In early 1999 a group of writers gathered together at Skywalker Ranch, the headquarters for LucasFilm and the home of filmmaker George Lucas, to discuss a new series of Star Wars books. Since 1994 Star Wars had spun into a lucrative publishing franchise of expanded universe novels exploring the possible stories of the heroes of Star Wars after the events of Return of the Jedi. However, one of the problems with a massive publishing franchise like this is when you have dozens of writers writing several books, is that it is very easy for them to fall into a formulaic trap. With a few exceptions it seemed as though the Rebel Heroes always went up against some dormant Imperial Faction, or discovered some plans for another planet smashing super-weapon that Emperor Palpatine left hidden in his sock drawer.
With the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy and the Prequels reigniting interest in the franchise, something new was needed to make these books really pop. What was needed was a new threat that could be so powerful as to bring the factions of the Rebellion and the remnants of the Empire together and forge a lasting peace. This series, dubbed The New Jedi Order was going to raise of the stakes of the Star Wars universe and have serious repercussions on the books to follow. It was going to be, as the cliché goes, a real game changer. In order to do this, they would have to do something very difficult to raise those stakes.
As Lucy Wilson, the director of publishing at LucasFilm noted,
“ In the Star Wars novels published by Bantam, no preexisting Star Wars
character ever died. It was our policy that no author could kill anyone who originated first in a script written by George. However, we knew that for anyone to really take a new intergalactic war seriously, and to realize that the New Jedi Order was not just Star Wars fiction as usual, someone who mattered would have to die. This was a unanimous agreement. Who would die was the subject of much debate, however. Our first thought was that the death of Luke Skywalker would have the biggest impact on the readers. However, this was not okay with George Lucas! I think it was Randy Stradley from Dark Horse who said, “Kill the family dog—Chewbacca.” In our own emotional response to this suggestion (it made us unhappy just to come up with the idea), we knew Chewie’s death would generate the biggest reaction from the readers.”
One would wonder just how George Lucas could authorize the death of such a beloved character. However as Shelly Shapiro, the managing editor for Del Ray books, which had the Star Wars license, noted,
“We didn’t get George’s permission to kill Chewie in particular: Chewie was simply not one of the characters George said we could not kill. But I think we made the best choice. Not because he wasn’t a beloved character, and only partly because he seemed a difficult character to utilize in the books. Mostly it was because his death would strongly affect every other major character in the series, so it would serve as a unique emotional catalyst. And it did.”
The die was cast, the choice was made, the authors were contacted and so the New Jedi Order series would begin with a bang. This threat was known as The Yuuzan Vong, a race of aliens that some who seemed to exist outside the Force. In the novel Vector Prime, they attacked a remote world called Serenpidal and Han Solo, Chewbcca, and Han and Leia’s son Anakin went to help the people of that world escape. Using some device the Vong were going to crash the planet’s moon into it. Anakin was trapped and Chewie hurried to get the boy free. Throwing him to safety, Chewie got Han’s son on board the Falcon, just before the planet exploding taking the mighty Wookie with it.
The narration in the book sends it home as Han flies away from the devastated planet,
“Han glanced over at Chewie’s empty copilot seat, seeing his friend there again in his mind’s eye, picturing him clearly, so vividly, and forcing it even deeper, focusing a mental image of Chewbacca so crystalline clear that he almost fostered the sudden belief that he could will the Wookiee back from the dead, that because he, Han, couldn’t accept the loss, it couldn’t be so… But it was, and Chewie was gone, and Chewie wasn’t coming back…And those images continued: Chewie running back from the gun pod; Chewie chasing Anakin down the landing ramp on Coruscant after yet another misfiring of the repulsor coil; Chewie hoisting all three of Han’s kids high into the air, not so many years ago, when they were not so little, just to prove that he could still do it. Han saw his favorite cap sitting under the copilot console, a cap Leia had given to him not long after the birth of the twins, emblazoned with the stitching Congratulations, it’s a BOTH! on the front. How many times had Chewie stolen that old and ragged cap recently, plopping it on his furry head, stretching the band… Han reached down and picked it up then, and turned it over, seeing the brownish blond hair of his Wookiee friend plastered inside…All those memories drifting by, and always ending with the same, stark realization that there would be no more of them, that the book was closed, that those hairs on the cap were the last ones Chewie would ever put there.”
