The seven-foot hairy bi-ped from Star Wars we know as Chewie — short for Chewbacca, or as Han Solo’s co-pilot, his partner in crime, and BFF — has been nothing short of a pop culture icon for the last four decades.
He singlehandedly put the entire hirsute-humanoid Wookiee clan of the blockbuster franchise at the top of the most beloved alien creatures of all time. (Some say, maybe in close competition to ET as well!)
But do you really know Chewie, where does he come from, what are his dark secrets, and his even darker secret powers?
One of the oft-asked retrospective questions by Star Wars fans has to do with the Force capabilities of their favorite Original Trilogy characters.
Since the trilogy was set in a time when the whole concept of Force, and the Force-wielder Jedi, were dead, it is during later trilogies and spin-offs that one begins to wonder.
Did Han Solo have the Force? Did his brother-from-another-mother-planet have the Force?
I decided to do some quick search online about what people have to say about a Wookiee’s Force capabilities. Yes, not only are Wookiees capable of using Force, so is Chewbacca.
But to my surprise, I found that he has never so much as touched a lightsaber in any of the canon films and the spin-offs. Yet, he is Force-sensitive. Read on to find out how.
Now, I may have found a bunch of other secrets too about our favorite Wookiee. For instance, I never knew he was based on Star Wars creator George Lucas’s pet dog.
Or that his name means ‘a dog’ in Russian (well, almost). Or that he came from a planet whose language had 150 different ways to say the word ‘tree,’ and that the Empire was slandering Kashyyyk for its natural resources.
Once I tell you all there is to know about the Force-fulness of Star Wars’ Hagrid, also stick around to enjoy 15 lesser-known things about Chewbacca.
1. Can Wookiees Use the Force?
Yes, Wookiees can use the Force, albeit very rarely is a Wookiee found to be Force-sensitive. The only incidence of a member of the Wookiee clan using the Force in the canon plot is found in The Clone Wars.
In “The Gathering,” we get the first glimpse of the cute, little Wookiee Padawan Gungi as he went about trying to build a lightsaber for himself.
Then there was Lowbacca, Chewbacca’s nephew, from the book series Young Jedi Knights, who too was a Wookiee.
However, that story is no longer considered canon, which reminds me of Marvel’s Star Wars #12 comic, which too was non-canon but showed a Wookiee wielding a lightsaber. Except, this time, it was Chewbacca himself.
Yes, we have a confirmed Star Wars visual of Chewie using a lightsaber, and not just one but two of those darned Star Wars beauts. The good ol’ Star Wars crew is headed to Nar Shaddaa to rescue Luke Skywalker from a Hutt.
Stuck in a bit of a sticky situation, they are fired at with some lightsabers by none other than R2-D2, who somehow has an emergency stash stored away in his astromech body. While Han and Leia get one each, Chewie’s got two!
Quick fact, comic #12 gave us a lifetime’s worth of visuals with all three of them – Chewie, Leia, and Han – wielding a lightsaber for the very first time.
2. He Was Based on George Lucas’s Pet Dog (and other animals)
Back to the canon. According to Star Wars godfather George Lucas, Chewie was directly inspired by his pet dog and co-pilot, Indiana.
Indiana belonged to the Alaskan Malamute breed of dogs and was “a big bear of a dog,” Lucas has said, “He was the prototype for the Wookiee. He always sat beside me in the car.”
However, besides the Alaskan wolf, Chewie’s appearance was inspired by other animals, including a cat, a lemur, and a monkey.
The Wookiee look was also found to be inspired by the descriptions of the Sasquatch, the legendary mythical creature from Canadian folklore. As for their unique roar, that was inspired by bears, walruses, lions, and badgers.
3. His Name Loosely Means Dog in Russian
The name Chewbacca, according to Lucas, was created from the Russian word for dog – sobaca.
As for the term “Wookiee” itself, it was the creation of voice actor Terry McGovern. While making one of his voiceover tracks for Lucas’s directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised a line to: “I think I just ran over a Wookiee.”
4. His Hairy Costume Has A Cooling System
If the Wookiee appearance was inspired by many animals, so was its fur.
At one point, Peter Mayhew — the seven-foot-tall actor who played Chewie for over three decades — would sweat so much that shooting a longer scene would seem impossible. Changing into and out of the costume was already a huge hassle enough.
So it was decided that the costume needed to be cooler, and a cooling system was added to it. In Episode III, a specially made water-cooling system was added to Chewie’s costume so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods and not be overheated.
5. He is Played By A Hospital Porter With Huge Feet
One might think that it was his towering height that helped Peter Mayhew bag Chewie’s role. But really, the reason was his massive feet.
The legend goes that Mayhew was first spotted by a movie producer in a local London reporter’s article on people with big feet.
The reporter happened to profile Mayhew, which bagged him an uncredited role as Minoton, the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.
One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested Mayhew for the role! The rest is Wookiee history…
Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital even as he worked on Star Wars and amazed audiences as Chewie.
