Chewbacca is one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe, and with good reason. Hailing from a race of furry, tree-dwelling warriors of the planet Kashyyyk, Chewbacca’s virtues are numerous. He’s a mean shot with a Bowcaster, and he’s always got your back. He’s fiercely loyal and one hell of a co-pilot - not just anyone could fly the Millennium Falcon through the Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs. He may be a sore loser at Space Chess, but he’s got a great sense of humor ("laugh it up, fuzzball"), and he’s usually good for a hug, whether you’re celebrating a victory over the evil Empire or mourning fallen comrades.
In the prequels, we learn that Chewie saw some action in the Clone Wars, long before he and Han Solo aided the rebels in the Galactic Civil War. So, at least for this Wookiee, their enlistment was never just about getting out of debt with Jabba the Hutt. Both Han and Chewie were instrumental in securing several crucial victories. His work for the rebellion tells us a lot about his personality and character, but in some ways, Chewie is still an intergalactic dog-man of mystery.
Here are 15 surprising and little known facts about everybody's favorite Wookiee.
16 Chewie Is A Genius
In addition to his keen combat and piloting skills, Chewbacca’s vast intellect has come in handy on numerous occasions. He’s capable of the sort of on-the-fly ship repairs that are essential in surviving the myriad harrowing circumstances the Millennium Falcon often encounters. People constantly refer to the Falcon as a hunk of junk that seems like it will fall apart at any moment, but Chewbacca always manages to get the ship up and running again, often just in the nick of time. Flying in and of itself requires a certain level of intellect.
Sure, it may not have looked particularly impressive when he re-assembled C-3PO from scrap metal, but bare in mind, he was doing so without a manual. (Okay, so he put C-3PO’s head on backwards. But who’s to say it wasn’t revenge for beating him in Space Chess?)
15 Yup - He’s Naked
Chewbacca’s appearance is about as lewd as a walking carpet. But the fact remains that he is technically naked, save for his ever-present bandolier. This is perfectly normal attire (or lack thereof) for a Wookiee, and his fur clearly covers up any potentially offensive body parts.
Nonetheless, during production of A New Hope, studio execs at 20th Century Fox worried that audiences might be scandalized by the exposed unshorn body of an 8 foot-tall teddy bear. They drew shorts onto a sketch of Chewbacca and sent it back to the art department as a “note”. Creature designer, Ralph McQuarrie, tried a compromise, by losing the shorts but adding a flak jacket. The studio countered with baggy pants, and remained adamant that the Wookiee was underdressed. Fortunately, Lucas remained unwavering on the point of keeping Chewie in his birthday suit.
14 That Wookiee Sound
Everyone has a Chewbacca impression in their back pocket. It’s impossible to resist attempting that endearing Wookiee roar. But you’ve probably never heard anyone get it exactly right, and with good reason. Chewbacca’s speech doesn’t contain any human vocalizations at all. In fact, the sound designer cobbled together the signature voice by recording animal calls at the Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose California.
The most prevalent sounds come from a black bear called Tarik. But they also add in calls from a badger, a lion, and a walrus, depending on what emotions they want Chewie to convey. Nonetheless, the man behind the Chewbacca suit, Peter Mayhew, is not above attempting his own Wookiee calls when he dresses up for public appearances.
13 Humans Can’t Speak Wookiee
Ever wonder why Han Solo, who has spent decades with his hirsute companion, can understand Chewie perfectly, but only ever addresses him in Galactic Basic? Han’s not being obstinate. Chewbacca speaks the Wookiee dialect known as Shriiwook, and it’s very hard on the vocal chords of non-Wookiees. It may sound like a series of random grunts and growls, but it’s actually quite nuanced. There are numerous synonyms for common words. There are also 2 other Wookiee dialects: Thykarann and Xaczik.
Likewise, Wookiee vocal chords aren’t equipped to utter the common tongue, nor really any language other than their own. Fortunately, they’re pretty good at learning to understand other languages. It’s also not that uncommon for humans to have a passing understanding of Shriiwook, such as Rey, and Dr. Kalonia, the woman who patches up Chewie in The Force Awakens while he regales her with possibly overblown war stories.
12 Peter Mayhew – More Than A Tall Guy In A Suit
Before stepping into the Chewbacca suit, Peter Mayhew hadn’t done much acting. He had only a small, un-credited role in the 1977 film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, as the live-action double for a stop-motion Minotaur-like robot called Minoton. Mayhew’s great height is the result of a life-threatening connective tissue disorder known as Marfan Syndrome. But it’s also the reason he landed the iconic role.
