About Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom’s national museum of arms and armour, and one of the most important museums of its type in the world. We will be blogging about all aspects of our three museums - our head office in Leeds, our historical home in the White Tower at the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson in Hampshire. Content comes from many contributors throughout the Museum including the Communications, Conservation and Curatorial teams.

Meet the Jouster: Jan Gradon

Age: 3511050957_10206262886357958_1358098300_n

Height: 194cm (6’3)

Weight: 100kg

Jousting since: 2007

Team: Poland

Personal best/highlight: Sword of Honour team championship at Royal Armouries’ Easter Tournament 2015, Team Championship at the 24th Tournament of King John III in Gniew Castle (2015, Poland), Tournament of the Phoenix 2011 (USA) Champion, the second individual position at Arundel International Tournament 2013 and Skill at Arms competition champion at Arundel 2014.

Motto: “Amor Vincit Omnia” (Love Conquers All)

Strength: Composure

By day: Office General Manager

By knight:

Jan began his career in 1996 with historical re-enactment on foot, and then got on a horse in 2005. He’s trained in full-contact medieval foot combat, portrayed an Ulhan cavalry-man of the 19th century Grand Duchy of Warsaw, and rode at Europe’s largest battle re-enactments, the battles of Tannenberg 1410-2010 (Poland), Hastings 1066-2006 (UK) and Waterloo 1815-2015 (Belgium).

As a member of Xiazeca Druzyna, the largest Polish historical mounted display team, Jan competes in tournaments across Europe and North America.

Jan competed in many tournaments in Poland, Belgium, United States, Canada and United Kingdom.

In 2015 was a part of the winning Polish team at the annual at the Royal Armouries’ Easter Tournament. This year he returns to defend the trophy.

To see Jan in action, book your tickets on our website or by calling bookings on 0113 220 1888.

Day tickets cost from £10 for adults and £5 for concessions!


Jan Gradon’s colours.

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‘How to be a Knight’

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‘Warming up’

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The winning team Poland! Jan is pictured here with Jarek and the Sword of Honour at the Royal Armouries Easter Tournament 2015.


Meet the Jouster: Jarosław 'Jarek' Struczyński

Age: 51988424_688172781246965_4677779373824770768_n

Height: 1.71m (5’6)

Weight: 74 kg

Jousting since: 2006

Team: Poland

Personal best/highlight: Individual champion of the Royal Armouries Easter Tournament 2015, and therefore winner of the Queen’s Jubilee Horn.

Highest individual score on Le Tournoi du Lys d’Argent in Canada in 2012, Tournament in Trondheim, Norway and Tournament of the Phoenix, USA in 2013.

Motto: “Deo omnis gloria” (All glory to God)

Strength: Trust

By day: Founder of several re-enactment groups (15th – 17th century) and organised numerous international military/historical events.

By knight:

Having instigated the reconstruction and regeneration of Gniew Castle 1992, Jarek has supported the site’s transformation into one of Poland’s leading centres for historical re-enactment and the cultivation of past traditions.

He is co-organizer of the largest re-enactment event in Poland (The Battle of Tannenberg 1410), where he portrays the Grand Master of Teutonic Order, and is co-founder and Marshall of the Chapter of Polish Knights. Jerek has been heavily instrumental in setting up jousting tournaments across Poland, and has taken part in competitions in Poland, England, Belgium, France, Norway, Canada and the USA. He achieved highest individual score at Le Tournoi du Lys d’Argent in 2012, and Tournament in Trondheim and Tournament of the Pheonix in 2013.

Additional talents: Founder member of the Gregorian choir of Schola Cantorum Gymevensis.

Will Jarek retain his title as champion? Find out at our 2oth Easter Tournament this year! Purchase your ticket via this link.

Jarek Struczynski's colours.

Jarek Struczynski’s colours.

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Jarek was the Individual Champion at our 2015 easter Tournament, seen here winning the Queen’s Jubilee Horn.

