Those deeply entrenched in Star Wars canon can tell you all about how Shyriiwook is the native tongue spoken by the Wookiee species. To those less seeped in the details of one of the world’s most beloved film franchises, Han Solo‘s famous sidekick simply seemed to be spewing a bunch of unintelligible growls, howls, grunts, and the occasional snicker or chuckle. (Wookiee fuzzballs whose human companions wielded a less sharp wit and penchant for banter than Solo probably had far fewer occasions to laugh it up, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Unless you’re a particularly gifted lip reader, it would have been reasonable to assume there was no rhyme nor reason to Chewie’s lip movement, and that the sounds coming out of his mouth were strictly a function of the post-production process. Maybe that’s what makes the recent surfacing of behind-the-scenes footage from The Empire Strikes Back all the more hilarious to behold — specifically those clips in which the world’s most famous Wookiee is heard speaking in decidedly human-sounding English.
As revealed in a story by THR earlier today, documentarian Jamie Benning shared the footage over the weekend, to the delight of Star Wars fans everywhere. Benning, whose “filmumentaries” have immersed fans in the behind-the-scenes adventures of some of cinema’s most popular flicks — including Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark — clearly possesses a deep love for the franchise, seeing as how he’s made no fewer than three Star Wars-focused documentaries. But it seems only right that such a beloved franchise be demystified with a suitable amount of reverence.
You can check out a similar behind the scenes clip from A New Hope where Mayhew speaks, below:
Interestingly enough, being privy to the movie magic that transformed the rough footage in question into the final polished masterpiece seems to add to the movie’s charm. Peter Mayhew himself — the actor who has played Chewbacca in the various installments of the franchise — offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the unearthed footage on Twitter a few days ago, calling it a “wonderful bit of stuff.” Then again, it may prove difficult to ever watch Chewbacca’s scenes again without wondering what exactly Mayhew was saying beneath the Shyriiwook we’re all infinitely more familiar with.
Of course, Mayhew’s vocal performance was not the only one to be lost in the transition to final cut. Most fans are well aware that the actor who played Darth Vader, David Prowse, was famously dubbed over by the iconic baritone of James Earl Jones for the sake of infusing one of filmdom’s biggest baddies with a lot more menace. Hollywood Reporter writer Aaron Couch offers up a positively irresistible suggestion that would have any diehard Star Wars fan salivating in anticipation: a cut of the film in which both Mayhew’s Chewbacca and Prowse’s Darth Vader are heard delivering their dialogue in their original pre-dubbed voices.
Sure, it’s highly unlikely that such a cut would ever come to pass, but we diehard Star Wars fans can always dream.