When Lucas walked into the audition room, Mayhew rose to greet him. As the 7’3” man towered over Lucas, the director said, “Hmm, I think we’ve found him.” But it’s not just his height that makes the actor's portrayal so memorable. Mayhew studied monkeys, bears, and gorillas for ideas on how to move. His resulting mannerisms were so distinctive, other cast members could always tell when it wasn’t Mayhew in the suit. They even had to scrap footage that utilized a stand-in, because the actor couldn’t convincingly match Mayhew’s movements.
11 David Prowse (Darth Vader) Almost Played Chewie
Before casting Peter Mayhew, George Lucas met with actor David Prowse and gave him a choice between 2 roles: Chewbacca or Darth Vader. At 6’6”, Prowse would have been a bit short for a Wookiee. But, as a former championship body builder, he was otherwise quite physically qualified for the role. Prowse had a couple of other Big Guy roles under his belt, such as Frankenstein’s Monster and the bodyguard Hotblack Desiato from the Hitchhiker’s Guide miniseries.
But we’ll never know exactly how different Prowse’s portrayal of Chewbacca would have been, because, after careful consideration, he went with Vader. He was enamored with the character once he saw the concept art and, as he explained to Lucas, “Everyone remembers the villain, George.”
10 Chewie Finally Got His Medal
Fans have long lamented the snubbing of Chewbacca during A New Hope’s closing ceremony. Even though he, too, was instrumental in the destruction of the Death Star, Leia only hangs medals around the necks of Luke and Han, leaving Chewie in the lurch. Why even bring him on stage if he’s not being honored? As Luke and Han beam proudly in their finery, Chewbacca roars as if to say, “YO! WHAT GIVES?”
Lucas later retconned an excuse for the snub, saying, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them.” But Chewie seemed more than happy to accept when MTV made things right at the 1997 Movie Awards, where Carrie Fisher presented Chewbacca (with Peter Meyhew inside the costume) with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Chewie even gave an acceptance speech in Shriiiwook.
9 Chewie Has Retractable Claws
As is the case with all adult Wookiees, hidden within Chewbacca’s furry hands is a set of sharp, powerful, retractable claws. Wookiees are still not that far removed from their more animalistic ancestors, who used the claws to climb trees. Since the majority of homes on Kashyyyk have long been built in trees, climbing them would have been an essential skill prior to the advent of stairs and ladders.
Wookiees may be able to find non-violent, modern uses for their vestigial claws (they’d be great for opening a package or dicing an onion), but they are expressly forbidden from wielding them in any kind of combat. Anyone who disobeys this mandate is dubbed “Madclaws”, and their offense results in banishment from Wookiee society.
8 The Bowcaster Is Designed With Wookiees In Mind
Chewbacca wears naught but a bandolier and a smile, but he rarely goes anywhere without his Bowcaster. This distinctive weapon is shaped like a crossbow, but shoots like a blaster. However, the Bowcaster is far more powerful than any common blaster. That’s why Han Solo is so impressed when he briefly borrows Chewie’s weapon during the battle on Takodana in The Force Awakens.
It’s strange that, after all their years together, Han had never tried it out before. But more surprising (and impressive) is that Han, at his advanced age, was able to wield it at all. Bowcasters are built by and designed for Wookiees, with their height and frame in mind. It takes great strength to handle the weapon’s powerful kickback and rapid bursts, let alone fire with any sort of accuracy.
7 Han And Chewie’s Meet Cute
We know from the films that Chewbacca and Han Solo are life partners, having flown the Millennium Falcon together for many years. But the films never reveal how they met and why they have such a strong bond. Unfortunately, the events aren’t canon, and may soon be contradicted in 2018’s Untitled Han Solo Film, but it’s still a fun and quite sweet story.
In A.C. Crispin’s 1997 novel, The Hutt Gambit, a young Chewbacca was captured by the Empire, and sentenced to death. Fortunately, the Imperial Navy lieutenant ordered to carry out the execution was none other than Han Solo. Like FN-2187 years later, Solo had a crisis of conscience and defied the order, choosing instead to free Chewbacca and defect. Chewie swore a life-debt to his new friend, and they started their lives together as small business owners.