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The winning team, Jan and Jarek of team Poland, seen here with the Sword of Honour.

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The Royal Armouries Museum celebrates 20 years in Yorkshire

Today, 15th March 2016, marks twenty years since the official opening of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. The doors were opened to the general public the following April.


HM Queen Elizabeth II meets Royal Armouries interpreters Andy Deane and Keith Ducklin. Keith and Andy are still integral members of our Visitor Experience team today.

The building, designed by renowned architect Derek Walker (chief architect for Milton Keynes development), became the first national museum with its headquarters based outside of London. The museum was developed under the leadership of the Director General and Master of the Armouries during that period, Guy Wilson. The construction project, which cost a total of £42.5 million, took two years to complete and its development was supported by national and local government, businesses, the University of Leeds, as well as press and media.

Museum fomr above

Leeds Dock as it was from above, featuring the skeleton of the Leeds museum


A news feature from the Yorkshire Evening Post on the newly opened museum

The Royal Armouries’ history stretches back over 900 years to its early role as the main royal and national arsenal housed in the Tower of London. It is one of the world’s oldest museums with a collection which has been on display to visitors for over 500 years.

Over time, as the world-class collection expanded and with limited display space available at the White Tower, a new home was required. The extensive search for a new site was focused in the north of England and led to the choice of Leeds as the best location for Royal Armouries new purpose-built museum after an initial scoping in Sheffield.


Laying the foundations: the blessing of the Royal Armouries museum site prior to opening to the public with HRH Prince Michael of Kent.

Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has become an integral part of the cultural landscape in Leeds and Yorkshire, with a major impact on the regeneration Leeds. It continues to build positive relationships with a wide range of organisations, which include businesses and other cultural and educational organisations.

Behind the scenes filming the museum’s ‘Agincourt’ short film shown in our War Gallery.

Today, the museum has five main themed galleries which display 8,500 objects from weapons of the Bronze Age right up to those supplied to today’s armed forces. The museum includes the Hall of Steel, the architectural centrepiece of the museum with 2,500 items which represent the largest mass display of arms and armour assembled since the 19th century, and the record-breaking Elephant Armour.

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The Royal Armouries record-breaking Moghul Empire Elephant armour, seen in our Oriental Gallery

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The Hall of Steel contains 2,500 examples of 17th and 19th century arms and armour

A recent film of the Hall of Steel undergoing a spring clean

The Royal Armouries Museum has established a unique reputation for its event programme, with 1,800 performances, combat demonstrations, talks and workshops each year. Jousting and tournaments have been a highlight of the Royal Armouries event programme ever since it’s opening. Below is a short film featuring one of the earliest jousts in the museum’s specifically designed tiltyard in 1996.

This year’s Easter Tournament will run from 25 – 28 March as part of the museum’s twentieth anniversary celebrations. To find out more details our 20th anniversary Easter Tournament and book tickets, please visit our website.

The museum is also developing a new special exhibition schedule. Last year the Royal Armouries presented the highly-acclaimed Art of Battle exhibition, to mark the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo and Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard (27 May – 2 October) will be a highlight of 2016.


The Royal Armouries ‘Art of Battle’ temporary exhibition

Meet the jouster: Marc Hamel #TeamFrance


Age: 481601053_1514833208766122_7985907317710951760_n

Weight: 84kg

Height: 1.8m  (5′ 9)

Jousting since: 2006

Team: France

Personal best/highlights:

Team Champion of the Lys d‘argent (Quebec,Canada) 2012

Honour of Chivalry of the King John III (Poland) 2013

Champion of the Revel (California,USA) 2014

Motto: “Allons-y” meaning “Let’s go”

Strength: Honour

Weakness: Caring for opponents

By Day: Veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, armourer and sculptor

By Knight: Participated in over 20 international tournaments in Belgium, France, England, Poland,Italy, USA and Canada.

