It’s one of the Star Wars universe’s biggest mysteries. Why exactly was poor old Chewbacca the only hero not to receive a medal at the end of A New Hope? There have, of course, been various fan theories explaining the snub over the years. But it’s a statement that director George Lucas gave in 1977 that may settle the matter once and for all.
For those who claim to have never seen a Star Wars movie, Chewbacca is a 200-year-old Wookiee. Covered from head to toe in fur and standing at a height of 8 feet, Chewie sure cuts a rather imposing figure. In the films, the Wookiee becomes friends with Han Solo, played in the original movies by Harrison Ford, after the pair flee the planet of Mimban. But his origins are actually rooted in something far cuddlier.
Star Wars creator George Lucas was in fact inspired to create Chewbacca after spotting his very own beloved pooch perched on his car’s passenger seat. And the character’s name also has canine connotations. It is, after all, reportedly derived from the word ?????? (pronounced “sobaka”), which in Russian simply means “dog.”
Anyways, the man inside the Chewbacca costume for the original Star Wars trilogy is Peter Mayhew. And despite the fact that his entire face and body is covered in mohair and yak hair while on screen, the 7ft 3in actor is often recognized in public by fans. More recently, though, Mayhew shared Chewbacca duties with Joonas Suotamo on 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens before passing over the baton for good for the subsequent films.
The character is also famous for his impressive roar. But have you ever wondered how the Star Wars team created the sound? Well, it’s fair to say that a lot of animals were involved. In fact, camels, walruses, rabbits, lions and badgers are just a few of the creatures that sound designer Ben Burt used for the Wookiee’s voice. Yet it was Tarik, a black bear housed at a San Jose zoo, who featured the most heavily.
Chewbacca was, of course, first seen on screen in the original 1977 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope movie. It was in this picture, in fact, that Chewie was apparently unjustifiably not awarded a medal for helping the good guy Rebels to defeat the evil Empire. Three years later, though, the character returned for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. In this film, he rescues an abandoned C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and is tasked with protecting Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). His heroics continue when he helps to save Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) from the clutches of Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones).
Then, in 1983’s Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Chewbacca sets out on a quest to find Han, who was frozen in carbonite in the previous film. The Wookiee in fact works with Princess Leia, Luke and several Ewoks to form a plan that sees him pretending to be a bounty hunter’s prisoner. Their efforts subsequently pay off during the epic Battle of Endor, when the Empire is finally defeated.
Everyone’s favorite fictional furry giant was then absent from the big screen Star Wars films until 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Here, Chewbacca helps to protect his home planet of Kashyyyk from an invasion of the bad guy Separatists. He also plays his part in saving Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) from the clone troopers who have been tasked with his murder.
And much to long-time fans’ joy, Chewbacca also returned for the eagerly anticipated 2015 sequel The Force Awakens. In this sequel, the Wookiee comes to the rescue of the BB-8 droid, Daisy Ridley’s scavenger Rey and John Boyega’s wayward stormtrooper Finn. Sadly, though, he can’t save his faithful companion Han Solo from being murdered.
Chewbacca then shows up in 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, where he tries to convince a despondent Luke to take revenge against the new bad guys, the First Order. He also plays a vital role in the Battle of Crait while piloting his famous ship, the Millennium Falcon. And thankfully, the lovable Wookiee is still in one piece by the end of the movie.
In 2018, meanwhile, Chewbacca’s relationship with Han was explored further in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Here, we see that the Wookiee was initially supposed to eat his future companion, but, after learning that they can speak the same Shyriiwook language, he decides to make friends instead. Chained together, the duo then plot their escape from the evil Imperials, and the rest is Star Wars history.
Chewbacca has also appeared several times on the small screen. He pops up in the third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for instance. And in 1978 he even got to show off his family. In fact, his wife, child and father were all introduced to audiences for the first time in a festive Star Wars special – but this show is no longer considered canon.
Chewbacca was given his own comic book miniseries in 2015 and has featured in numerous official Star Wars novels too. Fans of the character have also been able to step into his oversized feet in various video games as well. Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi, Star Wars: Battlefront II and Lego Star Wars: The Original Trilogy are just a few of the titles in which Chewie has featured in over the years, in fact.