The death of Chewie was a huge blow to the heroes of the Star Wars saga. Han Solo spiraled head long into depression, guilt, and alcoholism. He regretted having never told the Wookie that he loved him, especially since Chewie had saved not only his life, but his family’s life time and again. Luke Skywalker summed it up the best when he said,
“Chewie died being Chewie… And the one time I could’ve done something good, save a friend- – if this war needed a sacrifice, why didn’t it take me?!…Friends aren’t supposed to die! Or leave. Or get sick! Without them who are we? Do you remember Alderaan, Threepio? I didn’t feel anything then, but I remember Ben’s words. “A great disturbance in The Force.” I felt Serenpidal break and suffocate. Now I know what Alderaan was like. I felt Chewie’s passing too. No planet can compare.”
Indeed Luke’s statement is true as the panel that accompanies his words features his friend and brother-in-law Han Solo, hunched over the vacant co-pilot’s seat, weeping for their fallen friend. Chewie’s death was like their very heart was ripped out of their chest. This was not only the case for the fictional characters but for the fans of Star Wars as well. Six years before we’d see such fan favorite characters like Padme, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Aayla Secura, Plo Koon, or Ki Adi Mundi die by Vader’s hand, we were reminded that none of the heroes Star Wars Universe were safe. Sure, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn were struck down in Star Wars and The Phantom Menace respectively, but their deaths seemed more necessary for the hero’s journey.
This was something different. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, See-Threepio, and Artoo-Detoo were a team of heroes that survived the Death Star, Hoth, Jabba’s palace and every other horror the galaxy could throw at them. Together they’d been tortured, imprisoned, frozen in carbonite, shot at, in the case of Luke, lost an arm. They even survived the dreadful Star Wars Holiday Special together! Yet no matter what they always came out on top.
Han expresses this sentiment perfectly, saying in the Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order novel Vector Prime,
“I had built this bubble around us…Around all of us—you, me, Chewie, the kids, Luke, Mara, even Lando. Heck, even the stupid droids. We were all in it, you know? In it and safe, a cozy family. Nothing could hurt us—could really hurt us.”
Like the deaths of Jason Todd in Batman comic books or Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man , killing Chewbacca was extremely controversial. It’s a lynch-pin moment in this once escapist franchise, where the favorite characters always seem to be safe. Robin or Gwen Stacy dying was heartbreaking because we expect Batman or Spider-man to arrive just in the nick of time to save their friend. Chewie dying is heartbreaking because like Han Solo, the two of them always seemed to find a way to live to fight another day. Even in universe, his death seems to be something impossible. Chewie’s own father laments,
“<They told me he’d died in a quake…that a falling moon killed him…but how can a quake kill a Wookie warrior?!… how can a mere moon be a match for my son?!>”
Chewie is one of the strongest and fiercest fighters in the Star Wars universe. However he is also so incredibly lovable that you can’t help but open your heart and find a place for the furball. Like the gun-slingers of the old west, Chewbacca is Han Solo’s ever loyal sidekick, like The Lone Ranger and Tonto. However, unlike other sidekicks, Chewbacca is loved by fans. Comic book fans may consider Robin and Bucky liabilities to Batman and Captain America, but no one ever thinks that of Chewie. In fact he has frequently made the list of greatest sidekicks in publications like Rollingstone, Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, and the British film magazine Total Film.