“In jousting like in life, I pride myself to have honour over victory. I am known to be gallant and very friendly, but once my visor is down I give all the best in me, to be safe for my opponent and his horse and give a solid blow. My weakness is that I care for people, so I would rather miss than make a bad break, which costed me a few victories. I see the practice of this sport as a gift and a privilege, and every man that I encounter on the lyst becomes a good friend and a brother.”

To see Marcus in action buy your tickets to the Royal Armouries Easter Tournament here, and use the hashtag #RATournament to join in the conversation. Visit our Facebook Page Royal Armouries Tournaments for all the latest updates!


Marc’s motto is “Allons-y” meaning “Let’s go”


10624934_1478803722369071_1778640167742821596_n_© Eric Dubé 2014



Meet the jouster: Michael Sadde of #TeamFrance

Age: 3612356654_1681002598781173_173308119146792685_o

Height: 1.82m (5’9)

Weight: 82kg

Jousting since: 2009

Team: France

Motto: “Pro Rege saepe” (For my King, always)

Strength: competitive but values teamwork

Weakness: sometimes too passionate

By day: Michael is CEO of  Le Domaine des Écuyers, a riding school near Sainte-Gemmes-le-Robert and president of historical re-enactment group Les Ecuyers de l’histoire.

By Knight:

Organizer of tounoi of the Order of Saint Michel in France and participated in Gniew tournament in 2010. Participated in tournaments in Denmark, Italy, France and invited this year in Australia and Canada.

To see Michael in action buy your tickets to the Royal Armouries Easter Tournament here, and use the hashtag #RATournament to join in the conversation. Visit our Facebook Page Royal Armouries Tournaments for all the latest updates!



Indian Arms and Armour: Physical, Spiritual and Mythological

Written by Natasha Bennett , Acting Curator (Oriental Collections).

Throughout the course of human history, arms and armour have featured strongly as a part of Indian cultural tradition and interaction. If one considers the great Hindu narratives of The Mahabhrata and The Ramayana, for example, the heroes, villains, gods and demons portrayed therein employ or inhabit a huge array of weapons which often carry symbolic associations or embody celestial powers. These texts are thought to have been composed between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE, to record events which are regarded as historical by believing Hindus, but which took place before history was ever written down. Despite their ancient context, the arms and armour of India and the nuanced meanings attached to them remained relevant as time progressed, and their complex role can still be recognised today in multiple cultural contexts.

XXVID.62 (TR1999.003)

29-00062 / XXVID.62, Dagger (katar). Indian, Indore, 18th century. Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries, Royal Armouries Museum.

Over time, the Indian subcontinent has been subjected to continued invasion, disruption, and the rise and fall of different power centres, rulers and cultural elites. The conduct of warfare evolved, the structure of armies changed and the weapons and tactics that were used in combat developed over the centuries. The Delhi Sultans, the Vijayanagara Empire, the Rajputs, the Mughals, the Mahrattas, Tipu Sultan and the kingdom of Mysore, and the Sikhs of the Panjab; all these are examples of groups who excelled militarily and successfully implemented independent rule across swathes of territory as a result of martial prowess.

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Bronze 24-pounder gun, late 18th century. XIX.99 (on display at Fort Nelson) [DI 2014-1269]; Matchlock musket (toradar), late 18th century. Copyright: Royal Armouries.

By the time that the East India Company started to annex territory in India in the 18th century, European-style training methods and equipment were being adopted on many fronts, especially where firearms were concerned. By the time of the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s, many of the pieces in the artillery park built up in previous years by Maharaja Ranjit Singh rivalled the guns that the East India Company army had at their disposal.

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Image: Bronze gun with carriage and limber, made in Lahore, about 1840, used in the First Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-6. XIX.329 (on display at Fort Nelson). Copyright: Royal Armouries.

