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They are LEGO minifigures and are also set to be playable characters in LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game.
The Uruk-hai, described as very large black orcs of great strength, first appeared from Mordor about the year 2475 of the Third Age, when they briefly took Ithilien and the city of Osgiliath. These original Uruks were of Sauron's breeding, but Saruman bred his own, making further changes, such as resistance to sunlight and more upright stature. All Uruks were larger and stronger than other breeds of orc and consequently looked down upon and often bullied them.
In The Two Towers, Aragorn observes that the fallen Uruk-hai at Amon Hen were not like any breed of orc he has seen before. Treebeard speculates that Saruman had crossbred Orcs and Men. These orcs, who named themselves "the fighting Uruk-hai", made up a large part of Saruman's army, together with the Dunlendings and other human enemies of Rohan. They were faster, stronger, and larger than normal orcs, and could travel during the day without being weakened, although they still did not like it. Saruman's Uruk-hai fought against the Rohirrim at the Battles of the Fords of Isen, at the first of which King Théoden's son Théodred was killed, and at the Battle of the Hornburg, where the vast majority of the Uruks were defeated and destroyed.
The chapter "The Uruk-hai" details some differences among the orcs. The orc party included orcs from Mordor led by Grishnákh, Saruman's "fighting Uruk-hai" from Isengard led by Uglúk, and "northerners", orcs from Moria. It was the dead Uruks from Isengard whom Aragorn found remarkable.
The Uruk-hai of Isengard were the tallest of these orcs, and had large hands and thick, straight legs, while the orcs of Mordor are described as bow-legged. Although the Isengarders still did not like the light of the sun, they could withstand it, unlike other orcs. The orcs of Mordor were all long-armed and crook-legged, not as tall as the Isengarders but larger and more powerful than the orcs from Moria. The orcs of Moria in turn could see better in the dark than the Isengarders. Grishnákh from Mordor is described as very broad but shorter than Uglúk. In The Return of the King, the orcs Shagrat and Gorbag are identified as Uruk-hai of Mordor and are described in terms similar to Grishnákh and his troops.
Throughout The Lord of the Rings, differences in the equipment and heraldry of Uruks and other orcs are described. Uruks and other orcs in the service of Barad-dûr used the symbol of the red Eye of Sauron. The orcs of Mordor referred to Sauron as the Great Eye, and the Red Eye was painted on their shields. In contrast, Aragorn comments that the Uruk-hai of Saruman were not equipped in the manner of other orcs at all: instead of curved scimitars, they used short broad-bladed swords; and they wore iron helms marked with the Elf-rune which had the value of "S". It was clear the "S" stood for Saruman, considering Sauron's general desire not to have his name written or spoken. Saruman's Uruks used black shields emblazoned with a white hand, a symbol of Saruman.
The book speculates that various hybrids of Orcs and Men, possibly including the Uruk-hai, are under Saruman's command, including in the Shire. Some of these called "half-orcs" in The Two Towers, were sallow-skinned, squint-eyed and as tall as men. Merry describes them as "horrible: man-high, but with goblin-faces", thus implicitly contrasting them with Orcs and Saruman's Uruk-hai. An account of the first Battle of the Fords of Isen in Unfinished Tales apparently treats Uruk-hai and "orc-men" separately.
In a relevant passage in Morgoth's Ring, Tolkien states that Saruman did interbreed orcs and men, resulting in "Man-orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men treacherous and vile." However, the relationship of the Uruk-hai, as well as half-orcs and "goblin-men", to these creatures is not made explicit.
In Ralph Bakshi's animated The Lord of the Rings, differences between Orc kinds are not noted, though there are recurring physical and costume variations.
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