Chewbacca’s height makes him stand out among the cast in the original trilogy, but it’s his personality that ensures he’s remembered and beloved. Chewbacca was loyal to his friend Han Solo and then Luke and Leia in the films and left his mark on the Star Wars galaxy. He went on to appear in Revenge of the Sith as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and he’ll be in The Force Awakens. Peter Mayhew has poured his energy into the Wookiee time and time again, but he didn’t do it alone. A lot of work went on behind the camera to bring the character to life. Here are some behind-the-scenes facts you might not know about Chewbacca:
1. Staying in character.
Director Irvin Kershner had a very particular way of working with the actors on The Empire Strikes Back. He’d give directions to the actors in droid costumes or under masks while they were in costume to connect. He said, “I’d try to talk with Chewbacca only when the actor was fully costumed. Then I was staring at the Wookiee and not just an actor inside a Chewbacca suit. That helped tremendously.” [Source: The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J.W. Rinzler]
2. What’s in a voice?
Chewbacca’s signature growl-laden voice was the first sound Ben Burtt was hired to create for Star Wars. Burtt knew Chewie would speak in non-English and sound like an animal. He collected sounds of bears, badgers, and lions and extracted various pieces from all those recordings to create different emotions and noises for the Wookiee. [Source: Ben Burtt interview]
3. Wookiee in danger.
During filming of Return of the Jedi, Mayhew was told not to wander around while in costume. They were on location in the California redwoods, and there was some concern he would be mistaken as Bigfoot by hunters and be injured. [Source: Starlog Magazine #104]
4. Almost someone else.
David Prowse had the opportunity to play Chewbacca or Darth Vader. He wanted to be the villain so he said no to Chewbacca instantly. [Source: Starlog Magazine #136]
5. Monkey business.
As Wookiees are large furry creatures with humanoid qualities who live among the trees, it’s easy to picture apes or monkeys as inspiration. Mayhew did in fact study a monkey family to see how they interacted with each other. He said he thought it helped with characterization. [Source: The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by J.W. Rinzler]
6. That head tilt.
When I picture Chewbacca, I think of him tilting his head to the side while he listens to Han speak. For some reason, it reads as a human motion and sticks in my mind. On a panel at MegaCon in 2014, Mayhew said the move came about because he was constantly ducking to fit through doorways.
7. Less isn’t more.
Chewbacca didn’t initially have a huge role. Mayhew said the Wookiee was only in “three or four pages of the original Star Wars screenplay” but that the part was extended in the first few weeks of shooting. They just had to see the potential of the character and of Mayhew. [Source: Starlog Magazine #236]
8. Getting animated.
When Chewbacca joined Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the Season Three finale, supervising director Dave Filoni and his team brought Mayhew in and worked with him to capture Chewbacca’s personality. They pulled the costume and props out of the archives, and Mayhew told them about little details like how Chewbacca’s mouth is always a little open. [Source: “Bringing Chewbacca to The Clone Wars“]