24 February 2021
They barely featured in The Empire Strikes Back but Snowtrooper action figures were a major part of the original toy line.
My favourite action figure from the original Empire Strikes Back line was not Boba Fett as you might expect, but rather a character who in my eyes was equally as menacing and mysterious… the Imperial Stormtrooper in Hoth Battle Gear, also known as the Snowtrooper!
Basically, these guys were regular Stormtroopers that were kitted out in extra battle gear to withstand the freezing temperatures of the ice planet Hoth. But, rather than falling down dead every time a laser shot went near them like the regular troopers did, these soldiers seemed to be ultra-tough commandos… like the SAS of the Imperial Forces, I suppose. Apart from a few that were taken out by the Millennium Falcon’s under belly gun as it escaped from the Hoth Echo Base hanger bay, I don’t recall any of the other Snowtroopers actually getting killed? During their fleeting appearances they were either ripping through the command base with military precision, just hanging around menacingly behind Darth Vader or in the cab of an AT-AT Walker.
By my crude stopwatch timing I’d say they appeared on screen for no more than 28 seconds and certainly they spoke no words at all in the film! Yet thankfully, much to my delight, Kenner and Palitoy went on to make these troopers a major part of the original Empire Strikes Back toy range.
The “Imperial Stormtrooper (Hoth Battle Gear)” was the name given on the action figure card back and it was released as part of the first wave of 10 figures for The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. In the movie the Snowtroopers didn’t have their own vehicle as such, but for the toy line they appeared on the box art work of no fewer than 10 different vehicle and playset releases between 1980 and 1983.
These included the AT-AT, Scout Walker Vehicle, Turret & Probot Playset, Imperial Attack Base and the Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set, the one with the cardboard AT-AT backdrop. In the United States they also appeared on the Imperial Cruiser, a de-spec’d ESB version of the Imperial Troop Transporter and one of the earliest Star Wars vehicle releases. On the smaller ‘Mini-rigs’ vehicles they featured on the boxes of the MTV-7, INT-4, ISP-6 (bizarrely on a hot sand backdrop!?), and with their own Tri-pod laser cannon. Compare this to Boba Fett’s 4 appearances on vehicle boxes, although granted he did have his own spaceship for one of them! Even the regular Stormtroopers who were in all the movies only made 12 appearances on vehicle box art work.
Start your Star Wars collection
Collecting the vintage Snowtrooper action figures largely depends on how much kudos you place on owning different variants of the same figure. If one version suffices then you should be looking for a nice white and clean figure with good black paint details. The figure has a half-length cape (not an apron!) attached to the belt area and carries a blue two handled rifle. The original capes are often missing or damaged where the holes for attaching it have ripped.
The different Star Wars variations
For the variant collector there is a surprising amount to look out for:
The country of origin on the rear of the left leg will either be Hong Kong or China it will have no country and have been smoothed out on the original mould, generally leaving a shallow scar area.
The Hong Kong versions are most common in the UK. The Hong Kong stamp can either be found on the back of the left boot or more commonly on the left upper leg. There are also plenty of ‘Made in China’ versions available in the UK. The stamp again appears on the upper left leg but the word China is printed on a raised bar area. A cool variation of the made in China versions is the figures have a different face mask which features a one slit eye shield, rather than two separate eye slits. Collectors often refer to this as the “mono-eye” version and it is due to slight variations in the Kenner moulds used by each country. The capes for both HK and China figures are smooth on the inside and slightly coarser with a tiny waffle pattern on the outer, producing that “zipping” sound when you run your finger nail over it. The holes for attaching the cape to the figure are slits with tiny holes at either end.
The versions with no country of origin on the legs are often referred to as European versions and hark from later production runs around 1982. A variation out of Spain is known as the PBP version. PBP being the licensee in Spain for Star Wars toys, performing the same function as Palitoy did in the UK. The PBP Snowtroopers are made from a slightly different plastic to the others. This gives the figure a harder torso and as such has more defined lines and detail. Over the years these have generally stayed whiter and been less susceptible to turning creamy and yellow coloured. The capes on the PBP versions are smooth on both sides (no “zip” effect) and the attachment holes are perfectly round, as opposed to the slit versions of HK and China. The country or origin is normally a faint scarred area caused by the Kenner mould having the country name filled in prior to production.
The fore runner to PBP in Spain was Poch. The Snowtroopers Poch produced in 1980-81 are a hybrid of the Hong Kong and China versions, in that they have the “mono-eye” of the China variant, but retain a Hong Kong stamp on the leg. The Poch versions are made from a poorer plastic and can be identified today by the limbs which have a pinkish hue with brown spotting occurring and badly yellowed torsos. A variation of course, but sadly recognised more for its faults than its qualities.
In Germany the children’s comic YPS gave away Snowtrooper figures free with issue number 510 in August 1984. This was basically a PBP Snowtrooper but the variation factor here came with the weapon, as whilst many of the free figures came with the standard blue rifle, it seems the majority of them came with a black gun resembling a NATO SA80 rifle! These were actually from the Palitoy Action Force figure range and had been available in Action Force weapons packs. Not surprisingly this variant is known as the YPS Snowtrooper and commands a price of over £100 today.
A final legitimate version to mention is the one produced by Glasslite in Brazil. Glasslite obtained the Star Wars license in 1988, long after the toys had fallen out of favour in Europe and the US, and produced a small range of figures. You might have heard of the infamous Vlix figure that Glasslite produced from the Droids TV series. The Glasslite Snowtrooper had no cape, the country of origin is a smoothed over ‘bump’, as opposed to indented scar, and the rifle is a much lighter blue. A cool variation for completists, this version also commands prices of over £100 with weapon.
If you want to go down the vintage bootleg route, then look out for the Turkish produced Star Wars Uzay blue Snowtrooper that they called “Blue Stars” for some strange reason. In Brazil, prior to Glasslite getting the license, a firm called Model Trem produced handmade lead and resin Star Wars figures in the early 80s, one of which was the Snowtrooper. A fine bootleg for sure and if you can find one with a dealer it will set you back several hundred pounds.
One final thing to look out for. There are two different variations of the blue rifle, each using slightly different moulds. It is worth trying to get at least one of each if you are putting a collection of Snowtroopers together!