Despite the inevitable changes that took place in pursuit of modernisation and efficiency, ruthless practicality was only one aspect of the role of Indian arms and armour, and not necessarily the most important one in the eyes of many individuals. Many pieces were created to perform a ceremonial, votive or even sacrificial role; the ritual importance of some weapons far outweighed their suitability for mortal combat. Weapons could be vehicles or vessels for divine power, and as such their iconography and symbolism had the capacity to be far more influential for the purposes of protection or lethal intention than any design features that improved practical use. Arms and armour were identified as synonymous with the role and activity of rulers, symbolising their authority and right to govern, and the duties that they were expected to fulfil on behalf of their subjects. These objects circulated throughout society from the highest echelons down; forging and severing links between people through status recognition, identity, gift-giving, diplomacy, trade, appropriation and conflict. For this reason, many forms of weapons and armour which would be considered rather archaic from a utilitarian perspective continued to be produced on a large scale until the 19th century; indeed, many such pieces are still relevant and current in the present day.

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Quoit turban (dastar bungga), late 18th – early 19th century. XXVIA.60. Copyright: Royal Armouries.

DI 2013-0606

Sword (khanda), late 18th century. XXVIS.34 . Copyright: Royal Armouries.

The Tower of London took delivery of the vast majority of its Indian collection during the mid-19th century, as a result of three main triggers: the collection of representative sets of arms and armour from across India by the East India Company from 1849 onwards; the purchase of multiple display items from the Great Exhibition of 1851; and the general disarmament of 1859 following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which prompted the Indian government to bestow a large amount of equipment on the Tower Armouries in 1861. When assessed as a group, the presence and apparent continued use of various traditional forms of weaponry and equipment is fairly noticeable. Of course, this material was collected and assembled to be displayed in a museum environment and intended to project certain impressions or messages. This means that it would be limiting to unquestioningly regard this collection as a transparent ‘snapshot in time’ of exactly how arms and armour was being used in India in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the more traditional weapons and equipment clearly still had a role to play; they were still embedded as a fundamental part of cultural and religious understanding and activity, and quality craftsmanship, high levels of martial skill and many different beliefs were dedicated to their production, use and preservation.


The seminar Indian Arms and Armour: Physical, Spiritual and Mythological will seek to examine these evocative themes in greater detail. Delegates will have the chance to look at and handle numerous pieces of armour and weaponry, ranging in nature from austere and practical to symbolic and ritualistic, with a few completely unique and curious pieces thrown in! Some of the objects that will be available are extremely rare, so this will be a unique opportunity to examine them at close quarters outside of display cases. After considering Indian arms and armour in general, the seminar will focus specifically on the Indian material at the Royal Armouries, to discover how this part of the collection has been established over time, and the important role it has played in the museum and in wider scholarship. Delegates will hear from representatives from our Conservation department as they discuss how the museum currently cares for the Indian collection, and describe some of the specific issues and solutions encountered with preserving material of this type, both here in the UK and in India.


Hall of Steel Cleaning: a ‘Call to Arms’

Written by Andrew Brown, Head of Estates and Facilities at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

After a number of years the Hall of Steel desperately needed a spring clean. This in itself posed a challenge due to the height and access difficulties to the Hall, in addition to closing down the area and restricting visitor access.


An external cleaning company Cleanbright Ltd were commissioned to undertake the internal high level areas and our own Facilities staff tackled the outer staircase, all of which was overseen by the Conservation team to ensure protection of the artefacts. Feather dusters proved to be the best tool for the job.


Technology came to the fore in accessing the high levels through the use of a tracked aerial platform called a spider.



This remarkable piece of kit could be transported through our main entrance but then unfolded to allow a two man cage to rise up to the highest points of the Hall of Steel. It was an impressive sight. All works were successfully completed ahead of schedule and the hall now noticeably free from dust.

Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard…an introduction

Written by Special Projects Manager Alex Woodall.

On starting my intriguingly-titled post as Special Projects Manager at the Royal Armouries in November 2015, I had little idea of what this role in the interpretation team would involve. But I could not have been more delighted to discover that my initial special project is the challenge of overseeing an exhibition of objects in Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.