Gary Sussman notes in “ The 21 Greatest Sidekicks in Movie History”: from Rollingstone, in which Chewie came in number one, narrowly beating out such worthy competition as Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, Dr. John Watson in the plethora of Sherlock Holmes stories and films, Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Kato in The Green Hornet, War Machine in Iron Man, and Robin in Batman, that,
“Princess Leia dissed him as a “walking carpet,” but Han Solo’s wookiee co-pilot is everyone’s favorite sidekick. As played by Peter Mayhew throughout the Star Wars saga, Chewie is more than seven feet tall, strong, silent (well, not silent, but unintelligible), loyal, hypercompetent, fearless, and well-accessorized with that bandolier. Even Leia came to rely on him as indispensible to the rebels’ cause. He was unjustly denied a medal at that ceremony at the end of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, but maybe he’ll settle for being named King of the Sidekicks.”
Fans were in fact so slighted by the fact that Chewie never got a medal for helping Luke and Han blow up the Death Star that in 1997, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration, Chewbacca was given his long overdue metal as a “Life Time Achievement Award” at the MTV Movie Awards by actress Carrie Fisher. Fans were overjoyed, feeling vindicated that the lovable Wookie finally got the heroic honors he deserved.
Actor Peter Mayhew, who played the beloved Wookie, wrote of his characters popularity in the introduction to the graphic novel Chewbacca,
“It was really no surprise that there was a demand to know more about the character of Chewbacca. How many times have I spoken to fans who still slept with their “Chewie dolls” and how many people have cats had dogs named Chewie? Also, how many young men have been nicknamed for our big guy? I have lost count….The Wookie I was very pleased to portray has become my alter ego over the years and a bit of a science-fiction icon. Chewie seems to be everyone’s bigger, older brother who can always be counted on to back you up in a fight. The fact that he bears a strong resemblance to a teddy bear and the family dog also deserves a mention. Chewie never spoke an intelligible word, and yet everyone knows exactly what he said and how he feels. He was the conscience of Han Solo, rogue, mercenary, and smuggler. He expresses our emotions.”
Not surpassingly the dog similarities are intentional. Chewie was inspired by George Lucas’ dog, an Alaskan Malamute by the name Indiana, who was the name sake for one of his other creations, the famed Archeologist Indiana Jones. George described his dog as being big, furry, lovable, and always ready to hop up in the front seat of the car alongside him for an adventure. In fact it’s worth noting that while many of the heroes went through countless permutations in the various drafts of Star Wars, Chewbacca was always the big, lovable, furry sidekick to Han Solo.
Like the family dog, you look at Chewie and you feel safe. If any one dares to mess with that dog’s family they are going to make that fool pay. Yet at the same time, you want to cuddle up with Chewie and play with the big guy. The name Chewbacca was even derived from the Russian word for dog. But despite his dog like tendencies, Chewbacca is so much more than a family pet. The Official Guide to Star Wars Creatures describes Wookies in these terms,
“Wookies are especially known for their loyalty and dedication to honor as well as a capacity for great kindness, sharp wit and friendship. They are devoted to friends and family…wookies are known for having short tempers, especially when honor is at stake and can fly into beserker rages if they, their families or their ‘Honor families”- those with whom they share a life debt are threatened.”
Chewie shares a life debt with one such person, Captain Han Solo. During his days as an Imperial Navy officer Han defied direct orders from his superior officers and saved Chewie’s life. Wookie culture demanded that Chewbacca owed him a life debt. It was difficult choice as Chewie had a wife and child back on his homeworld, but his honor came first.
Due to their inability to speak the standardized Star Wars Universe language of “Basic” or what we call English, Wookies are easily perceived as savages, like many a sidekick for the heroes of the Old West. This is especially seen in the original Star Wars film during the attempt to rescue Princess Leia. As the disguised Luke and Han enter the Death Star detention center, the Imperial Officer on duty asks in cold disdain, “Where are you going with this… thing.”
However Wookies are incredibly intelligent and skilled with high powered weapons, and advanced tools. Chewbacca alone has proven time and again to be an adept pilot. Their great strength, and their animal rage is more than enough to make them feared fighters. It doesn’t matter if they are in a battle or playing a game, Wookies are determined to come out on top.
