It must’ve been incredible to be on set for The Empire Strikes Back. After Star Wars became a phenomenon, George Lucas was given genuine studio backing for a sequel that was going to make the franchise a true pillar of pop culture. Unfortunately, some creative ideas had to be cut, including one Wampa scene that just couldn’t happen.
Within Star Wars, Wampas aren’t the cutest Star Wars creatures. Quite the opposite — their presence always means violence in a Star Wars movie or TV series. Of course, they debuted in Empire Strikes Back, where Luke Skywalker has to face one on Hoth for survival. We almost got another, more monstrous moment featuring one, but as Anthony Daniels of the Star Wars cast remembers, it was a calamitous thing to put together.
“This was a one-take shot. The kind of destruction planned did not countenance a second go,” Daniels wrote in Star Wars Insider. “Three cameras would whirr to record the one-time-only event. The solid cavern walls had been cleverly constructed to be less impenetrable than they looked. Hidden fault lines would cause a great tumble-down, triggered by a double-fisted blow freon the belligerent Wampa.”
The Wampa in question was played by someone named “Eric”, and essentially, Eric was donning the incredibly hot Wampa costume to barge through an ice wall. This was a science fiction movie in the early ’80s, so sometimes shots like this were resource-intensive.
Anyway, they checked Eric was all good, then went to achieve the shot. As Daniels recalls, they could hear the encroaching beast, but the resulting wall smash never occurred. “There was a thud. Fake snow fell off fake ice. Another thud. Deep silence. ‘CUT’,” Daniels writes.
Set designers made the wall easier to break through; everything was set up again, only to yield the same result. By this point, time was running short. They only had that day to achieve this shot. Remember, this was before Star Wars films operated on a nigh-bottomless well of time and money.
For the third try, it was decided the crew would simply pull the wall down, and the Wampa would step forth, ferocious and hungry for Rebellion and Galactic Empire blood alike. Sadly, it wasn’t enough.
“As the fog of white cleared, there stood the Biggest Wampa In The World, magnificently fearsome from his giant taloned feet, to the muscled breadth of his hairy shoulders,” Daniels says, “above which Eric’s severely overheated and reddened face gasped perspiringly at the three cameras busy whirring at him and his Wampa head, cradled football-like in his ripping-clawed hands. ‘Sorry’, said Eric. ‘CUT’, and it was.”
And that was that. Production moved on. Next time you’re making your way through the Star Wars movies in order, insert a gigantic Wampa storming through Hoth. Honestly, it’s not hard to imagine.
Maybe we’ll see something like this in a new Star Wars movie someday — hopefully with Anthony Daniels involved somehow. Our guides to the Skeleton Crew release date and The Acolyte release date will tell you what else is happening in a galaxy far, far away, with no Wampas in sight.