, both in the Sterling and Mauser bits, and some new/old ones, like the muzzle shroud of the PPSH submachine gun echoed in some of these blasters:
…but wait, you say, isn’t that a Romanian AK-47 side-folder stock on the last one, and a pump shotgun forend? Yeah, it is. So we’re getting into some more modern stuff too, and in ways that might begin take some modern firearms folks out of the story a bit, as they get distracted playing “what’s that gun part”. It gets worse, in that sense:
To paraphrase comments from the last presidential campaign, you can dress a SIG in lipstick, but it’s still a SIG. Muzzle is a copy of the one used in the old rebel blasters from the original trilogy, so I approve of that as a legit in-universe add-on, but the back end is too recognizable as a SIG.
And the real obvious one to anyone who knows anything about guns these days:
Totally a Glock 17. Actually surprised Glock let them get away with this, given their rack record for shutting down replicas. The muzzle works, hearkening back to Solo’s Mauser, but sticking some picatinny rails and a strangely mocked-up AR15/M16/M4 front sight post (just as ubiquitous and recognizable to the modern audience as the Glock) on top doesn’t fool anyone. What’s worse, it’s just lazy; the front sight post without a rear sight post makes zero sense from a practical standpoint, and the rail just below that is also useless since there’s apparently a built-in sight blocking it. To me, this looks like an ultra-low-budget filmmaker took a couple $20 airsoft kits and was told to make something sorta sci-fi looking. I expected better from Star Wars.
So we seem to have a mix now. Poke around that link above, you’ll see some other M4 rear stocks, some more WWII bits (both German and US, including a 1911 in a housing), some bits from older revolvers, some I swear are bult on NERF guns, some scopes on backwards and doubled up to make them look exotic, some with what were originally built in cleaning-rods that don’t match the diameter of the barrel at all… it’s a grab-bag of Frankengun monsters, but not all made by someone who really understands functionality, and that makes me a bit sad as a fight designer and gun wrangler and action actor.
To some degree these decisions extend to lightsabers as well. Originals were scrounged parts (Graflex flash), then it became its own thing. I’ll withhold judgement for now on the quillion-style lightsabre that got folks talking so much when it was first seen ages ago (perhaps best by Stephen Colbert), but look at the detail we can now see:
From a design perspective again, as storytellers: the red wire and cut-out accommodating it obviously speak to battlefield-expedient repairs, that “lived in” aesthetic that creates spaceships you have to kick once or twice so they’ll start on a cold day. I get that. On the other hand… really? If the wire is really as important as that repair makes it out to be, first chance you get you’d run it through the housing again, because with use a loose wire like that is going to get disconnected at the worst possible moment, and then what? Bad Energizer commercial sequel, that’s what.
So I’m curious what you all think. Weathering your props, building them with a sense of history, that’s all standard practice these days. Echoing design aspects intentionally to make your evil empire seem like Nazis or Russians or Americans or whatever your agenda is, that’s pretty standard too. The Star Wars vehicles were originally (and I thought very effectively) built as miniatures using bits from various model battleship, airplane, and tank kits. Being cheap and recycling bits from other props, or straight up using other props, that’s standard too, but usually not in the high-end big franchises like this, especially where marketing of toys is such a large part of the industry – you need distinctive props, recognizable both in cosplay and action figure scale. But form should follow both function and design, in my ideal universe, and with the power of the Star Wars franchise should come the ability to create truly interesting things – as we’ve seen them do time and again with things like vehicles, aliens, and armor.
That said, I’m still looking forward to the movie.