Threepio and Artoo learn this on the flight to Alderaan while playing with Chewie. When Artoo makes a fair move and wins Chewie is upset. Threepio, programmed for polite social etiquette, is quick to point out the win is fair and tells Chewie it is nothing worth getting upset over and is even quick to point out the no one worries about upsetting a droid.
Han Solo tells them,
“Let him have it. It’s not wise to upset a Wookie…That’s ’cause droids don’t pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies are known to do that.”
As Chewie happily proudly puts his arms behind his head, utters a contented “Grrf” and leans back, 3P0, looks at R2 and utters the classic line, “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, Artoo: let the Wookiee win.”
Wookies are quite old, and by the time we first meet him in the original Star Wars film he is over 200 years old. He had fought in the Clone Wars, having projected Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano and several younglings when they were taken captive by slavers. When the Separatist Movement invaded the Wookies fought alongside the Jedi and the Clone Troopers to free that world. Chewie served in the command center alongside their general, Tarful, and Master Yoda.
When the Emperor gave the order to execute Order 66, it was Chewie and Tarful that would help Yoda escape to safety. It is revealed in the novel Darth Vader: Rise of the Dark Lord, that following the events of the Revenge of the Sith, that the newly minted Dark Lord of the Sith traveled to Kashyyk in an effort to smoke out any survivors hiding on the forest world. Chewie and the rest of the Wookies showed tremendous resistance and as a show of force Vader ordered his star destroyer to fire bomb the surrounding cities.
Chewie assisted a young Jedi Padawan Olee and several others wounded in combat in escaping and realized he was better off fighting the Empire then as their slave. He struck out, traveling from world to world. At some point during the long galactic Civil War he was taken prisoner by a group of Transdoshian slavers. Leading several other slave Wookies in a mutiny they over threw the captain and took control of the ship. Chewie set about trying to free other enslaved Wookies, the last one changing his life, forever. The slave ship was fired upon by the Empire and a young navy officer by the name of Han Solo was ordered to kill and skin Chewie and bring the fur to his commanding officer. Han refused, and saved Chewie’s life.
It would be this act of mercy that would gain Han Solo his life-long friend. Chewie would embark on one hair brained scheme with Han to the next, the two of them always laughing in the face of death. If Han Solo was the shoot first ask questions later, bold, brash hero who was always eager for a fight like Gilgamesh, Chewie was his Enkido, the noble yet savage warrior, who teamed up with him seemed to just fit together. If Han got in trouble, Chewie could get him out of it.
But perhaps the biggest would be when the two would get entangled in the Rebellion against the Empire. While at the Mos Eisely Cantina, Obi-Wan Kenobi found Chewbacca at the bar and spoke to him, seeking passage for him, Luke and the droids to get to Alderaan. Chewie relayed the message to Han and a deal was set.
From fighting off Imperial TIE fighters to evading Troopers the two smugglers embarked on an impromptu effort to save the Princess. During his brief time with them, Chewie, much like a dog, began to develop affection towards Luke and Leia. Further, when the smuggler was set to go his own way and save his own hide in the assault on the Death Star, Chewie was quick to question him, his simple growl indicating that he wasn’t so sure Han knew what he was doing. Chewie knew first hand that Solo was a good man who was willing to do the right thing and not the kind to leave his friends in their time of need.
Chewie was more than willing tohelp fight against the Empire, as was seen in Empire Strikes Back when he was busy getting the Falcon refitted for the climate of the ice world of Hoth, while Han was looking to leave. Chewie is loyal to Han but he is also committed to fighting the good fight. When night falls while Han goes out to search for Luke and the solid steel doors to the Rebel Base close for the night, locking his friends out in the cold, Chewie lets out a mournful groan for both of them, only for the next morning to be happy to see them return.
Chewie’s skills as a mechanic come especially handy during their escape from the Empire as he tries his hardest to get the Flacon running. Later Chewie, like Leia, is quick to question Han’s decision to go to Bespin. While For Leia it’s a matter of heading to unfamiliar territory and dealing with another scoundrel, Chewie knows that there is a history between Han and Lando, and mentions an incident between Han and Lando that caused the two to drift.
