CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
All hail the hairy one! Half bear, half dog, all awesome.
This is the first Star Wars figure I ever got. It was after I'd seen and obsessed over the film. My Dad bought him for me from a toy shop in Newcastle. As I recall, Luke Skywalker followed a few weeks afterwards, then R2-D2. After that? All of them, but I can't remember the order, obviously.
Chewbacca was always my Dad's favourite. I'm not sure if that's why I got him first, or if he was just the only figure there at the time. Either way, him being my first figure is a bit like the way you remember your first pet. He had plenty of adventures on his own until his mates came along.
Birth of a Wookiee
Inspired by George Lucas' Malamute, Indiana (yes, as in: "Indiana? We named the dog Indiana..."), Han Solo's partner and co-pilot was going to be the shaggy sidekick to the lizard smuggler (as in, Solo was going to be a lizard. Not that he was going to smuggle lizards. That sounds like a euphemism). Concept drawings by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie quickly defined the look of the Wookiee, and once the 7'3" Peter Mayhew had been cast, the suit was crafted from woven Mohair and Yak Hair, and his voice created by Ben Burtt.
Wrath of a Wookiee
The amazing thing is, for the most of A New Hope, you shouldn't even like Chewbacca. He's surly, overbearing, sits threateningly at Solo's side in the cantina, intimidates the droids during the holo-chess game onboard the Falcon and isn't afraid to pick up a blaster and start killing at a moment's notice. It's only his rarer moments of confiding with Solo that let us know he's not a complete beast ("Get in there, I don't care what you smell" and "What? I know what I'm doing..."). That, and his eyes. When Mayhew puts on the suit (as he's said on many occasions), he becomes Chewie. And the intelligence that shines from the Wookiee's eyes lets us know that me may be an animal, but he's only wild when he wants to be.
Family of a Wookiee
Yeah, we're back there again, I'm afraid. In 1978, The Star Wars Holiday Special showed us what domestic life on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk is really like. As derided as it's been, the HS has been accepted into Canon, as has the idea that Chewie has a family (that he spends a huge amount of time away from).By the time we met Chewie in ANH, he was already 200 years old (first stated on-record in 'The Making Of Star Wars' documentary from 1977), which in Wookiee terms makes him a young adult.
With this in mind his family, comprises of his wife, Malla, who watches cookery shows. His son, Lumpy, plays with his toys and watches acrobatic holovids. It's all very nice apart from his scary terrifying dad, Itchy, who watches creepy videos in the living room. I'm not sure how to describe this, so see for yourself.
Haircut of a Wookiee
So, what do you do when you want to put a new twist on a character who doesn't wear clothes? The action figure remained the same for the first three movies (rectified by Hasbro in the late 1990's, of course, with versions featuring death-star-binders, Boushh's-slave-chain and "some snow"). Well, before all that, you could always give him a flat-top and dye some patches of his hair?
In 1996's Shadows of the Empire, Chewie circumvents Imperial security by disguising himself as Snoova, a famous Wookiee bounty hunter (rem yeah, I hadn't heard of him either). This subterfuge was the basis of Leia being disguised as Boushh in RotJ, since she already had the outfit from the SotE mission.
Death of a Wookiee
In 1999, something traumatic happened (which was pretty much eclipsed by Jar Jar Binks). The R.A.Salvatore book, Vector Prime, was published by Del Rey, set 21 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. At the climax of the story, Chewbacca saves Han Solo's son, Anakin, by throwing him aboard the Millennium Falcon to avoid being killed as the planet of Sernpidal is destroyed. Chewbacca didn't make it to safety. This caused genuine concern (read: "outrage") in the fan-community at the time, some of which still hasn't abated.
Due to the nature of the SW timeline, stories have been published since which feature in years prior to his death. But the Han Solo in the years that follow is a shadow of his former self, unable to come to terms with the loss of his best friend.
Return of the Wookiee
A prime example of his continuation is in 2005's Revenge of the Sith, where the appearance of Kashyyyk paved the way for the return of everyone's favourite Wookiee. Peter Mayhew returned to play Chewie in a briefer role, with a new suit that kept him cooler than the '77 model. Bearing in mind that a 178yr old Wookiee looks pretty much the same as a 200yr old one, nothing needed to be changed cosmetically. Even after 28 years, the Chewbacca we see onscreen in RotS is undisputably Mayhew's.
Let the Wookiee win...
Chewbacca has also made an appearance in this year's Clone Wars finale. The guys and girls at Lucasfilm have finally worked out how to animate fur (and still have it look like a Wookiee), and included him in the season-finalÈ. Peter Mayhew was called in as a consultant to advise on bringing Chewie to life (not for motion-capture, just for mannerisms). Amazingly, they nailed it. The CGI Chewie manages to capture the essence of Chewbacca perfectly, and is a sign of the continuing greatness of this series.
All that remains is for me to thank Mr Peter Mayhew, one of the best and most humble ambassadors for Star Wars we have. The man that brought one of my favourite characters to life. Thank you, sir.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.