SOLO Character Studies #1: Chewbacca

Just like we did for The Last Jedi 6 months ago, it is time to look in some more detail at the different characters in Solo: A Star Wars Story. These posts do contain spoilers! Now, which character better to start with than … Chewbacca.

The making of a Character

Chewie has been a fan-favorite for decades ever since his first appearance in A New Hope. He is also one of the few Original Trilogy characters outside of the main storyline to make an appearance in the Prequel Trilogy during a much underestimated sequence on Kashyk where we learn Master Yoda and Chewie infact knew eachother! It made me wonder whether Luke and Chewie have ever talked about Yoda. Perhaps they didn’t, which would shed some light on Luke Skywalker not always seeing what is right in front of his nose.

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Chewie has also appeared in the Clone Wars animations series where he shared an adventure with Ahsoka and … what we can presume has happened off-screen … met Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight. This makes Chewie one of the best informed characters in the entire saga aside from R2-D2 who really knows everything and C3-PO who is only kept from spoiling plot-points by regular mind-wipes.

Yet the Original Trilogy does very little to give Chewie some real character beyond his growls in response to what happens or what is being said by others. His appearance in Revenge of the Sith is short, but his immediate willingness to carry Yoda into safety and Yoda’s personal thank you before he leaves illustrates that Chewbacca is viewed as a character with his own agency by Yoda. He is more than a comic relief buddy of Han, which is pretty much what he is in the OT.

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The Clone Wars episodes with Ahsoka also give Chewie some real agency and also depict how Chewie is often underestimated by others. Initially by Ahsoka as well but she sees through his scruffy and rough exterior. Just imagine what Chewie could have shared with Luke about his father’s apprentice! But I don’t think it ever occured to Luke he might need to ask and as we all know … Chewbacca is not a big talker. In fact … not even Han will have asked Chewie about it because as Han clearly states in A New Hope: he hasn’t seen anything that made him think something like The Force might exist. Just imagine he says that in hearing distance from Chewie who has met both Yoda as well as Ahsoka and Anakin!

Secluded and Withdrawn

So from the ‘arc’ that Chewie is given throughout the Prequels, the Originals and the Clone Wars he appears to us as being very much to himself. He doesn’t argue much, but mumbles occaissionally of disapproval. He is not taken terribly seriously, except by Yoda and Ahsoka, although other characters like Luke, Han and Obi Wan are happy to have him on their side in combat.

A popular, EU-fed, idea amongst fans was that Chewie was somehow bound to Han by a life-debt. An idea that would be stealing any remaining agency from him. I guess plenty of these fans went in to see Solo in the hope of seeing that iconic moment where Han saves Chewie and thus earns Chewie’s eternal gratitude. Which fortunately doesn’t happen.

The real Chewbacca

The Force Awakens also gives Chewie a very passive role as comic relief (“Oh, you’re cold?”) as a generator of reaction-shots (Chewie’s outcry upon Han’s death) and as a formidable fighter (who lands a full hit on Kylo). There is one moment in which The Force Awakens reveals something of Chewie’s true nature. When he and Rey fly to Ahch-to and Rey utters her recognition of the ocean and island she saw in her dreams. Chewie throws her a very peculiar look. Not as if he knows more, but the look of a careful observer in whose mind lots of questions are raised and look for answers but who keeps silent about it all.

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The Last Jedi also leaves Chewie basically in this role which, if we are honest, should have been expected because for Luke Chewie never was much of a conversation partner, let alone someone he would go to with grief or questions. The same is true for Leia and Chewie. But in Solo we finally see a little more of this quiet, sometimes fearsome and fierce, soul.

There are a few beautiful short scenes where Chewie becomes a real character of his own. There is the camp fire scene where Han asks him what “his story” is. Never again will we hear Han ask anything about what goes on inside his best friend’s heart. Chewie’s reply is short but to the point: the enslavement of his people is saddening his heart and he seeks to do something about it. We recognise how ‘home’ and ‘people’ mean a lot to Chewbacca.

Another key scene occurs during the train heist. Han saves Chewie’s life and gets a ‘thank you’ for it. Not a character-debilitating life-debt but a thank-you followed a few moments later by Chewie returning the favor to the entire heist-crew by decoupling the carriage before it tumbles intot he abyss. A third key moment happens during the battle on Kessel. Chewbacca sees fellow Wookies being held as slaves and cannot stay ‘on the mission’ torn as he is about he feelings of duty to help his kin. This is also a great moment for Han … as he recognises it and let’s go. It is finally putting to rest the idea that Chewie is somehow ‘bound’ to Han by anything other than his own free choice.

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In my eyes Han and Chewie become a thing in the end of that sequence where Chewie is asked one more time by his fellow wookies, which he helped free themselves, to tag along with them. Chewbacca has just seen Han race out to save Lando from certain death amidst blaster-fire and they way Chewie’s response is shot makes clear that this is what makes him stay with Han. Chewie recognizes a kindred spirit in Han: one who will risk his life for a friend even when his swagger suggests he isn’t that reliable good-guy. His deeds show he is, whatever much talking he does.

That moment where Chewbacca decides to stay with Han and his team he completes a significant arc since we (chronologically in-universe) first saw him in the Clone Wars. Over the years following the events of Solo: A Star Wars Story we know what happens to Chewie: he grows silent, remains a loyal friend to Han and to whomever Han befriends, and watches the story of the Saga unfold.

Quiet lakes run deep

There is a saying in Dutch that “quiet lakes run deep” which applies very much to the Chewie we recognize from Solo. I always enjoy it when a film changes they way you look at a character without changing the history of events. Star Wars is actually quite good at doing such things, no matter how much some childish fans may moan about that. In Season 6 of The Clone Wars we see Yoda visiting Dagobah with R2-D2 immediately making it clear that in The Empire Strikes Back both Yoda and R2 are playing Luke. It is a theme that our Star Wars heroes are human and in their human fallibillity tend to underestimate the resources they encounter in the people around them. It is Leia who connects to the Ewoks. It is Padme who connects with the Gungans.

Like Leia needed a Wicket to understand the little-folk of Endor, so Padme needed Jar Jar to be able to reach out to the Underwater-people of Naboo. Han had Chewbacca, who from the well-spring of loyalty and friendship, that also Jar Jar draws on, finds the reasons to remain at Han’s side. And yet although Han could speak Chewie’s language, we know from his behaviour in the Original Trilogy and The Force Awakens that, although he deeply cares about Chewie, he never really listens to him. But now Chewie has a new co-pilot (because let’s face it … Chewie is the actual pilot here, he just never says so): Rey. Will she, in the spirit of Padme Amidala and Leia Organa, recognise the deep truth of what kind of an ally Chewie is? Will Chewie and the Wookies play a crucial role in the closing chapter of the Sequel Trilogy? There is story potential here far beyond a Solo II sequel. It is in fact the far more interesting story to tell.


Do you want to read more about Solo? Then check out:

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4 thoughts on “SOLO Character Studies #1: Chewbacca

  1. Very nice article. I also noticed that on Kessel, once Chewbacca had decided to stick with Han, he bid one of his fellow Wookies good-bye with a very poignant gesture. Very good moment.

    Like

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