6. He Considers Han And Leia as His Honor Family
One of the most critical aspects of being a Wookiee was having a strong cultural history. They all lived to be 100s of years old and had great respect for families and friends who stood by them along the way.
One of the concepts of a family was called the Honor Family, wherein a Wookiee could include non-Wookies, especially if the latter had saved their life in any way or form.
For Chewie, this Honor Family included Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, their children, and Luke Skywalker. (We learn later in this article that Chewie had a secret member of his Honor Family, the great Jedi Master Yoda himself.)
7. He Has A Real family Too And His Wife Loves Cooking Shows
In the Star Wars Holiday Special, we had the first and only glimpse into the Wookiee life. It is said that George Lucas wanted the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk featured in the canon films but decided against it at the last minute.
So all we have of the Kashyyyk is from the two-hour special that aired in 1978, and Chewbacca is trying to get back to Kashyyyk for “Life Day” or Wookiee Christmas.
The Special depicts him having a wife, Malla, and a son Lumpawaroo (“Lumpy”), who all live together in a treehouse. There is pea soup and burnt orange color palette of most ’70s home decorating in their special Wookiee treehouse.
Meanwhile, we also witness the Empire draining their resources for lumber and agricultural purposes. Their people are also being enslaved to work in mines and other inhospitable worlds.
Now we get that this was the Star Wars version of Colonialism, but it still seems odd that Chewie’s existence would so staunchly mirror those of us humans.
His son, Lumpy, literally wants to play a computer game deemed “too adult” by his mother Malla, so he’s forbidden to play it. Meanwhile, Malla is obsessed with cooking for her family and loves to binge the cooking show on Wookiee TV!
8. His Language Has 150 Words For A Tree
Chewie’s language Shyriiwook, one of the three dialects spoken on his home planet Kashyyyk, is one of the Galaxy’s toughest languages. The series of grunts, growls, and garbles together makeup Shyriiwook impossible to be spoken by any non-Wookiee.
Now just because it is made up of grunts doesn’t mean it is primitive. For instance, did you know that there were at least 150 words for ‘tree’ or ‘wood’ in Shyriiwook?
Of course, the Wookiees live on trees, especially the wroshyr trees that are huge and wide and perfectly capable of holding their tee houses.
But 150 different grunts to communicate about a green, leafy thing still seems excessive. There are only so many variations one can make out of grunts and garbles!
9. He Can Rip Your Arms Off But Won’t
Wookiees are taller, stronger, and faster than most of the Galaxy’s biped humanoids — they are on average a towering two-meter-high with incredibly muscular lanky arms equipped with hidden claws.
But beware. While they are otherwise gentle and warm, all it takes for Wookiees to lose it is a holochess game.
Han Solo once warned R2-D2 to let Chewbacca win the game of holochess, which they were playing aboard the Millennium Falcon in A New Hope. C3PO protested his advice in favor of his friend being the victor.
Han cautioned him against upsetting the Wookiee because they were known for ripping their opponent’s arms out of their sockets when they lost.
However, this threat has only been left to the viewers’ imagination because we never see a Wookiee whose arm-ripping angry, let alone Chewie.
Once, Chewie did rip out the arms of Unkar Platt, the junk trader, in The Force Awakens. But the producers decided against having the scene in the final cut, and it got ripped off of the film instead.
10. He Can Rebuild Broken Droids
The Star Wars movies do try to portray the Wookiee as more than just the savage beast he looks like and as someone incredibly wise and sharp.
Chewie once put together a dismantled 3PO after the naive droid walks into a chop shop at Cloud City. 3PO is soon returned in a box to Han, Leia, and Chewie, and the Wookiee ends up putting him back together.
Of course, he gets the head backward, and who is to say if the rest of the body parts were put in right, but the scene was proof the Wookiee was paying attention to a droid’s inner functionings. That is curiosity and effort!
He was undoubtedly a skilled mechanic to get the Falcon semi-functional most of the time, but he had next to no “fine motor skills.”
Can you even blame him with those giant meathooks for hands and a level of concentration just above that of an impatient furball?
When the film shows him fumbling with Threepio’s head using a tiny screwdriver, it’s disarmingly hilarious, especially when he starts growling when 3PO criticizes his progress. The cuties!
11. He Never Tells Han About Meeting Yoda
Time for some secrets. Original Star Wars fans, who watched the franchise in theatres, met Chewie and Han long before meeting the little green wizard Yoda.
With Obi-Wan dead, fans had assumed that no current character in the original trilogy could have interacted with Yoda because he’s 900 years old.
However, there was our tall Wookiee with a taller stomach where he buried the secret of knowing Yoda and even fighting alongside him.
Chewbacca had fought alongside Yoda and the Grand Republic Army on his homeworld of Kashyyyk during the Clone Wars.
The Republic forces at the time consisted of clone troopers under the command of Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda had helped the Wookiees fight against their lizard-like enemies, the Trandoshans.