Since his first screen appearance, then, Chewbacca has become a pop culture icon and one of the best-loved characters in the franchise. And it’s because of this that fans continue to bemoan his snubbing in the original Star Wars movie. So why exactly wasn’t the Wookiee given a medal at the film’s conclusion along with the other major players?
Well, for anyone unfamiliar with the story, A New Hope ends with the Death Star being defeated by the film’s heroes. Then, at an official Rebel Alliance ceremony, both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are awarded medals for their efforts. And yet Chewbacca, who has been just as instrumental to the victory as others, walks away with absolutely nothing.
So what is the reason for such a blatant snub? More than a few theories have been bandied about, of course. Peter Mayhew, for one, once claimed that financial constraints were to blame. In fact, he actually told the Australian publication Bmag in 2015 that he believed the producers simply didn’t have the cash to splash out on another medal.
Mayhew also told the same magazine that co-star Carrie Fisher’s inability to reach Chewbacca’s neck may have been responsible. “It was probably too expensive to build a little step so that I could step down or she could step up and give me the medal,” he said. Unlike many diehard Star Wars fans, however, Mayhew himself doesn’t appear to be too bothered by his character’s medal omission.
Of course, Mayhew may have been placated by the very special accolade that Chewbacca had been given in 1997. You see, Chewie actually became a rare example of a fictional character picking up the Lifetime Achievement accolade at the MTV Movie Awards. And the entertainment network went out of its way to make amends for Chewbacca’s previous snub.
The award itself was, in fact, designed to look identical to the Medal of Bravery that Chewbacca had previously missed out on in A New Hope. And to make things even more authentic, Carrie Fisher was also on hand to present him with the accolade. The whole stunt was actually championed by Lucasfilm, too, so Mayhew was able to grace the stage in full authentic Chewbacca costume.
This appearance actually adds more credence to Mayhew’s theory about the disparity between his and Carrie Fisher’s heights being behind his medal snub. You see, the towering actor had to walk down numerous steps to allow Fisher to place the medal around his neck. Had Chewbacca been smaller or Princess Leia taller, then, perhaps there wouldn’t have even been an argument about the medal at all.
Yet some fans believe that Chewbacca, the character, is just as unbothered about the whole medal saga as the man who played him. The theory here goes that the Wookiee may have been far too happy watching his best bud Han Solo pick up the accolade to feel left out. In fact, he may not have even wondered why he hadn’t been given the same treatment.
And then there’s the supposition that Chewbacca had actually been offered a medal but had decided to reject it. And that’s because the Wookiee is apparently a secret operative. Yes, according to a particularly creative fan’s theory, Chewie only ever formed a friendship with Han Solo in order to gain as much intelligence as possible.
According to Screen Rant, however, George Lucas actually settled the whole medal debate around the time of the movie’s release in 1977. Indeed, the entertainment site reports that the director discussed the reason behind Chewbacca’s snub while adding to the film’s mythology. And it turns out that the “not bothered” theory is extremely close to the mark.
“Chewbacca wasn’t given a medal because medals don’t really mean much to Wookiees,” Lucas reportedly said. “They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies. The Wookiee Chewbacca was in fact given a great prize and honor during a ceremony with his own people.”
Lucas then expanded on the idea that the Wookiee had enjoyed not having to share the spotlight with Luke and best friend Han. He said, “The whole contingent from the Rebel Alliance went to Chewbacca’s people and participated in a very large celebration. It was an honor for the entire Wookiee race.”
However, Lucas’ explanation actually contradicts the novelization of A New Hope, which hit the shelves six months prior to the movie hitting theaters. In the book, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, Chewbacca does, in fact, receive a medal for his heroics. But in this case, he’s presented with it by Han Solo rather than Princess Leia.
The passage in question reportedly reads, “Leia, in all her grandeur, sits on the magnificent throne of Aquilae. [Skywalker] and the general stand to her right. Several old advisors stand to her left. Han presents Chewbacca and a delegation of Wookiees with a treaty, gifts and a medal of honor. They bow and exit. Han moves to one side of the crowded court.”
