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Star Wednesday: Tauntauns

While Kenner only offered one creature each for Star Wars (the Patrol Dewback) and Return of the Jedi (the Rancor), for The Empire Strikes Back they offered two: the Wampa and the Tauntaun, both of which originally retailed for $8.99 in stores. As you can see, I paid almost three times that ($24.99) for this one in a fairly beat up box a few years ago.

Note the vintage sticker price of $7.77 on this particular box. Like other Kenner boxes, the back of this one shows you suggested ways to play with your tauntaun. You can move his arms and legs and insert a figure into the trap door on the tauntaun’s back to create the illusion that they were riding the creature.

In the movie, tauntauns were two-legged “reptomammals,” native to Hoth and ridden by members of the rebellion. In the film we see both Han and Luke riding around the frozen landscape on the creatures. In fact, Luke, while riding a tauntaun, is the first character we see in Empire.

Aside from transportation, in the movie we also learn that a dead tauntaun’s belly is a good place to stick someone to prevent them from freezing. When Han discovers Luke passed out face down in the snow and nearly frozen to death after escaping from the Wampa’s lair, Han saves his friend’s life by cutting open the tauntaun’s belly with Luke’s lightsaber and stuffing him inside. This leads to Han’s classic line, “I thought they smelled bad… on the outside!”

Somehow over the years I ended up with three of these smelly beasts.

The original tauntaun toy went on sale in 1980, the same year Empire was released. In 1982 the toy was updated to include a slit open belly that allowed children to pretend it was dead and shove an action figure inside. That’s kind of gross, now that I think about it. Unfortunately, none of the ones I own are the 1982 updated version. The one on the left is the one I originally owned as a kid. The one in the middle was inside the box I purchased. I’m not sure where the one on the right came from. It’s missing its bride and saddle, so I’m sure it’s not my original one.

While tauntauns certainly seemed alive on the big screen, the illusion was created by using a few different techniques. The ones that ran were miniatures, animated using old school stop motion effects…

…while the other ones that appeared with actors were built out of wood and foam and had people rocking them from underneath:

In 1998, Hasbro released a new tauntaun as part of their Power of the Force line of toys. I have one of those, too:

As you can see, the sculpt is much more detailed and less cartoonish looking. Unfortunately, the legs are positioned in such a way that occasionally getting the newer ones to stand upright is a real pain in the asteroid. Then again, the legs on the vintage tauntaun tended to loosen as well (at least one of mine’s legs have been glued into place), so they both had their problems.

Approximately the same price as three action figures, tauntauns were a pretty common toy among Star Wars kids. While it’s pretty common to find loose models with the bridle and saddle missing, other than that there aren’t really any other parts to lose. Lots of these survived, including the three I own.

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