K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse © Birmingham Museums Trust

Jointly owned by the cities of Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, and managed by Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered.  It was unearthed in 2009 in a field near Lichfield by a local metal detectorist. The Royal Armouries is staging an exhibition of some of its objects as they are displayed outside the West Midlands in their first ever UK tour.

I initially visited the hoard some years ago at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery soon after its discovery. I can remember being dazzled not only by these tiny things – their intricate gold filigree and stunning cut garnet cloisonné work – but also by the beguiling mystery and serendipity of such a find, some of the objects then still caked in mud, and still without much research as to what they were, and how they came to be buried in this field.

Today, they are part of an ongoing conservation process, with research on the objects continually developing, for example using cutting edge technology to explore the metals, and with experts deciphering the ornate animal symbolism. New developments and discoveries are made practically every week.


K328 – Cloisonné bird with garnets, probably from a hilt grip © Birmingham Museums Trust

So far, my work on this project has included regular meetings with cross-departmental project team members, putting together exhibition planning documents and briefs for designers, alongside team visits to see the current displays in Birmingham and Stoke and learning more about the context of the objects. But the real highlight so far has been the opportunity to see the whole hoard up close while it was off display for a time in the conservation studios – it was breath-taking to be confronted with things which up until that point I had only really studied in photographs.

The objects within Warrior Treasures are mainly sword decorations: pommels and hilts, although to me (with an art gallery background), on first glance they seem more like beautiful jewels than things that might be associated with warriors. Their craftsmanship is overwhelming, with some of the filigree wires measuring just 0.2mm. Yet they are all objects that have been damaged, not recently, but prior to their burial when they were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged fighting knives): evidence of this damage provides another avenue for investigation.


K108 and K699 – Pair of collars from a sword hilt decorated with fine gold filigree wires © Birmingham Museums Trust

Alongside the hoard objects, the Royal Armouries will be commissioning a response from a contemporary maker and film which will explore aspects of these techniques and decorations. We will also be complementing the display with a small collection of Anglo-Saxon burial objects which are usually part of our early war display. A space within the exhibition will also allow for storytelling and live interpretation to take place, and there are exciting plans afoot to have a comprehensive events programme including a study day, partnerships with other organisations, and a packed schedule of holiday and term-time activity for families and schools.

Watch this space for guest posts from various partners and to see how the exhibition unfolds.



“Sent under plain wrapper – Killer Chrysanthemum included”

Behind the scenes as the Royal Armouries at the Tower prepare for Christmas, by keeper of Tower Armouries Bridget Clifford.

‘Tis the season when Santa’s little elves are packing as if their lives depended on it – and museum curators are not immune from the bug.  In the Royal Armouries case, the jewel that is the ‘Battle of Agincourt‘ exhibition will close on 31st January 2016 and the unique assemblage of objects, archive material and books will depart back to their parent organisations never to meet again. In October a new interactive gallery will re -occupy the vacated space, but in the interim the Tower Armouries has a chance to display some of its more quirky pieces which usually lurk in the furthermost corners of its reserve collections and rarely see the light of day.

As the oldest visitor attraction in the world and heir to the Office of Ordnance stores and traditions, the Royal Armouries has collected a wealth of curious objects through the centuries. Unfortunately rather than telling a joined up story, more often than not they present a patchwork quilt of Ordnance history and interests. One gets the distinct impression that some objects found a home in these stores because no one else knew quite what to do with them.


A relic of an 18th century naval disaster

The sinking of the Royal George in 1782 while undergoing routine maintenance cost over 800 lives.

Exhibitions do not display themselves – a lot of behind the scenes work has to go on before the public are invited to view. Currently we are unable to make mounts on site at the Tower, so the objects have got to go to the museum in Leeds to be fitted up for their mounts with both then returning to the Tower. This has posed quite a prickly problem for the curators on site, as everything has to be packed securely – both for their own  and everyone else’s safety.  Despite our best hopes, the blue fairy failed to materialise and magic it all done, so we found ourselves cast in the role of Santa’s helpers.

