Most Star Wars fans agree that Empire Strikes Back is the best of the bunch. However I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to get them to agree why it’s the best. Some say it’s because of the dark tone, the introduction of characters like Yoda, Lando or Bobba Fett or maybe the shocking twist at the end. Good reasons all. I think what elevates Empire for me are the opening scenes that take place on the ice planet Hoth. The snow-speeders fighting the AT-ATs is great and the imperial snow troopers are too cool for school but I’m talking about even earlier in the film than that. I love me some creatures and the Tauntaun and the Wampa are too stellar examples of creature effects done right. I’ve watched enough DVD extras to know how unruly these “beasts” were to work with but through fantastic editing you’d never know it. I love old-school stop motion but seeing the Tauntauns runs across the snow dunes of Hoth does require some suspension of disbelief, it’s hardly true to life movement. However in those close up shots where you can see their breath and hear their grunting I was sold. I totally bought into it as a kid and I think they still hold up to my more critical adult eye. I’m sure the same could not be said of the Wampa if he stayed in the shot for more than a second. He was pretty sad looking and was only saved by the quick cuts. While the tauntaun was a unique creature, familiar and believable and yet totally unlike anything we’d seen before, the Wampa’s design is pretty simple. Ask any 5 year old to draw you a picture of a snow monster or abominable snow man and you’re gonna get a drawing that looks something like the Wampa. Big white hairy brute-standard stuff. That is not to say that he isn’t cool though. If a big white hairy brute is the first thing that pops into anyone’s mind when you say snow monster, than why not design your snow monster to be a big white hairy brute. The Wampa may very well have been my favourite new character introduced in Empire. I guess I have a soft spot for monsters who get their arms light sabre-ed off as the same fate befell my favourite character in the original film, Walrus Man.
Lucas re-released the original trilogy in the late 90s as re-mastered special editions in anticipation of the new trilogy which began hitting theatres in 1999. I believe his goal was to bridge the gap between the two trilogies so the originals wouldn’t seem so dated when compared to the new stuff. He did this by adding a bunch of new computer generated effects to the old films and cleaning up subpar shots. He gets a lot of criticism for some of the added effects, and rightly so, but some of the more subtle effects like the windows and panoramic backgrounds added to cloud city worked out great. Of the added footage my favourite bits were the Wampa scenes. Finally we got some great still, full frame shots of the Wampa hunched over, tearing into that tauntaun. Awesome. When All six movies were released on bluray for the first time a few months ago I told myself I wasn’t gonna drop the $100 to buy these films AGAIN. That lasted until a friend told me that in the newly released deleted footage there’s a scene where Wampas raid the rebel base on Hoth. I went out that afternoon and $100 later I was home watching the Wampa raid that could have been. It was pretty underwhelming actually and mostly only done on storyboards instead of actual shot footage but it was neat none the less.
This Wampa figure is from the 90s era of figures, Power of the Force I believe they were called. I never owned the original one and was super stoked to finally own a Wampa after so many years. He came with a large ice pillar and a hunk of Tauntaun meat to snack on. He’s got a removable arm feature so you can re-enact Luke’s heroic display of animal cruelty again and again. I think this figure is great. It looks how it’s supposed to look and that’s all I ever really wanted. Like all Star Wars figures of the time his articulation is limited but it works out okay for this guy. It’s not like he needs to fit into the cockpit of an X-wing or anything. 8 out of 10.