Arming the Galactic Empire

By Will Dabbs, MD
Photos by Sarah Dabbs

In 1977 I was 11 years old and a movie debuted that was literally without precedent. Chatter on the playground was that the Bad Guy was a huge black guy in a space suit. I envisioned Kareem Abdul Jabbar in Neil Armstrong’s moonwalking togs. When finally the opportunity arose for me to see the movie myself, I sat on the front row in a tiny little movie house in Brookhaven, Mississippi. 121 minutes later I was a changed young man.

Star Wars introduced the planet to the world of Jedi Knights, light sabers, and the Dark Side of the Force. In the process the movie’s creator, George Lucas, arguably did more to advance the science of movie making than any other single person in history. Lucas’ creative genius gave us THX sound, Pixar, and Industrial Light and Magic as well as the video game company LucasArts. As I was at pretty much the perfect age to ride the crest of the Star Wars phenomenon, I’ve always been a fan.


The original Star Wars movie was shot in England on a fairly modest budget and the weapons used in the movie were of European origin as a result. Han Solo’s Blaster was at its heart a Mauser Bolo Broomhandle and the heavy weapons used by the Imperial Stormtroopers were essentially unmodified MG34 machineguns. The small arms used by the archetypal white-clad galactic thugs were, according to the backstory, BlasTech E-11 Blasters.

The E-11 is a heavily modified L34 Sterling submachinegun that incorporates cooling fins on the front and an optical sight that originally came from a British tank. The guns used in the original films were blanked for theatrical use. Astute observers can spot empty casings flying from the guns during action sequences in the early movies. I built a facsimile of the original E-11 Blaster out of a registered full auto Sterling submachinegun and it remains one of the most prized pieces in my modest gun collection.

Now fast-forward 38 years and Star Wars has yet again captured the imagination of the planet. In the spirit of the newest Star Wars Episode 7, it seemed time to retreat to the workshop and build ourselves a BlasTech E-15. This Heavy Blaster Rifle is suitable for arming Stormtroopers in combat on the ice planet of Hoth, the Desert wastes of Tatooine, or the hardscrabble tenements of Coruscant. Wherever the First Order’s forces of oppression operate, the BlasTech E-15 Heavy Blaster enforces their dark will.

Raw Material

Eugene Stoner’s AR15 rifle has been modified, chopped, extended, and otherwise molested unlike any other firearm in military history. As there are literally countless barrel lengths, buttstocks, magazines, and accessories available for this most versatile of rifles, the ubiquitous AR was the obvious starting point for our build. The modular nature of the design makes it easy to customize without a lot of dedicated tools.

We used a set of AR15 building fixtures from Present Arms to facilitate our project. While you can build one of these rifles with nothing more than a shop vice and some basic hand tools, the Present Arms fixtures are precision milled out of an indestructible non-marring polymer and provide that third hand you need to manage some of the more tedious aspects of building an AR rifle at home. The process is completely safe so long as even the most basic attention is paid to construction details and YouTube can address any specific quandaries that might arise.

We started with a basic no-frills M4-style rifle because it was cheap. We chose a lower receiver wherein the right side of the magazine well was left bare to accept the insignia of the Galactic Empire. The first step was to disassemble the upper receiver into its component parts. These pieces could have been purchased separately but they are cheaper when bought as a kit. I cut the front sight base down using a cutoff wheel on a table saw.

For a buttstock we settled on a clubfoot polymer stock from Choate. Choate is a respected stock and accessory manufacturer located in Arkansas and their products are both innovative and robust. They produce the side-folding polymer stock HK chose for their MP5K PDW submachinegun. The M16 clubfoot stock looks cool and is robust enough for hard use from the forests of the Endor moon to the unforgiving vacuum of space. The Choate stock comes stripped and requires an M16A1 buttplate and similar accoutrements for completion.

NCStar offers an extensive selection of reasonably priced tactical accessories for the shooter on a budget. Their extended keymod rail reaches out to the end of a standard 16-inch carbine barrel and gave us plenty of real estate for movie prop window dressing. To add a bit of flare we picked up some raw aluminum u-channel stock from our local home supply store and mounted it at the 2, 4, 8, and 10-o’clock positions using standard machine screws. The braided stainless steel vent tubes purportedly included to vent cooling gases from the plasma generator forward are actually matching water fill hoses intended for a domestic ice maker.

