41. I’d Rather Be the Bad Guy
When the first Star Wars film was being cast, two roles in the film demanded taller-than-average actors to play them. Due to the rarity of such actors, 6’6” David Prowse was offered his choice of either playing Chewbacca or the physical body of Darth Vader. Prowse considered both options and chose to play Darth Vader because he liked the artwork better.
After searching for other tall actors to play Chewbacca, Lucas and his crew ultimately went with a non-actor. Peter Mayhew was a hospital orderly who had only appeared in one film before Star Wars. He acquired his incredible height as a side effect from a connective tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome.
39. I was Hoping for an 8′ Man, But He’ll Do
According to Peter Mayhew, all he needed to do to win the role of Chewbacca was stand up when George Lucas entered the room to see him. Standing at a whopping 7’3”, Mayhew’s height alone convinced Lucas, who apparently took one look at Mayhew and stated, “I think we’ve found him.”
38. For the Record
Chewbacca has twice made the pop culture “best of” lists by IGN. Not only has he been credited as ninth best Star Wars character (only ninth?!), but he and Han Solo were chosen for IGN’s top ten movie bromances.
The first Chewbacca costumes were knitted together by Stuart Freeborn, the makeup artist, out of mohair and yak hair. We would like to hope that no animals were harmed in the making of said costumes—and we like to think Chewie would too after his run-in with the Porgs!
36. Shake Out the Fleas First
For Chewbacca’s brief appearance in Revenge of the Sith, modern materials were used to replicate the look of the old costume, and a cooling system was even set up to better assist whoever was wearing the Wookiee costume. However, it proved to be such a difficult task that when Chewbacca was brought back for The Force Awakens, the original costume was repaired and reused rather than building one up from scratch again!
35. Diverse Resume!
Speaking of Stuart Freeborn, he was no stranger to the furry appearance of Chewbacca. George Lucas had hired Freeborn onto the Star Wars project because of his experience with developing the ape costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey! Freeborn would return to the Star Wars franchise to oversee the creation of Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, and the Ewoks.
34. And We’ll Call Him Zoboomafoo!
Star Wars owes a huge debt of gratitude to artist Ralph McQuarrie for its aesthetics. When it came to instructing McQuarrie on how he wanted Chewbacca to look, George Lucas described “a huge ape-like creature with long fangs, more like a lemur.” Safe to say that that initial description underwent a few changes before they were done!
33. In Soviet Russia…
The word “Chewbacca” comes from a Russian word “sobaka,” which means dog. We don’t know whether to be impressed or exasperated with the lengths that George Lucas went to double down on the fact that his dog inspired this character.
32. Step One…
While he has mainly been credited for the sound effects of the lightsaber, sound designer Ben Burtt was also responsible for the noises made by Chewbacca. In fact, figuring out how the Wookiee would sound was the first task assigned to Burtt when he joined the crew of Star Wars!
31. What a Missed Opportunity
In the Extended Universe, Chewbacca had a nephew named Lowbacca. Lowbacca ended up becoming a Jedi apprentice under Luke Skywalker. Safe to say that seeing a Wookiee Jedi would have been a truly amazing sight!
30. Guess What I Did Last Summer!
Incredibly, Peter Mayhew kept his day job working at a hospital while he was filming his role as Chewbacca in London. Sadly, his conflicting schedules did lead to him being dismissed, but after the film finished production, Mayhew promptly returned to his old job. To be fair, it isn’t like most people would have recognized him without the costume on anyway.
29. Is it Dead?!
The word for Chewbacca’s alien race, Wookiee, wasn’t invented by George Lucas. According to Lucas, it came from one of the actors in his previous sci-fi film THX-1138. While improvising extra lines of dialogue, the actor stated, “I think I just ran over a wookie on the expressway!” The word meant nothing, but Lucas remembered it when he had to come up with a name for Chewbacca’s race.
28. Hello, Old Timer!
According to the Extended Universe, Chewbacca was already about 200 years old at the time of A New Hope! That certainly makes him one of the most active and powerful senior citizens that we’ve ever seen on screen!
27. I Don’t Understand What You’re Saying
Not so surprisingly, a language has been named for the sounds which Chewbacca makes when interacting with the characters. This language is called “Shyriiwook.” No word on when a translation book is coming out, though.
26. Between the Third and Fourth Episodes
In Revenge of the Sith, Chewbacca is part of the Wookiees’ defense of their home planet of Kashyyk during the Clone Wars. The story doesn’t really answer as to how he got from there to becoming the first mate on the Millennium Falcon, but the Extended Universe did provide an explanation. In the novel The Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, the newly formed Empire launches an attack on Kashyyk and enslaves most of its population. Chewbacca barely escapes with his life, becoming a smuggler to survive.