I must say, the wrapping paper left something to be desired – very plain and a bit bobbly –and much ingenuity was required to render some of the pieces travelling North less lethal.  My favourite was the Killer Chrysanthemum – a vaguely floral number constructed from the tips of old socket-bayonet blades.  No matter how much packing we arranged around this deadly bloom, we still managed to find a spike.


Cactus – nothing compared to the killer chrysanthemum!


…and under wraps

Meanwhile, Tower curator Malcolm Mercer turned out to be a dab hand with masking tape, securing errant tissue snakes before they uncoiled and slid off the objects they were supposed to be protecting.  His dexterity with the gibbet – a two- parter with decided wriggle – will be the talk of the Tower for some time to come.

The gibbet before – with supporting elf lurking…

…and after – tamed and now with over excited elf to one side.


We are also very proud of the swine’s feathers also known as brandistocks – transformed from a mid-17th  Century spikey number into  a workmanlike (and blunt) paddle through the magic of bubble wrap and tissue, with a stiffener of plastazote.  What the colonists of Virginia made of these strange 3-pronged staff weapons when 1,500 of “the best swynnes ffeathers” were produced by the Board of Ordnance from stores in October 1676 to equip the military expedition sent there is not recorded, but this is probably their the last military issue.  They remained among the stores in America “left att Virginia as a standing Trayn & Magazine and nott to be returned againe for England” and one wonders if they were put to a more domestic use and helped foster local enthusiasm for spit-roast barbeques? (For more information on this episode of American history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s article “The Artillery Train Sent to Virginia in 1676” in Man at Arms  (vol 17, no 2)March/ April 1995 pp 10-17).


Suprise! A cages and unleashed swim’es feather. (You’ll just have to imagine the paddle transformation – no photographs available)

Finally everything was packed, and the majority of items cocooned in a flight case for their trip.  Certainly a Christmas delivery with a difference, and Malcolm and I will find present wrapping 2015  a doddle in comparison.


A Christmas hamper with attitude!


Star Wars: The excitement awakens

Written by Curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson.

Excitement for The Force Awakens is high here at the Armouries, so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the fictional arms and armour on display in the footage we’ve seen so far…

‘Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?’

Like the rest of the production design for the new movies, the weapons and armour are heavily inspired by the original trilogy, but with a modern twist. The most obvious change is to the armour worn by the new ‘First Order’ Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, and the new flamethrower-equipped ‘Flametroopers’. The armour resembles the classic white 1977 design, but with a fresh-looking, more streamlined design. Though there is a lot of continuity between the prequel Clone Troopers, the original trilogy Stormtroopers, and the new version, this is more than just a logical progression or enhancement of the old designs. The designers have actually gone back further. Interestingly, just like the new X-Wing fighter, the new armour is closely based on the original 1970s concept art by Ralph McQuarrie;

imageRalph McQuarrie’s beautiful concept art for the Stormtrooper.

The design of the body and limb defences in this artwork is particularly close to the new Stormtrooper armour; note the shape of the pauldrons (shoulder defences) especially. The helmets of the different trooper types created for the film are all riffs on McQuarrie’s original helmet design, with a bit of the old movie style thrown in. Unlike the concept art however, Stormtroopers do not appear to have taken to wielding lightsabers! Like modern ballistic or riot armour, the hard plates are attached to a black undersuit. This is an idea taken from the films, as the concept art seems to show white underneath and between the armour plates. Given the total lack of protection from blaster bolts that Stormtrooper armour appears to afford in the films, my personal theory is that the Stormtrooper armour actually is a combination environment suit/riot armour. Note that the artwork shows trooper equipped with large shields. Mind you, if it is riot armour, it didn’t work too well against those Ewoks in ‘Jedi’! Returning to the helmet, the faceplate has interesting psychological implications in terms of dehumanising and anonymising the wearer. Clearly it would also intimidate the local population and the enemy. Real-life military forces tend to avoid covering their faces unless engaged in covert or special operations. Riot police and military forces involved in riots do frequently use masks or face shields, however, largely for practical reasons (fire, thrown objects etc). Interestingly, real-world designers have come up with Stormtrooper-style facial armour for modern ballistic helmets, and some have even been tried by military forces;

