When I was a kid, Chewbacca the Wookie was my favorite Star Wars character. The appeal is pretty obvious; he's a big, superstrong, hairy fuzzball with an intimidating growl and a laser crossbow. If you're a 6-year-old, what's not to love?
I still quite like Chewie — though as I've gotten older I've grown increasingly aware that the Star Wars franchise doesn't exactly adore him as I used to. When I was playing with Star Wars figures, Chewie would often get to be the hero; he'd even defeat Darth Vader on occasion, replacing the disappointingly unhairy and whiny Luke Skywalker.
In the actual Star Wars series, though, Chewie has always been the sidekick and the helper. He’s generally not even the star of his own story. Though Star Wars sometimes translates alien tongues, Chewbacca's growls and roars are never written out in the subtitles. Instead he's always interpreted through his friends, a directorial decision that emphasizes his lack of consciousness and agency.
The newest Star Wars film, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" is aware that poor Chewbacca doesn’t get enough respect, and tries to rectify matters — sort of.
The newest Star Wars film, "Solo: A Star Wars Story" is aware that poor Chewbacca doesn’t get enough respect, and tries to rectify matters — sort of. Chewbacca's motivations and background are filled in as they haven't been through most of the rest of the films, and he's also given some independence apart from his best buddy and captain, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). Ultimately, though, letting us see a bit more into Chewie's furry head doesn't really make him a fully rounded character. Instead it emphasizes that the script sees him, somewhat helplessly, as a pet.
Chewie was in fact originally based on George Lucas' beloved Alaskan malamute, and his main trait has always been loyalty. The first Star Wars film spends a good bit of time on the character arc of Han (then played by Harrison Ford), who goes from amoral rogue to courageous hero, in fine cowboy style. Chewie, Han's copilot (played by Peter Mayhew) is along for the ride, but never has much in the way of input. When Han decides to abandon the rebels, Chewie goes with him. When Han decides to come back to rescue Luke, Chewie does that too. Sometimes he growls in dissent, but it's always Han who makes the final decisions.
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Han has moral dilemmas and moral development, and, eventually, a romance with a princess. Chewbacca has none of those things. Decades later, in "The Force Awakens," he's still trailing around after Han, dealing with his partner's messy familial relationships rather than settling down with a family of his own.
Even when we do meet Chewie's family in the execrable 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special," we’re left with more questions than answers. In the special, Chewie has a wife and son back on his home planet, which is controlled by the empire. But if he's got a family living under occupation, why does he gallivant around the galaxy with Han? Why not stay home and be a hero among his own people?
Recognizing that there are no good answers to these questions, "Solo" quietly but firmly erases the "Holiday Special" from the canon. Chewie (Joonas Suotamo) explains to Han (still via those untranslated grunts) that his tribe and family have been scattered by the empire. He joins Han initially to try to get funds to find the lost Wookies and free them. At one point in the story, when he sees a Wookie in distress, he briefly abandons Han to pursue his more important loyalties.