We previously debunked the myth that the wampa scene in Empire Strikes Back was added to cover for Mark Hamill's car crash. It was just a natural choice for a monster: you've got snow, you might as well have a yeti, too.
The bone-chilling cold is not the only danger that awaits a traveler on the Hoth plains.
Despite standing over two meters in height, the Wampa ice creature is nonetheless a stealthy predator. Camouflaged by its white fur and the howling Hoth winds, a Wampa surprised Luke Skywalker while he was on patrol and dragged him to its cave as his next meal. When the Jedi freed himself, the Wampa fought him - and lost an arm in the struggle.
The wampa in Empire Strikes Back was, let's face it, a piece of crap. They never managed to get the animatronic suit to work right in the snow of Norway, so we had to make do with an arm and a half-second closeup. Thankfully, that's just one of the many things the Special Editions fixed. Much as fanboys love to bitch and moan about some of the choices made for the re-releases, can we all at least agree that turning the wampa into a frightening monster was an improvement?
There was a wampa released in the original ESB line in 1982, and another in 1998, but they've both aged very poorly. The third, though, from 2004's Saga Collection, takes a huge leap forward. Part of the "Ultra" series of figures, the wampa stands 5½" tall, despite his slight hunch ["her" slight hunch; it's a female --ed.], so he towers over the 3¾" figures as he should. [god, I hate you --ed.]
The sculpt on this beast is wonderful. It's easy to forget how long Hasbro has been delivering superb sculpts on these small-scale figures, but the Wampa is a real showcase. The previous figures had sculpted fur, of course, but nothing like this. This is a shaggy beast, with thick, overlapping fur covering (nearly) every inch of its body. The soles of its feet and the pads on its hands are exposed skin, for better traction. There's a bit of face sticking out of the fur, as well, with deep-set eyes, sharp teeth and a tan nose and ears. The dark brown horns are separate pieces glued on.
This figure isn't exactly super-articulated,
but it's better than any wampa before. The hips, shoulders and head are swivel joints, but the waist is a true ball-and-socket joint. To best duplicate the look of thick fur (and hide the joint), there is an extra piece both above and below the actual waist: a soft plastic ring of fur that can turn and flex with the movement, so we don't have to have a big horizontal line running through the figure's torso. Of course, like any good wampa toy, this one's right arm pops off at the shoulder, but this is the only one where the interior of that split is fully sculpted - on both sides, no less!
When Luke awakens in the wampa's cave, it's eating.
Eating the remnants of his tauntaun, to be specific. Adorably, this figure includes a big red chunk of meaty thighbone that he can clutch in his right hand - there's even a string of flesh that can be clenched in his teeth. Aww, poor hungry wampa!
And though that probably would have been enough, the wampa comes with more. He's got a big diorama of his icy cave home. At 6", the base is just wide enough to not be obscured by the wampa. There's a half-buried skeleton on one side, and a 5¼" tall pillar of ice on the other. What's that for? Playability. Remember the ice base that came with Luke? Flip it upside down, and it plugs into the wampa's base, to complete the scene. There's even a small notch on this base where the handle of Luke's lightsaber can fit.
By himself, Luke isn't much of a figure - we said so in that review. But the wampa is awesome,
and together they make a hell of a diorama. Hasbro hasn't released a better wampa yet, and they're unlikely to any time soon: this one's got paint, sculpt, articulation, accessories... pretty much everything you need.
There were supposed to be more wampa scenes in Empire, had they gotten the effects worked out: you can see part of it in the original trailer. The rebels' base would have been under constant attack by the creatures, drawn by the promise of food and shelter. The rebels even would have managed to corral some of the wampas and lock them in a secure room - when the Empire attacked, C-3P0 would have removed the warning sign from the door, and a few Snowtroopers would have wandered in to their deaths. That didn't happen in any version of the final film, but you can decide for yourself if you want to buy an army of wampas and rewrite history just like George Lucas does.