Sci-Fi and Space Gat 1: The AR-15-Based DL-44

by Vern Evans

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One of the greatest things about the AR platform is that you can build just about anything you can imagine. The number of companies making complete firearms, components and accessories is staggering. From basic carbines to match and DMR rifles, to pistol caliber carbines, SBR’s, pistols and even bullpups; the variations are endless. I have a few “serious” rifles, like my old work SIG M400, my CMMG MK IV and a factory Springfield Armory Saint, but most of my personal builds tend to be for fun. I’ve been doing a lot of retro or retro themed builds, but sometimes I go even a little further afield.


A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away

Okay, fair warning, if you aren’t a Sci-Fi or gaming nerd, this build article is not the post you are looking for. We all know that many sci-fi TV shows, movies and video games use real guns as the basis for their fantasy creations. I always think it’s fun to see what the base guns started from, and some are certainly done better than others. One of the most iconic sci-fi franchises that adapted real world weaponry for use in a far flung galaxy was the Star Wars saga. From the Stormtroopers equipped with lightly modded Sterling subguns and MG-42 machine guns in the original trilogy, to AR-based blasters in some of the newer films, their weapons were based on real guns. Probably the most recognizable piece though was Han Solo’s DL-44 heavy blaster.

The DL-44

Han’s DL-44 was based on the legendary C96 “Broomhandle” Mauser pistol. Add on a scope, an MG81 machine gun flash hider and some radiator fins from a model airplane kit, and you have a world (galaxy?) class sidearm. Han wasn’t the only one to pack a DL-44, but it’s definitely most associated with the smuggler turned hero. I fell in love with the DL-44 when I first saw it on the big screen in 1977. While I have seen real C96’s mocked up into firing versions of Han’s prop (I’m looking at you Jerry Miculek) I didn’t see that ever being in the cards for me. So when I saw the Canto Arms DL-44 kit for the first time I knew that would be as close as I’d get.


Canto Arms

I love small businesses that cater to a niche audience, especially when I’m that audience. Canto Arms describes themselves as being fan owned and fan driven and you can see the passion in what they’ve created. Canto Arms makes blaster-themed pistols, and offers parts kits for you to build your own. When I started my build a few years back, the DL-44 was their only offering, but since then they’ve added an E-11D MKII blaster like the stormtroopers used and a parts kit to build an A280-CFE heavy blaster like that used by Cassian Andor in Rogue One and the Andor mini-series. The DL-44 and A-280 are chambered in .22 LR and the E-11D is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP and 10mm.

The DL-44 (and A-280) is built around a standard AR-15 lower receiver. You can buy a complete DL-44 if you want instant gratification and need a blaster now, or a complete upper to drop on your lower. Or you can buy a parts kit and do it yourself from scratch. That’s what I did.

I bought a Nocture 22 Baster Essentials build kit, which included a custom MG81-style muzzle device, a receiver end plate and end cap, a QD sling mount, a .22 barrel nut, a crush washer and some Vibra-Tite locking compound. Current kits include an anti-jam charging handle designed for use with .22 BCG’s, but at the time I had to source that separately. To finish the kit you need a .22 barrel and bolt group, and upper and lower receiver, a lower parts kit with trigger guard and grip, as well as a .22 magazine and some sort of sight.

I used a CMMG barrel and Bolt Carrier Group for my build. At the time they were out of stock for months everywhere I looked, but eventually CMMG got them back in, so I bought those right from them. It looks like Canto Arms has them in stock as I’m writing this though, which makes things easier.

For an upper, I went with an Odin Works pistol caliber upper without forward assist. Any AR upper will work but I thought the styling of the Odin Works was fitting for a sci-fi build, and the pistol-sized ejection port was all that was needed for the .22.

Initially I used a Del-Ton lower that I had on hand, and that sat on the build for years. Recently though, I had a chance to upgrade that to a more specific lower; more on that in a moment. I tried a variety of grips on the build, and while any grip will work, I ended up going back to Canto for their “Mercenary Broomhandle Han Solo Walnut Grip.” It uses an aluminum grip frame and grooved walnut scales that give the build that C96 look. I had tried another one piece C96 style grip before this, but it felt and looked too small to me. While the Canto DL-44 mimics the magazine forward shape of a C-96, it’s a much bigger gun. The C-96 sized grip felt too small for the proportions of the AR-based DL-44. The Mercenary Grip from Canto has the right look and feels good in hand.

I could have used a .22 magazine from CMMG or a Black Dog mag like Canto offers, but I felt like they stuck out too far and ruined the C-96 inspired lines of the build. I ended up dropping in a Better-Mag adapter from Redi-Mag that used Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 mags. The 10-round Smith mags are shorter than the Black Dog mags and don’t protrude as far. They’re still not flush with the magwell, but I like the lower profile look better. Plus, they work well, and I already had mags from my Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 rifle. I can even use 25-round mags if I want, although that definitely spoils the lines of the build.

Initially, I mounted a Swampfox Optics Kingslayer green dot on the build, and that worked pretty well. I did end up buying a scope and offset mount from Canto, which is much closer to what was on the movie DL-44. It had the right look, but I actually found it a lot more fun to shoot with the red dot on and ended up swapping back. If Han can customize his DL-44, so can I.

I’ve run a lot of rounds through my DL-44, mostly plinking and shooting steel, and it’s a lot of fun to shoot. It’s a gun that brings a grin to most folks who see it, and it’s popular with my buddies at the range. It’s “just” a .22 AR pistol, but it has a fun, iconic look to it that doesn’t detract anything from its function.

Bad Attitude Custom Lower

While my DL-44 worked just fine, I always thought it would be nice to have a properly marked lower. Canto does offer a “Blastech DL-15” marked lower with their logo, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. When I found out that Bad Attitude Department would do custom engraving on their Low Key lowers I jumped at the chance to finally do my custom lower. I had the Blastech Industries logo engraved on the magwell, along with DL-44 and an appropriately nerdy fake serial number (the real Bad Attitude legal markings are discreetly marked inside the trigger well.) For the manufacturer markings, I did Blastech Industries, Capital City, Lothal, which was one of the locations of a Blastech factory in Star Wars nerd lore. DL-44’s had a stun setting, which was engaged by twisting the muzzle device or something, but I just had a stun setting added to my selector switch. I ended up getting a bare aluminum lower so I painted it black with Norells SOCOM black Moly Resin, which matched up well with my Odin upper.

The DL-44 is one of my favorite AR builds, ever. It’s fun and blends my love of nerd lore with a practical and fun .22 for plinking.


NEXT: Check out my other sci-fi build,  the XCOM X-9, which will post tomorrow.


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