Nevertheless, some fans believe that Lucas’ comments are a sign that he had already been thinking of expanding the Star Wars universe. And there’s also a theory that the director was intending to make a film based entirely on the Wookiee race and their practices. Of course, the closest anyone ever got to this was 1978’s much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.
But things get even more confusing when you consider a supposed Lucas interview conducted by the Official Star Wars Fan Club. In this report, the director seemingly stated that the height difference between Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew was in fact to blame for Chewbacca’s snub. The director even reportedly insinuated that Fisher would have had no chance of ever reaching Chewie’s neck.
What’s more, three years after A New Hope’s release, the writers of comic book The Day After the Death Star! incorporated both of Lucas’ reported explanations into a new storyline. Yep, the 1980 publication sees Chewbacca rewarded with a medal in another more intimate ceremony with Princess Leia. The latter is actually pictured standing on a table in order to reach the Wookiee’s neck.
Yet The Day After the Death Star! also acknowledges Lucas’ claim that the Wookiee race doesn’t believe in material possessions. Chewbacca is, you see, initially seen turning down the honor of a medal. But following a pep talk with companion Han Solo, he changes his mind. So this explains why Chewbacca’s medal ceremony supposedly takes place a day on from Han and Luke’s.
These days, though, all of the pre-2015 Star Wars literature and off-shoots are not considered canon. So perhaps it’s best to consider the 2015 Marvel Comics miniseries Chewbacca. This comic explores the friendship between the titular hero and a youngster named Zarro. And as the characters later go their separate paths, Chewie gives the girl a special goodbye gift: a Rebel Alliance medal.
This appears to confirm that Chewbacca really did attend a separate medal ceremony from the rest of his fellow intergalactic heroes. And when Zarro initially refuses the gift, the Wookiee tells her that it was an unwanted one. She replies, “Yeah, it would kind of clash with your whole warrior vibe.”
Released in the same year, junior novel Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure also references the Wookiee’s medal history. Yet although it doesn’t confirm when he was given the accolade, the book does state that Chewbacca isn’t too impressed by it. In one chapter, for instance, the furry creature remarks on how tiny it compares to his giant hands.
Of course, Chewbacca’s medal saga isn’t the only rumor that the Wookiee has been at the center of over the years. After the revelation that he was initially supposed to eat Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story, in fact, fans began wondering whether the lovable creature had previously feasted on humans. But thankfully, Chewbacca doesn’t appear to be a literal man-eater.
In the official companion novel for Solo: A Star Wars Story, you see, it’s revealed that Chewbacca “hadn’t gotten that hungry, not yet.” Written by Mur Lafferty, the book does however confirm that the Wookiee is partial to the odd bit of meat. But, rest assured, flesh of the human variety isn’t mentioned specifically.
And then there’s the theory about how Kylo Ren, played in the films by Adam Driver, managed to survive a blast from the Wookiee’s laser crossbow in The Force Awakens. In fact, Han’s son barely even flinched after being struck by the supremely powerful weapon. Some fans therefore believe that Chewbacca didn’t want to be responsible for Kylo’s death.
After all, Chewbacca may well have been a part of Ren’s early life, when the boy was simply known as Ben Solo. So the theory goes that having watched Ren grow up, the Wookiee couldn’t bring himself to deliver that fatal blow. This was despite the fact that Ren had just killed his father and Chewie’s longtime companion.
Chewbacca will once again return to the Star Wars universe for 2019’s as-yet-untitled Star Wars: Episode IX. But the man who now plays him, Joonas Suotamo, revealed on Instagram that the movie wasn’t the easiest to shoot. He said, “Playing Chewbacca is a dream. But sometimes there were days that were more demanding than others.”
He added, “On interior sets there might not be any real airflow, and the hairs would just trap all the heat to the fur and cause a slow temperature rise. While filming, I would perform my bit, and we would go again many times. Usually, this would take from an hour to two hours. On scenes requiring three hours, I would sometimes need to start conserving my energy, which unfortunately meant having to reserve some of my jokes for after filming!”