Chewie’s love for his friends also extends to the mechanical ones. When Threepio goes missing on Bespin he is the first to go and look for him and fights off the dwarf-like Ugnauts to reclaim his friend. Chewie even begins to put him back together, albeit putting Threepio’s head on backwards. While the droid complains, as usual, Chewie laughs to himself, only to power down the droid so he can work.
However, as is the case with even the most loyal and loving dog, or even the most protective body guard, Chewie has to be told when not to fight. When Han is taken prisoner by the Empire and is about to be frozen in carbonite Chewie starts to fight them off only to be told by Han to save his strength and protect the princess. It becomes Chewie’s mission or the duration of time while he is separated from Han.
This especially come in handy in the Star Wars: Legends novel, Shadows of the Empire. Set in between Empire and Jedi, the heroes are still reeling from the defeat on Hoth and the incident on Bespin. In their efforts to rescue Han, Luke is targeted for assassination by a criminal organization known as The Black Sun. In order to get to the bottom of it, Leia goes undercover as a bounty hunter with Chewie coming with her.
The two of them are made by the head of the Black Sun, a reptilian like crime lord named Prince Xisor. Xisor attempts to seduce Leia, only for Chewie to interrupt at the right moment and try to escape with her. Initially as she is under the psychic mind control of the crime lord she is angered. But after a few seconds her mind begins to clear. And she realizes,
“Chewie- – he’s just trying to protect me, to protect Han, from what was going on in there. How could I forget myself like that…? Some kind of drug.- – in the tea maybe? That would account for it…”
It occurred to her that someone could be listening and the two hatched a new plan. It turned out that Xisor had ulterior motives for being civil to her, as he knew full well that Luke Skywalker would come to rescue her. Luke arrives and the heroes escape, but not before a battle ensues one that destroys the crime lord. With him out of the way, they are now free to focus on rescuing Han.
While years before he expressed doubt over Luke’s fly by the seat of the pants plan to rescue Leia on board the first Death Star, Chewie now has complete trust in Luke’s plan to save Han. As he and Leia enter Jabba’s palace with her disguised as the bounty hunter, and him acting as the quarry she captured. As soon as Han is out of the Carbonite, Chewie is only the second of Han’s friends to greet him, hugging him and mussing up his hair, and even letting him know everything is under control.
With Han free they return to the Rebel rendezvous point where they learn Han is leading a strike team to help destroy the deflector shield for the second Death Star, Chewie is the first to volunteer to help, something Han considered but didn’t wish to force upon the Wookie. If Han was going to go down there, Chewie was determined to help him at all costs.
However for the first time in his adventures in the trilogy while they are on the forest moon of Endor, Chewie’s more base instincts got the better of him. Spying a piece of carrion conveniently hanging from a tree he goes to go eat it, only to get himself caught in an Ewok trap, along with Luke, Han and the droids. The heroes are nearly eaten, if not for Luke’s Jedi powers which help get them free. All is later forgotten as Chewie forms a quick bond with the furry denizens of Endor, which comes in handy when Chewie and two Ewoks commandeer an Imperial scout walker which helps turn the tide of the land battle.
It is no wonder because of all his adventures that Chewie has gained so many loyal fans .While he doesn’t have any memorable lines, and there is next to nothing in terms of analysis into the character, his actions make him the best friend you could ever ask for. Oddly enough because his death was so impactful, a small, vocal minority of internet fans were actually upset over the news that Chewie would be back for The Force Awakens and that they weren’t adhering 100% to the story arc form the novels. Chewbacca’s death was one of the most defining moments in the Star Wars saga for many hardcore fans of the saga and they wanted the effects of that death to weigh in on the films. The Star Wars Universe post-New Jedi-Order was darker, more grown up, and the heroes more fallible.
