Original Wax Sculpting and Prototypes for Bespin Princess Leia Action Figue
Action figure collectors have always been interested in variations. Sometimes it seems that's all they're interested in. I'm pretty confident there's a variation collector out there whose goal it is to obtain every single Star Wars action figure ever produced by Kenner -- because they're all a bit different in one way or another.

But even outside the persnickety realm of variation collecting, the variation concerning the Leia Bespin figure is regarded as a thing worth noticing. Whereas the original version of the figure featured a big cork of a neck that looked something like a flesh-colored ziggurat, the amended version had a slimmer appendage, which, because it wasn't painted, caused the figure to look as though it was wearing a turtleneck.

Clearly, the folks at Kenner did some work amending the figure. But that's part of what the sculptors and model makers at Kenner were in the business of doing. In fact, even before the neck change occurred, the Leia Bespin was being tweaked in order to get it just right. I'll discuss some of these tweaks in this entry.

At the top of the page you'll see what remains of the original sculpt of the figure. It's wax, with nylon disks incorporated at the points of articulation. The arms are restorations; as far as I know, the originals no longer exist.

If you look closely at the head, you'll notice several areas that are whitish in color. Look particularly at the forehead and neck. These are areas where the sculptors made revisions using a wax of a lighter color.

You've also probably noticed that the head doesn't look familiar. That's because this is not the sculpt used to generate the head that went into production. At some point after the creation of the above-pictured sculpt, the head of this figure was entirely reworked.

The most notable difference between this head and the production version is surely the braid that runs along the top of the former. In the movie, Carrie Fisher wore such a braid during the scenes on Hoth. However, Lando pimp-gifted her some posh duds upon her arrival at Cloud City. And when she reemerged from the dressing room, she was sporting a different hairstyle -- one that lacked that distinctive braid.

Remember that Kenner was working in 1979, a year before the release of the movie, with only black-and-white stills as reference material. Either the sculptor was working from a Hoth- rather than a Bespin-based photo, or he misinterpreted the Bespin hairstyle, which does feature braids, just not a braid running across the top of the head.

Above you see two of the photos sent to Kenner by Lucasfilm as reference on Leia. I think you can see how the mistake might have happened. Especially if you're a dude, and therefore unfamiliar with all the engineering work that goes into the arranging of a woman's hair, it's hard to figure out how the braids connect at the top of the head. On the plus side, the sculptor did succeed in suggesting the manner in which the braids loop down on either side of Fisher's head.

But that's not the only thing the sculptors at Kenner had to change on this figure before it went into production. Its face also appears to have been the subject of significant revision.

Above you see a hardcopy that, like the sculpt, preserves an unreleased version of this figure's head. It has the braid on the top of the head, but the expression differs from that of the sculpt. Whereas the sculpt has the smooth repose of a Greek kouros, the hardcopy features fairly coarse features; it almost seems to be sulking. In fact, this version may have been based on the second photo featured above, which, let's face it, is not among the comeliest records of Carrie Fisher's mug.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to know whether the hardcopy predates or postdates the wax. It's entirely possible that it derives from a version of the head that was ditched before the creation of the wax. Shoot, the wax may have been made over the speculated earlier sculpt.

Here you see the reference photo, hardcopy, and sculpt. It's interesting to compare them. Note in particular that the sculpt features a neck that extends below the chin. More on neck problems later.

Here are a wax cast of the head, a second hardcopy (this one painted), and a partially painted production head. The cast, as you can surely tell, represents yet another version of the head, one whose features have been softened considerably. I think it's likely that the sculpt from which the cast derives was not complete (the details are too vague). Even so, I think you can sense the softening intent in the sculptor's work. Also, as you may have noticed, the cast lacks the braid.

The painted hardcopy appears to derive from yet another sculpt. I believe it's pretty close to the final product, though it's very hard to know for sure, as hardcopies always look a bit different than the mass-produced components they're used to generate.

Are you still with me, cowboy? Still driving our doggies along the high lonesome trail? Or have you grown bored and gone to see "The Force Awakens" for the 15th time?

Well, if you're still here, you probably looked at the above photo and asked "What have we here?" in your best Lando voice. Of course, the photo displays a painted hardcopy of our Leia Bespin figure.

The figure came with a very nice prototype cape. The ornamental design seems to have been silkscreened onto the vinyl material.

At one time the torso of the hardcopy was painted, but it was stripped down to the urethane material.

Why was it stripped? Well, as mentioned above, after the figure was put into production, it was decided that the neck looked terrible. So Kenner executed what is known in the toy industry as a "running change" -- that is, a modification to the product that is made while it is in production. My guess is that this torso was used in some capacity to modify the neck, and that the paint was stripped off in preparation for its use in the making of a silicone mold.

Here you see three iterations of the torso, all in hardcopy form. The one on the left likely represents the original sculpt; the other two are "turtleneck" modifications that differ from each other in very slight ways. You'll note that, on the later versions, the neck was slimmed and tapered, and a collar was added where before there were only a couple of lines meant to suggest wrinkles.

Fortunately, the middle torso in the above photo came with a note, which dates the running change to the summer of 1980. Of course, "The Empire Strikes Back" debuted in theaters in May, meaning the figures had been on store shelves for a few months by the time the change was effected.

The neck of this figure apparently caused a lot of grief for the sculptors at Kenner. As discussed above, the sculpted head features a neck extension. That extension appears to have been added later, in a color of wax that was significantly lighter than the base color. Also, as you can see by taking a look at the above image, the hardcopy heads were modified with plastic washers, presumably to raise them up a bit on over the shoulders of an early version of the figure.

I guess sculpting Leia Bespin was a real pain in the neck! (As my Uncle Mort used to say: "Never let an easy joke or woman go to waste.")

But seriously, the neck on this figure was such a problem that at some point -- presumably during the modification that occurred due to the running change -- that feature was entirely ripped out of the original sculpt. The sculpt also shows evidence of a sort of collar, which must have been added when the neck was removed.

Finally, here's a shot of the sculpt as I acquired it, without arms, and with the head detached. The lighting on this shot is better, so it provides a better sense of the appearance of the item.

Description by: Ron Salvatore
Photo: Ron Salvatore
From the collection of: Ron Salvatore
Country:United States
Film:Empire Strikes Back
Category:Prototypes / Product Artwork


Checklist by Duncan Jenkins, Gus Lopez, and the Star Wars collecting community
Software by Chris Nichols

All information © 2014 Star Wars Collectors Archive