Creature Feature: 6 Things You May Not Know About Wampas

Smell somethin'...? Learn behind-the-scenes secrets about Hoth's fearsome snow beasts.

Creature Feature explores the ins and outs of monsters and beasts in the Star Wars universe. 

Hoth isn’t a place I’d label as a vacation destination. The inclement weather might make the frosty planet suitable for winter sports, but I don’t foresee the Star Wars universe version of the Olympic Commission (if there is one) choosing the locale for development anytime soon. One reason? The native animal life, including the wampa.

The furry white beast attacked Luke and his tauntaun while they were on patrol outside Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back and nearly devoured the Jedi-to-be. But what do you know about the creature besides that it’s carnivorous? Let’s discuss six things you might not know about the wampa.

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1. Other Appearances

Empire isn’t the only canonical appearance for wampas. A wampa pelt appears in the Trandoshan hunting lodge in “Wookiee Hunt” in Star Wars: The Clone Wars; it was one of the many trophies the Trandoshans displayed. In the comics, the creature appears in Marvel’s Star Wars #10. Wampas are mentioned in a couple of books, too. But my favorite reference? In The Clone Wars episode “Missing in Action,” there’s a sign on Pons Ora that translates to “Adopt-a-Wampa.” Who volunteers as a foster for abandoned wampas?

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2. Two Wampas, One Movie

Life-size wampa suits were made for both the first version of The Empire Strikes Back and the Special Edition. Des Webb donned the outfit first, but because the costume was so heavy and cumbersome, he had trouble with overheating. Insert joke here about the ice creature suit being hot. For the Special Edition, Howie Weed came up with a new design for the suit and shot fresh footage that was mixed with the original scenes from the film.

Weed shared a memory from playing the wampa with Star Wars Interviews. George Lucas wanted him to open the wampa’s mouth wider for a bigger scream after Luke cut off its arm. Weed said, “The mask’s mouth was opening as wide as my jaw could manage, so just before we rolled the camera I moved my free hand up the neck of the Wampa suit and into the mask’s mouth. On action I pulled down the jaw as wide as I could, which broke dozens of little elastic bands inside the mask. I could hear them popping as I tugged the mouth open. That got the result George was looking for and he called a wrap. The wampa mask was broken for good, but we got the last shot.”

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3. Puppet Time

Since the initial life-sized costume based on a design by Joe Johnston was too clunky in the original Empire Strikes Back, a more manageable puppet was built. The puppet included the wampa’s face and torso but no arms. They shot the puppet separately against a white background and also a cloudy sky to get the finished shot of the wampa screaming in the original edition. So, in the original, the full costume doesn’t appear.

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4. Cut Scenes

The wampa threatening Luke was enough to make it a frightening creature, but scenes that were cut from The Empire Strikes Back portrayed them as even more vicious. At one point, a wampa busted through a wall and fought Rebel soldiers. Another interlude featured C-3PO pulling what was presumably a warning sign about the wampa off a door, so the Imperials would open the door without suspecting what was behind it. If you’ve never seen these deleted scenes, please pull out your Empire Blu-ray and watch them as soon as possible. You won’t be sorry.

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5. Home Away from Hoth

The wampa’s cave wasn’t filmed with other Hoth scenes in Norway, but instead was built in Elstree Studios. As you can imagine, conditions inside the studio were not as freezing as Finse. The faux icicles in this cave and inside Echo Base were covered with salt to give them that sparkling ice effect, and director Irvin Kershner said working inside the caverns was a challenge: “There was so much salt that it got into our longs, our pores. We could taste the salt all day and night.” [Source: Creating the Worlds of Star Wars: 365 Days, The Making of The Empire Strikes Back]

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6. Of Sounds and Zoos

Sound designer Ben Burtt and his team gathered all sorts of sounds to use in Star Wars, and the wampa’s scream is pieced together from a couple of critters. They combined tones from an elephant at the Oakland Zoo (collected by Randy Thom) with a the squawk of a sea lion from Marineland of the Pacific. Burtt said they established a relationship with the Oakland Zoo and went to record animals a few times during the making of Empire. [Source: The Sounds of Star Wars]

Have a favorite wampa moment? Tell us in the comments!

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. She wants a Disney Nature style Star Wars Story starring baby tauntauns. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.

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