While their points about the character arc in the novels are valid, having Chewie back in the films means that if they choose to draw inspiration from that story, the filmmakers have the chance to have a moment in Star Wars on par with the death of Spock in Star Trek II. In fact the death of Chewie on film could even rival the execution of Order 66 and the death of Padmé in Revenge of the Sith. Or they could choose to go in a different direction and simply send Han and Chewie on another adventure and live to tell the tale.
Either way, it was hard for fans not to smile at the last scene in the second trailer for The Force Awakens when we see an older and more grizzled Han Solo in the time-worn corridors of the Flacon with Chewie at his side as he tells his old friend and the generations of fans, “Chewie. We’re home.” When it comes down to it, there is only one place for Chewie and that’s right by Han’s side, ready for another adventure. While a depressed Han Solo may be fine in the books, movie goers would rather that the lovable Wookie was right by Captain Solo’s side for another hair brained scheme with their friends . Once Han gives the go ahead, Chewie is ready for anything. As Han tells Lando, Chewie and a motley band of outlaws take part in during the events of the Star Wars Legends novel Scoundrels,
“Okay to, then…Chewie, Lando- keep an eye out for trouble. Everyone else, we’ve got places to go. Let’s get to them.”
( TV Show) Filoni, Dave ( Dir.) “Wookie Hunt” Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Bonnie Mark (Writer). Original airdate. March 26,2011.
FILM. Kershner, Irvin. ( Dir) Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Sir Alec Guiness, and Frank Oz. 1977. 2004 DVD release. LucasFilm LTD/20th Century Fox.
Lewis, Anne Margaret, Helen Keir, and Chris Treavas.“Wookies”. Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Alien Species. Pg. 180.2006. Random House Books. New York. NY.
FILM: Lucas, George. (Dir) Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiaramid, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, and Frank Oz. 2005. LucasFilm. LTD. Released by 20th Century Fox.
FILM. Lucas, George (Dir) Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Sir Alec Guiness, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, and Peter Cushing. 1980. 2004 DVD release. LucasFilm LTD/20th Century Fox.
Luceno, James Star Wars Legends: Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader.2006. Del Ray. NY, New York.
Macan, Darko and Igor Kordley “Chapter Two: Attichitcuk or: A Father’s Story” Chewbacca #1.2000 Dark Horse Comics.
Macan, Darko and Rafael Egeland “Chapter Nine: Luke or: The Boy I Once Was” Chewbacca #4.2000 Dark Horse Comics.
Macan, Darko and Igor Kordley “Chapter Ten: Han or: An Empty Galaxy” Chewbacca #4. 2000 Dark Horse Comics.
FILM.Marquand, Richard. (Dir) Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Sir Alec Guinness, Ian McDiaramid, and Frank Oz. 1983. 2004 DVD release. LucasFilm, LTD/20th Century Fox
Mayhew, Peter “Introduction.”Chewbacca. 2001. Dark Horse Comics.
Salvator, R.A. Star Wars Legends: New Jedi Order: Vector Prime. Pgs. 394-95, 396-397. 1999. Del Ray Books.
( Interview) Shapiro, Shelly, Sue Rostoni, Lucy Wilson, and James Luceno. Star Wars Legends: The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime ebook. “Star Wars New Jedi Order: Round Robin Interview”. Pg. 406. Del Ray Books.
Sussman, Gary “ The 21 Greatest Sidekicks in Movie History” Rollingstone. July 2nd 2013. Rollingstone.com Last Accessed March 30, 2015.
Zahn, Timothy. Star Wars Legends: Scoundrels pg. 78. 2013. Del Ray. New York, NY.
1977 LucasFilm, LTD/20th Century Fox. 1977 LucasFilm, LTD/20th Century Fox
This Blog is not authorized, endorsed, or approved by any entities involved the creation, development, distribution or ownership of The Star Wars franchise. The views and opinions contained in this blog reflect those of the author and do not represent the views or ownership of in the LucasFilm LTD, 20th Century Fox, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel Comics, or The Walt Disney Company.