Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chewbacca: A Lost Opportunity

Photo via Wookieepdeia

I love Wookiees. To love Star Wars is to love Wookiees. In fact, I've long held that R2-D2 and a dozen Wookiees could have taken out the Empire in short order. Alas, Chewbacca, of all the original Star Warriors (as they are charmingly referred to in the old Marvel comics), is by far the least developed character, droids included. His species and their home world seem such an obvious direction for exploration and yet they have been largely neglected. Yes, we got a glimpse of the story in Revenge of the Sith but I, for one, hunger for more. I've only just begun to scratch the surface of the Expanded Universe but scanning titles, Wookiee stories are notably rare.

(Side note: Yes, I've seen the unspeakably horrible Christmas special of old which features Chewbacca's family. I think it best that we follow Papa George's example on that one and pretend that it never happened!)

Photo via

Chewbacca has had undeniable success as an icon of the brand. After all, one of the best online resources for all things Star Wars is called Wookieepedia. However, George Lucas & Co. painted themselves into a corner as far as Wookiee narrative possibilities were concerned. Could a civilization evolve with the mechanical facility to fly and repair spacecraft but only sub-verbal communication skills? Perhaps, though it does strain credibility. Lucas has more or less admitted to the problem. He originally intended to employ the Wookiee home world in Return of the Jedi. He created Ewoks instead because he thought a "primitive" Wookiee world would not be credible for devoted fans well-acquainted with Chewie's capacities.

Photo via io9

I believe the early and tragic decision to limit Chewbacca's lingual abilities has been the main hindrance to his story. The Jawas got a language in the films. The Ewoks got a language. Heck, even the ill-fated Greedo got a language. In the original trilogy, only Han Solo and C-3PO appear to understand Chewie at all. We, the audience, are never privy to a direct translation. In the Marvel series (debatable canon value but we'll address that another time), Threepio even goes so far as to say that Wookiee is not a language in his database.

The Expanded Universe has done somewhat better by Wookiee linguistics. According to the above-mentioned Wookieepedia, there are in fact three Wookiee languages: Shyriiwook, Xaczik and Thykarann. Perhaps there is room yet in fan fiction for Chewbacca and his kin to finally get their just due.


  1. I think it's in "Dark Force Rising" by Timothy Zahn (one of the first Star Wars novels in the '90s) Leia takes refuge on Kashyyk with the wookies.

    BTW, if you like Wookies you should join the 100 Days, 100 Star Wars Questions Trivia game.

    1. I did try the site when you first recommended it - the questions are definitely for the advanced! Perhaps I should give it another look.

  2. 'Could a civilization evolve with the mechanical facility to fly and repair spacecraft but only sub-verbal communication skills?'


    I cannot imagine any other sounds escaping Chewbaccca but those which did. I'm going to sound incredibly geeky, here, but Chewie managed an incredible range -- I'm thinking particularly of the scene in which Solo becomes cryogenically frozen -- with the tones which sometimes capture, in their plain primitiveness, more than words.

    Random biographical note: As kids, my sibs and I all chose SW characters to play on our names. I was Subacca.

    1. Subacca - love it!

      Even with the verbal limitations, Chewbacca is a great character. He was definitely an easy latch-on for my 4-year-old self back in '77. I just can't help feeling as if they guy's been cheated out of further depth.

      My daughter and I have been working our way through Tolkien over the past several months. Every other imaginary world suffers in comparison to Middle Earth. Tokien was just so thorough! Star Wars, as much as I love it, is a big ol' mess when you take the broad view. I expect I'm not alone in finding great charm in the flaws but they're definitely there.

    2. Well, Tolkien took twenty years to complete his masterwork.

      Lucas just got lucky that he tapped into deep archetypal myth with eps 4-6 'cuz 1-3 were pretty much just eye candy. Even the alterations he made to the original three for the rereleases added *nothing* in terms of content. And wth was up with the Storm Trooper body surfing in one of the final revised scenes of ROTJ? Time to haul out the foam brick.

      As for Chewie, he works in the way Woodstock (Peanuts) works. Perhaps not being able to articulate is part of his charm?

      I've been meaning to give kudos for the Huxley quote for a while, btw.

  3. A discussion concerning the limited attire of Wookiees is long overdue. I mean, where is the censors? A neekid alien walks across the screen confusing young impressionable eyes and there is no uproar?


  4. "A life without Wookies-what is the point?" C3PO


  5. I can't imagine Chewbacca speaking any other than he did, either. I don't think just because we don't understand him means his language is "limited." I agree that Star Wars is a mess compared to Middle Earth--though I still love it--and I wonder if that is because so many authors contribute to the Star Wars universe? Thanks for joining the ranks of us who decide to pretend the Christmas Special never happened!

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  6. hah, although I am not a Star Wars fan, he does have a certain air of cuddle-ness to him; except without the weapon in his hand....

  7. I never thought about the language thing. I always just saw Chewie as that loyal sidekick guy. Meeting from A to Z.

  8. This article is so true, Chewbacca had so much more potential.
    And thank you for spelling Wookiee correcty: with two E's.

  9. Well, he's basically a walking carpet, so language seems a bit advanced. :PP

    Just kidding. Chewy was always my favorite of the original series.

  10. You're all wonderful! I love that it's possible to spark a thoughtful conversation about Wookiee linguistics with articulate people. Thank you!

  11. Chewbacca's my favourite Star Wars character! I have keyring and t-shirt with him on it!! Not sad at all!x

  12. Somehow, Chewbacca's lack of voice made him all the more interesting to me. He managed to convey much with very little.

  13. Wookiepedia? Ha ha ha! Love Chewie. I never realized how cheated we are by the lack of info on his kind!