Blink and you’ll miss it on screen in The Empire Strikes Back! On a list of the 200 top vehicles in the Star Wars saga, it wouldn’t make last place. I’m embarrassed that there’s not even an entry for it in the 1.1 million word Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia, which I co-wrote. And yet now it’s sitting, in all its amazing full-size glory, in the carport at Rancho Obi-Wan.
The “it” goes by several names: Rebel Personnel Transport, Flight Crew Shuttle, or as the three incredible (and just a bit crazy) guys who built it call it, the Rebel Troop Carrier. You may have seen it on display, or even sat in it, in the R2 Builders Club room at Star Wars Celebration V in Orlando, Florida in 2010. This is its story.
Without quite meaning to, I’ve developed a bit of a “tauntaun focus” in my collecting. I’ve always loved the noble beast of burden and the way it was brought to life in The Empire Strikes Back through stop-motion animation. Combine that with my love of handmade and fan-made items, and today’s arrival at Rancho Obi-Wan was even more exciting: an amazing wooden tauntaun rocking horse created over a period of 80 hours by Florida friend and skilled craftman Chuck Bowman, aka Woodchuck.
The oversized box was packed at a UPS store with about a zillion pink packing peanuts, along with carefully placed boxes and bubble wrap. Chuck told me he “fed it” before packing the tauntaun–and I reminded him about Gremlins. But when he said he hadn’t given it any water after midnight, I thought we’d be OK.
The body of the tauntaun is made from white aspen. The horns and rocker base are red oak, the claws African mahogany, and small Rebel logos are dark walnut. Each body part has a “spine” of eighth-inch plywood for reinforcement. I asked Chuck how he created the amazing “fur” look. “I used a coarse-steel wire brush shaped Dremel tool to gouge each dimple of fur,” he said. “That took about three hours to complete—or four cups of coffee, three bathroom breaks, and constant vacuuming to keep the sawdust at bay!”