25. There’s a Distinction!
The weapon which Chewbacca uses in the Star Wars films, despite being called a crossbow by such characters as Luke Skywalker, actually has an in-canon name: it’s a Wookiee bowcaster (we didn’t say it was particularly complex).
24. Tired of the Headache
One of the iconic gestures associated with Chewbacca is the head tilt he often gives when he is moving or listening to someone. According to Peter Mayhew himself, he came up with this gesture purely so he wouldn’t bump his head on any of the sets!
23. Method Directing?
According to Irvin Kirshner, the man who directed The Empire Strikes Back, he would make a conscious effort to only provide direction to Peter Mayhew when the actor was in full costume and playing Chewbacca. He said it was helpful to look at Chewbacca as though he was a Wookiee in real life rather than some tall guy dressed like an alien.
22. When Chewie Met Han
Before the latest Star Wars movie about Han Solo’s origins, and before Disney acquired the Star Wars franchise from Lucasfilm, there was an explanation given for how Chewbacca and Han Solo became partners-in-crime. According to The Hutt Gambit, an Extended Universe book written by A. C. Crispin, Chewbacca was a captive of the Empire when a lieutenant of the Imperial Navy was ordered to skin the Wookie. Luckily for Chewbacca, the young lieutenant was Han Solo. Solo saved Chewbacca, who swore a life-debt to him in response. The rest was history.
21. Thank Goodness for Rosetta Stone
In contrast, this rescue and life-debt situation was completely reversed in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Han Solo is the one who is sentenced to death at Chewbacca’s hands. Chewbacca only halts his attack on Solo when Solo reveals that he can speak Chewie’s language.
20. Advisory Credit Included?
Peter Mayhew’s performance was so perfect that it was actually essential in developing Chewbacca beyond the films themselves. Mayhew was invited to join Dave Filoni while he supervised the finale episode of the third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Mayhew provided tips to the animators for all the little details on how Chewbacca should look and move. Without wishing to rob Mayhew of an easy paycheck, we do wonder how these animators hadn’t already memorized every detail of the Star Wars films before getting the dream job of animating a Star Wars show!
19. In and Out the Door
Despite being brought back for Revenge of the Sith and getting a brand-new costume for the occasion, Peter Mayhew only played the role of Chewbacca for a single day.
For the later films in the Star Wars series, such as The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, the role of Chewbacca has been gradually taken over by Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotama, due to Peter Mayhew’s advanced age making him less able to perform all the required stunts. However, Mayhew has continued to be credited as an advisor on said films.
17. No! Not Chewie!
Another crucial plot point which rests in the former Extended Universe of the Star Wars franchise is the fact that Chewbacca was killed off, meeting his end in the 1999 book The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime. The main characters, Chewie included, are trying to flee a collapsing planet after saving multiple people, but they are unable to reach their ship before it is too late. To make matters worse, Han’s son, Anakin, had to make the call to fly away and leave Chewbacca to die in order to save everyone else on the ship. This drives a deep wedge between Anakin and his father, who is naturally heartbroken at the death of his oldest friend.
16. How Dare You!
This devastation of Han at the death of his friend was shared by hardcore Star Wars fans who followed the novels of the Extended Universe. According to the author of said book, R. A. Salvatore, he got death threats for killing Chewie off!
15. Masters of Life and Death
The great irony of R. A. Salvatore receiving death threats for killing off the beloved character was that he was entirely against it! It was a decision of the EU editors that a major character ought to be killed off to give the books more credibility. George Lucas received a hit list of names from the editors and was asked which one they could kill. In keeping with this rather macabre style of deciding life and death, Lucas sent back a list of names which he would not allow to be killed. Since Chewbacca’s name wasn’t on the list, the editors decided that it should be him.
14. First Prize
This shocking death of such a beloved character in the Extended Universe did not go unnoticed. In 2005, the Star Wars Insider magazine picked the death of Chewbacca as the #1 Most Memorable Moment of the Extended Universe.
13. It Pays to Complain About Your Feet
Reportedly, the people behind Star Wars first became aware of Mayhew because of a London newspaper article. Mayhew had participated in a local story examining the plights of people with very large feet. This article led to him being contacted to appear in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. From there, someone in the makeup department went over to Star Wars and recommended Mayhew when they were still looking for an actor to play Chewbacca.
12. It Ain’t Just About the Height!
Despite not being a professional actor on the level of someone like Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale, it must be acknowledged how much work Peter Mayhew has put into bringing Chewbacca to life. Mayhew went to zoos and studied the movements of bears, gorillas, and monkeys to develop Chewbacca’s gait, rather than having him move like a huge human. This has made for an incredibly subtle and unique performance by Mayhew which has helped make Chewbacca so iconic.