See link: The ‘Helmet Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection’ or ‘HEaDS-UP’, made by a company called Revision and trialled by the US Army in 2013/14. http://news.discovery.com/tech/gear-and-gadgets/army-tests-cutting-edge-halo-like-helmets-131025.htm

Overall, this retro aesthetic reflects the very conscious efforts to re-connect the new movies to their roots and help us all forget about those prequels (with apologies to any fans of those who may be reading)!

‘An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age’

It wouldn’t be Star Wars without lightsabres, and of course we’ve seen two from the new film. Luke Skywalker’s sabre, originally of course his father Anakin’s, is a major plot point and looks like it sees some use as well. It was built using a metal Graflex camera flash tube, adorned with various found objects and of course a blue energy ‘blade’ created using optical special effects. The other sabre belongs to new villain Kylo Ren, and has caused some fan controversy by sporting two miniature energy blades at the hilt, similar to the cross on a medieval sword. It’s hard to see how this would be of much practical use, as any blade contact is likely to be with the emitter portion of the ‘cross’, which would surely be sliced off! Still, it’s something new and together with the distinctively ‘angry’ jagged look to the blade, marks Kylo Ren out as something new and different to the Sith we’ve seen previously. Given the samurai movie inspiration for the lightsabre and the Jedi/Sith, I wouldn’t be surprised at some stage to see a ‘tanto’ (knife) sized weapon at some point. It would certainly add a new dimension to the fight choreography. By the way, Star Wars was not the first to feature a ‘laser sword’, as an early draft of the script called it. The idea probably originated in a 1933 sci-fi story in ‘Weird Tales’ magazine called ‘Kaldar, Planet of Antares’ and written by Edmond Hamilton.

New villain Kylo Ren and his unusual lightsabre

New villain Kylo Ren and his unusual lightsabre

‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side’

I work with our firearms collection, so I have a particular interest in the new blaster guns. These too are a throwback to the original movies. Notably, Han Solo’s iconic ‘DL-44’ blaster pistol makes a return. As many fans will know, this was a modified Mauser C96, one of the first semi-automatic pistol designs and the first to see commercial success (over one million were made). Fans spend a great deal of time and money replicating the props of the movies, and blasters are no exception. A handful of live firing prop replicas have even been built in the United States. Strangely, as IMFDB.com points out, the new props are modified replica ‘Schnellfeuer’ machine pistols rather than the true C96. This was presumably done because replicas of the Schnellfeuer are more easily available. Fans love ‘in-universe’ explanations, and if I were to try my hand at one, I’d say this is a replacement for Han’s original (which changes in detail between movies anyway).

A Mauser C96 pistol being loaded with 7.63x25mm ammunition from a ten round stripper clip. Once the rounds have been loaded, the metal strip is removed and the bolt closes.

A Mauser C96 pistol being loaded with 7.63x25mm ammunition from a ten round stripper clip. Once the rounds have been loaded, the metal strip is removed and the bolt closes.