6 Name Origins
It takes a very creative mind to come up with all the eccentric alien names in the Star Wars universe. But George Lucas can’t actually take full credit for the word “Wookiee”. Lucas’ first feature, released in 1971, was an Orwellian sci-fi romp called THX-1138, about a society wherein humans are forced by robot cops to suppress their emotions.
During post-production, Lucas brought in a DJ named Terry McGovern to record some additional dialog for a car chase scene. McGovern improvised the line; “I think I just ran over a Wookiee on the expressway”. Afterward, he explained to Lucas that he’d been poking fun at a guy he knew called Wookiee. Lucas decided to keep the line, and he ended up repurposing the name for his next film. The name Chewbacca is derived from “Sobaka”, the Russian word for “dog”, by the way.
5 Design “Inspiration”
When asked about his inspiration for Chewbacca’s appearance, Lucas loves to credit his dog at the time; an Alaskan Malamute. Indiana (they really did name the dog Indiana!) was indisputably fuzzy and loyal enough to lend the claim credibility. However, the Internet has since uncovered a more significant inspiration.
Early in pre-production, around 1975, sketches of Chewie were more slender and feline in appearance. Also in 1975, the sci-fi magazine, Analog, published a short story by up-and-coming writer George R.R. Martin, called And Seven Times Never Kill a Man. Artist John Schoenherr drew an accompanying illustration featuring a fuzzy, bi-pedal creature. Not long after that, Ralph McQuarrie came up with the version of Chewbacca that’s closest to what we know today. As illustrated in the above side-by-side comparison, the similarities are undeniable.
4 Trees Are A Staple Of Wookiee Society
The Wookiees' home planet of Kashyyyk is covered in over 1000 varieties of Wroshyr trees, which can grow up to a height of 400 meters in some parts of the planet. They also grow in nearly every region, apart from the planet’s icy poles. Due to the abundance of Wroshyr wood, Wookiees have incorporated the material into almost every aspect of their society.
They build their homes in the trees using tools made from the wood. They also incorporate it with other materials to make weapons, land vehicles, and boats. The sap of the Wroshyr tree is water resistant and extremely sturdy, making it the ultimate adhesive. One of their cities was even built to spiral around the trunk of a 300 meter Wroshyr tree. Their ever-complicated language has over 150 words for wood for use in a variety of contexts, so, understandably, Wookiees value skillful woodworking above almost every other talent.
3 Roger Ebert Hated Him
Though famous film critic Roger Ebert gave a 4 star review to the 1997 special edition DVD of The Empire Strikes Back, he never did warm to our favorite fuzzball. After calling Yoda the best character of the franchise, he awarded the title of “The Worst” to Chewbacca, saying, “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp. Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes?”
In 1997, the world had yet to meet Jar Jar Binks, so it’s possible that Ebert softened on his stance 2 years later.
2 He’s Middle-Aged
Though the average life span of a Wookiee is around 400 years old, clean living Wookiees can live up to an additional century. They also possess the ability to heal quickly, and don’t get sick too often. Their strong constitution perhaps accounts for their slow aging process.
When we meet Chewie in A New Hope, he is around 200 years old, making him essentially middle-aged for a Wookiee. That means that although Han was unquestionably taken too soon, chances are that Chewie would have had to face the death of his beloved companion eventually. Chewbacca’s age may also contribute to a sort of Wookiee mid-life crisis, as he shirks his familial obligations (see #1) in favor of traipsing around the galaxy with his single best friend. He sure does go on a lot of business trips.
1 He’s A Deadbeat Dad
Before the Internet, the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which only aired once on network television, was something of an urban legend. With no available proof, people who watched it started to wonder if it had been a shared hallucination.
Like it or not, this nonsensical hot mess was very real. And because it came from the mind of the Star Wars God himself, George Lucas, it’s default canon -- no matter how many times Lucas denounces it. That means Bea Arthur did indeed run the Mos Eisley Cantina, and, more troublingly, Chewbacca has a wife, son, and elderly father living on Kashyyyk that he sees once a year (maybe) on the Seinfeld-esque holiday, Life Day. At first, it seems sweet that Chewie risks life and limb to get home to his family, until you start to wonder why he has literally never mentioned them before or since. Hopefully, he’s at least current on his child support payments.
Do you know of any other fun facts behind Chewbacca? Let us know in the comments.