11. Peter the Great
In fact, Peter Mayhew’s iconic performance as Chewbacca was so underrated that even the shooting crew didn’t always appreciate the hard work he put into his performance. At one point during the filming process of the original trilogy, Mayhew had to take the day off due to illness, leading to a stand-in appearing in the costume in his place (how they found another 7’ tall person so quickly is beyond us). However, upon reviewing the footage, none of it was usable because the stand-in was so obviously not Chewbacca.
10. Next Thing You’ll Tell Me, Jar-Jar is Chewbacca’s Cousin!
In 1978, George Lucas filmed the Star Wars Holiday Special, a project which has gone down in infamy for being so terrible that even Lucas was ashamed of it, trying to suppress it ever since it aired. The holiday special loosely follows Han Solo and Chewbacca hurrying to Chewbacca’s home planet to reunite Chewbacca with his family. Yes, Chewbacca had a family, which was comprised of a father named Attichitcuk (also known as Itchy), a wife named Mallatobuck (also known as Malla), and a son named Lumpawarrump (also called Lumpy). We can see why Lucas wants this film buried and forgotten.
9. What am I, Chopped Liver?
As most Star Wars fans have probably noticed, Chewbacca was famously snubbed during the ceremony held at the end of A New Hope. While Luke Skywalker and Han Solo received medals for their roles in destroying the Death Star (spoilers?), Chewbacca did not receive one. This prompted broad fan outrage over the years, with some saying that of all the things that Lucas could “correct” with CGI in the remastered edition of the original trilogy, why not put a medal on Chewbacca’s neck?!
8. The Wookiee Won
Eventually, efforts were made to correct this medal snub. In 1997, the MTV Movie Awards brought out Carrie Fisher herself to present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Chewbacca. Peter Mayhew was on hand to play his iconic role as Fisher gave him his long overdue medal.
7. Wait, What?
It’s safe to say that most of you figured that Chewbacca’s voice was a blend of different animal sounds, because while the grunts and growls seem animal-like, it’s not quite like any specific animal that exists on Earth. Sound designer Ben Burtt combined the noises of no less than seven animals to create that perfect cocktail blend, including a badger, walrus, tiger, lion, bear, camel, and surprisingly, a rabbit!
6. This Voicework is Just Right
Speaking of that black bear, we actually do know which specific black bear was used to provide part of Chewbacca’s voice! The bear in question lived in Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California and was named Tarik. We’re not sure when that bear passed away, but we hope Tarik got a funeral with full Rebel Alliance honors in gratitude.
5. Alien Customs
Ralph McQuarrie’s original drawings of Chewbacca were extremely different from George Lucas’s vision—namely, what the character of Chewbacca would be wearing. McQuarrie originally drew shorts and a flak jacket on Chewbacca, but Lucas disagreed. He wanted Chewbacca to essentially be naked, hence why he only wears a bandolier.
4. Put Some Pants on Him!
Chewbacca’s “birthday suit” look actually caused a bit of a controversy while the first Star Wars film was being made. The studio continually sent notes to Lucas insisting that the alien needed to conform to human culture by wearing less revealing clothes (see: bandolier and nothing else). Lucas refused to back down from his vision, however, and we can safely say that 99% of you who have watched the Star Wars trilogy have never even questioned or disputed the lack of underwear on Chewie.
While Return of the Jedi was being filmed in the redwood forests of California, Peter Mayhew was urged not to wander around while he was in costume; there was a great concern that some random hunters would bump into him during filming and assume he was Bigfoot! We’re glad that Mayhew’s life was being protected, but we almost wish that we could have been there to see the look on some hiker’s face if they bumped into Chewbacca in the woods!
2. Two Thumbs Down
Shockingly, one person who hated the character of Chewbacca was famous film critic Roger Ebert! In 1997, Ebert released a review of The Empire Strikes Back wherein he wrote of Chewbacca: “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.” He even went on to say that Chewbacca was the worst character of the film! I’m just going to pretend I never heard that.
1. Man’s Best Friend
According to George Lucas, he was inspired to create Chewbacca by his own dog, an Alaskan Malamute. The image of Chewbacca first came out of Lucas driving his car with his dog riding shotgun, with its size meaning that the dog was at head height with Lucas. The image of a large animal and a human sitting together inspired Lucas to create a sidekick for the character that eventually became Han Solo. Interestingly, said dog’s name was Indiana. Try and guess what other Lucas-written character was inspired by that name!