Picture this: it’s a hot July day in the middle of the summer of ‘77. You’ve got your popcorn, you’ve got your snacks, and you’ve got your supersized drink, but you take it easy on that because there is no way you’re missing a single minute for a bathroom break. The room is dark, the theater is packed and the energy is electric. Then those giant blue letters appear on the screen… “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” And the rest is history.
Steve Waldner started Canto Arms right here in North Dakota in 2019, about 42 years after the original release of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Waldner, being a huge fan of the franchise, wanted to find a way to embrace his love for the Star Wars universe while also using his creativity and design skills. So, he started modifying real firearms to look like Star Wars blasters.
“I just put my firearm modification interest and my interest in Star Wars together in the last six or seven years,” Waldner said. “It was a hobby—making Star Wars blasters, one-offs for myself. I started seeing things online floating around that gave me some ideas and got the wheels turning for making the first blaster that I put out. It became sort of a hobby business, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
- Canto Bight, which is what the Canto Arms name was inspired by, was a wealthy tourist destination filled with casinos and racetracks on the planet Cantonica. The city was created for “The Last Jedi.”
- Harrison Ford fans will love that Canto Arms’ The Nocturne 22 is based on Han Solo’s iconic DL-44, a blaster that Han was gifted and used for the majority of his life in the Star Wars universe!
- A Han Solo prop blaster—one Harrison Ford used in “A New Hope”— sold for over $1 million at auction in 2022. This sale set the Guinness World Record for the most expensive prop gun ever sold at auction!
- Han shot first!
Canto Arms currently offers three different fully assembled blasters: the Nocturne 22, based on Han Solo’s DL-44; the A280, Cassian Andor’s sidearm from Rogue One; and the E-11D the blaster carbine favored by the elite Imperial Forces Death Troopers. However, Waldner appreciates the fans who want to build their own and offers kits and parts for converting your own firearm into a believable Star Wars replica.
Waldner custom designs everything he sells using a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program called Fusion 360. He then sends the designs off to have them manufactured by a CNC machine from aluminum or steel. Very little of what Waldner delivers is made of plastic, but if the design calls for it, he uses a 3D printing technology to make the pieces. He will also use his own 3D printer for prototyping. Canto Arms has set its aim high. Waldner’s focus is already set on success, and his returns make that apparent. “We started out doing just over $100,000 in sales in the first year, and we didn’t even get rolling until May,” Steve said. “We are on track this year to top $200k. We’ll see what next year brings for sales, but we will keep introducing new products and designs like the upcoming E-11 Stormtrooper pistol.”
Even though the parts he makes are model-specific, Waldner says that hasn’t stopped some folks from adapting them in unexpected ways. “Sharing my passion for creating is part of the reason I’m into this,” Waldner said. “It’s a lot of the reason that my customers are into it, too. They like to build and create. They enjoy the thrill of discovering, buying, and building with my parts and kits and owning a piece of nostalgia they built. There’s just something really special about it.”
The nostalgia for Star Wars films is part of the reason Waldner was inspired to start Canto Arms. Waldner was ten the first time he saw Star Wars. “I went on to watch it probably 30 or 40 times when I was a kid. I was just blown away,” Waldner recalls, “Just seeing that Star Destroyer come on the screen at the very beginning… I still remember the feeling of sitting in the theater throughout that summer watching Star Wars over and over.” Waldner is the only one in his household to experience this nostalgia, though. His wife, Candyce, supports her husband’s business and encourages him to pursue his passions—but there is a disturbance in the Force. She does not share the same devotion that her husband does.
Candyce admits that she had never seen a Star Wars movie until recently. When asked if she shared the same passion for Star Wars as her husband, the answer was a resounding “no.” Steve confirms that she did not enjoy her first viewing. Even though it wasn’t her cup of Alderaanian Ale, she gave it a second chance, and with Steve giving her insight as to why the films had such a nostalgic impact on him, she came away with a certain appreciation she hadn’t had before. “The first round was very painful, slow-moving,” Candyce said. “Different from how movies are now. But we watched it again. And he really related things to him as a child, just letting me know. ‘I remember when I saw that the first time’ or ‘I had that as a toy.’ So many of the things in it he had as a toy when he was young.” Her newfound appreciation for Star Wars makes supporting the business and encouraging his pursuits even easier. Maybe in the future, she’ll even contribute ideas for new blaster models…though that might take some time!
You may be a fan of Star Wars, or you could be a fan of building replicas—perhaps you are looking for a faithful sidearm to keep on you while you destroy the Kessel Run in less than 12 Parsecs. Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever your needs necessitate, Canto Arms has you covered.
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