The next most famous blaster is probably the Imperial ‘Blastech’ E-11 blaster carbine (aka the ‘Stormtrooper blaster’). ‘In-universe’, this is still in use 30 years on, though now designated the ‘Sonn-Blas F-11D’. Given the outline plot of the movie, it seems likely that this reflects manufacture of an updated E-11 design by factories controlled by the First Order, rather than whoever is running the Galactic government at this point. It seems that the old Imperial blaster maker ‘Blastech’ is now back under Republic/Resistance control. This has happened many times in our real world too, most obviously the many copies (licenced and illicit) of the original Kalashnikov AK rifle, made by different manufacturers and given different designations. Even more appropriately perhaps (given the inspiration for the Empire and First Order), when resources were tight for the Nazis in the Second World War, they looked to the British Sten submachine gun to create a weapon that would be cheaper and quicker to produce than their existing designs. This German Sten also altered a few details including the magazine housing (to take the German MP.40 magazine) and it too was redesignated, becoming the Vorgrimler MP.3008. I doubt the Star Wars designers were aware of this parallel, but it’s an interesting example of art imitating life.


Sterling L2A3 (Mark IV) submachine gun with stock folded. The 32 round magazine is below. For the Star Wars movies, magazines were cut down to only 5 rounds to make the guns look less like contemporary firearms. This meant that the armourers had to keep a large number of shortened magazines on hand in order to frequently resupply the actors and extras with blank ammunition.

The original E-11 was built on the British Sterling Mark IV submachine gun of the 1950s, and the new gun hasn’t changed much. A new sight and details like white highlights have been added. Most obviously, the magazine housing of the Sterling has been flipped to the right hand side. This would make reloading rather awkward, but as blasters don’t seem to need reloading, this is obviously not a worry! The ‘70s props actually fired blank rounds, but the new versions are no longer live-firing, so we will be seeing CGI laser blasts only and no recoil from the guns themselves. This is a bit of a shame, because although there’s no reason for directed energy weapons to recoil like a traditional firearm, it did lend a bit of physicality to action scenes in the old movies.

Storm Trooper

A promotional image of a First Order Stormtrooper with F-11D blaster. He also has a holstered SA-44C pistol (see below).

Image from: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/File:SWTFA_stormtrooper_promo.jpg

Continuing the Star Wars tradition of using real guns as a reference, the unique E/F-11 variant carried by Captain Phasma (the chrome-armoured Stormtrooper officer) is fitted with an extending butt-stock originally designed by US firearms accessory company ATI. This is curious, as the Sterling SMG is already fitted with an under-folding shoulder stock. Perhaps if the troopers in the original movies had used the stock, they wouldn’t have missed quite as often!

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Captain Phasma with her ‘tricked out’ F-11D blaster. In the real world, Special Operations Forces do frequently use standard issue weapons accessorised and customised to their preference. Royal or presidential bodyguard units also tend to carry modified weapons, sometimes chrome-plated. Phasma’s chromed armour and cloak definitely suggest some sort of elite status.

Image from: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/File:SW7_603.jpg

A less obvious example of a real-world gun adapted for the movie is the blaster pistol issued to some Stormtroopers and dubbed ‘Sonn-Blas SE-44C Blaster Pistol’. Just as before, this too is based upon a real gun – a Glock pistol fitted with a carbine chassis system to change its appearance (the Glock being a rather well-known movie gun). The movie ‘Dredd’ also used this approach to create the ‘Lawgiver’ pistol.

There are several other interesting new designs listed there already, including a new Republic (or ‘Resistance’) blaster rifle. If you’d like to read more about these and the other firearms of The Force Awakens (and for that matter the other movies), the excellent Internet Movie Firearms Database already has a section on them (in fact I used it as my main reference for this post). The Episodes VII-IX section is small at the moment but will no doubt be expanded after the movie is released worldwide.

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Image from:  http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Star_Wars#Sequel_Trilogy_.28Episodes_VII.2C_VIII.2C_and_IX.29

One day we hope to acquire a piece of Star Wars weaponry or armour for the national collection. Our ‘Collecting Cultures’ project has already resulted in the acquisition of a Pulse Rifle from ‘Aliens’. We also have a very interesting object in the collection with a Star Wars connection, which you might have seen on the ‘Quizeum’ TV programme recently. If not, we’ll be blogging about it soon. For now though, that’s all from me, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t sign off with the appropriate quote…

May The Force be with you!