During the Clone Wars, Chewbacca and Ahsoka Tano were captured by the Trandoshans and eventually rescued by Yoda.
The scaly troublemakers had even allied with the Separatist leader Count Dooku and almost caused the slavery of hundreds of Wookiees. Ever since the Jedi Master has been considered a member of the extended Wookiee honor family.
But it remains a mystery as to why, when Han ridicules Luke for breaking off from the group after the Battle of Hoth in search of Yoda, Chewie chooses to stay silent.
Chewie could have relayed some helpful information to Luke about Yoda or convinced Han of the little green creature’s existence and genius. But nothing!
12. He Never Ever Disagrees With Han
Frankly, it should not come as a surprise that Chewie did not reveal having a past with Yoda to Han. For that matter, Chewie never spoke up to Han or ever disagreed with his decisions (supporting him even on the most stupid ones).
As we know from the 2018 spin-off film Solo, Han had rescued Chewie from Imperial slavery and set him free. In a way, Han had saved the Wookiee’s life, thus binding him in a Wookiee code which says the rescued shall always serve the rescuer for life.
13. He Instantly Accepts Rey As Falcon’s First Mate
Wookiees are supposed to be sentient beings who can instantly recognize if a person is good or bad. But even though Han took his time to accept Rey, Chewie wasted no time accepting her as a friend.
The fact that Rey also understands Shyriiwook could be one major factor.
Now Rey is only the second person ever to speak Wookiee tongue. Han Solo could understand Shyriiwook only because he was taught the language by the Wookiee Dewlannamapia, a cook on the smuggling vessel he joined as a boy.
But where could Rey have learned such a unique and challenging language?
It does seem odd that Chewie would adjust to a new partnership so easily with someone he knows so little about.
In fact, after Han died in The Last Jedi, Rey can quickly slip into Han’s seat as the Falcon’s captain while Chewie remains the co-pilot. We are forced to wonder if the 200-year-old Wookiee knows more about Rey than meets the eye?
14. He Always Has His Poker Face On
When George Lucas first conceived Chewie’s character, I am sure he wanted him to have more than just a resting Wookiee face.
But the complicated costume, the mask underneath, and the incredible heat inside the costume made it very difficult for Peter Mayhew to get much expression across.
So no matter what’s taking place around him, Chewbacca’s expression is mostly immobile.
Chewie could open his mouth, and you could see Mayhew’s eyes behind the mask — but those were the only visual markers to signal that the Wookiee was alive and not one of those dummies from an anthropological museum.
But trust a man with the right intent to put in all the effort required to make his art special. With nothing much in the acting department, Peter Mayhew decided to make the Wookie’s movement more authentic.
He went to the London zoo and studied all kinds of primates and also studied “footage” of Bigfoot to learn how to move in a Wookie costume. While Mayhew knew that Wookiees were human-like, he still wanted them to move like gentle giants of the deep woods.
Thus Mayhew managed to breathe life into the lumbering Wookiee and used his body language to express the character.
Particular movements like putting his “hands” behind his head and leaning back smugly clearly conveyed what he felt.
Mayhew was so gifted at the process that when stunt doubles or anyone else was in the Wookiee costume, the crew could tell because they “just didn’t move right” — how cool is that!
15. He Has Won A Lifetime Achievement Award
Fans have often criticized the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm, by extension, for not treating Han’s Wookiee mate with enough respect.
The lack of acknowledgment of Chewie’s efforts during the Battle of Yavin at the end of A New Hope was the most despised event.
At the end of Episode IV, the Rebel Alliance gathers in the former Jedi Temple after the Death Star is destroyed, and Vader’s TIE fighter is sent spiraling into outer space.
Princess Leia then presents medals to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, the two men most responsible for the success of the mission, for their heroic efforts. However, there is no mention even of Chewie, who was helping fly the Falcon too.
So MTV decided to step in and gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. During the 1997 MTV Movie Awards, nearly two decades after A New Hope was released, Peter Mayhew—decked out in full costume— was presented with Princess Leia, actress Carrie Fisher.
The acceptance speech was, of course, made entirely in Wookiee grunts!
16. Darth Vader Could Have Been Chewbacca
Now for the last on this list. Did you know that the actor who played Darth Vader, the Star Wars franchise’s villain, was almost selected to play Chewie? But he wanted to play the villain and rejected the Wookie role.
David Prowse, the 6’5″ actor who portrayed Darth Vader—in costume only—was initially given a choice between portraying the two characters.
According to Prowse, the reason for him choosing Vader was “people remember villains longer than heroes.”
But the budding actor’s aim of being remembered was not fulfilled since, at the time, he didn’t know Vader would have a mask on, and even Vader’s voice would not be his own. So much for playing it smart!
So, what do you think? How did I do on the interesting facts about our beloved Chewie? Let me know in the comments below. Until then, may the Force be with y’all.