The NCStar ECO tactical sight began as an idea on a napkin and offers some truly nifty real-world capabilities at a reasonable price. The sight sports a 4X magnification as well as an integral green laser, back up iron sights, and soft red and white navigation lights. The reticle is battery illuminated and there is a mounting point on the top for a micro red dot optic. The entire unit is hardened and the glass is nice and clear. Everything feeds from a common CR123 battery. On top of all that, the ECO exudes a diabolically cool science fiction ambience.

Inteliscope produces a cell phone mount for a standard tactical rail. While this might theoretically give you access to your favorite tunes during tactical operations, the real strength arises when the mount is combined with the FLIR One attachment on your cell phone. The FLIR One turns your cell phone camera into a legitimate thermal sight and apps from both FLIR and Inteliscope optimize the device for use as a tactical tool.

To provide a certain aesthetic balance we mounted up a standard 5.5-inch CAR15 flash suppressor. Our Imperial Blaster feeds from a skeletonized X-Products 50-round drum magazine. The X-Products drum is maintenance free, loading from the top with a large front-mounted wheel to manage spring tension. It has been reliable with everything we could find to run through it and sealed versions are available for those who might want to use them for more serious pursuits.

Set Dressing

The primary color theme for Imperial Stormtroopers is white despite the fact that they operate frequently in desert and jungle environments. As a result, flat white was the color we chose for the majority of our blaster rifle. Your local auto parts store will carry ceramic-based high-heat engine block paint in spray cans. This stuff sells for less than ten bucks a can and, when properly cured, produces a finish that rivals the most expensive dedicated gun finish products. Thoroughly degrease all the parts before beginning and carefully mask off areas you want left black with some quality masking tape.

The insignia of the Galactic Empire is a bit tedious but nicely geometric. To produce a template of this design just lay some masking tape out on a piece of wax paper and draw the insignia out with a compass and ruler. Carefully measure the magazine well on the rifle to determine the maximum diameter. Once the design is drawn just cut it out with an X-Acto knife, peel off the wax paper, and position it in place. Press the edges down nice and tight before spraying the receiver white and it will produce a great end result. Spray a little paint into the can lid and apply it with a Q-Tip or toothpick if you need to camouflage minor mistakes.

Once the spray paint has air-dried it must be heat cured for maximum toughness. This can theoretically be undertaken in your wife’s oven though, if you do so, you will have likely eaten your last home-baked chocolate chip cookie. In this case the parts can be cooked in a cheap box-store toaster oven as well. We left the resulting parts pristine but if you prefer a more combat-proven look you can run over everything with a little fine grit sandpaper. This takes the light colors off the high spots and leaves a been-there-done-that sort of ambience.

Once properly cooked the flat white had just a bit of a tan flavor such that the plastic stock ended up a markedly different hue. While that bothered me a bit at the beginning the resulting spectral discordance actually looks kind of cool. We stenciled out a unit designation using the most appropriate font we could find and improvised a digital identification block using a cardboard stencil and a Sharpie marker. Be forewarned that the curing process for the paint involves temperatures of 550 to 600 deg F and can warp your rails if they are too thin.

Range Time with a Star Wars Blaster

The resulting blaster rifle ran flawlessly with anything we could stuff into it. The cool-looking ECO sight runs as well as it looks and dropped our rounds on target out past 200 meters. The laser and navigation lights make the rifle remarkably effective out here in the Real World. The aluminum faux cooling fins actually do a fine job of keeping your sensitive fingers away from the hot barrel. I would be completely comfortable stowing our BlasTech E-15 Imperial Heavy Blaster at my bedside for those times when the dog just won’t shut up at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Building an AR rifle at home has never been easier and the capacity to customize the gun with various tactical widgets and then color coordinate the whole shebang just adds to the fun. Building up something that legitimately looks like it stepped off the set of a science fiction movie makes the project even better. Be creative, have fun, and May the Force be With You...


This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N3 (April 2016)
and was posted online on February 19, 2016


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