15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca

ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, April 30, actor Peter Mayhew—the actor who played Chewbacca for more than three decades—passed away at the age of 74 at his home in North Texas. As a tribute to the pop culture hero's iconic character, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. He was inspired by George Lucas's dog.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. Chewbacca's name is Russian in origin.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. The Wookiee is really, really old.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. Peter Mayhew's height helped him land the role.

Getty Images

Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He was 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. Chewbacca's suit is made from a mix of animal hairs, and eventually included a cooling system.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. One of Stanley Kubrick's closest creators designed Chewbacca's costume.

Getty Images

To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. Finding Chewbacca's voice was Ben Burtt's first assignment.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. Roger Ebert was not a fan of Chewie.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. Chewbacca was originally more scantily clad.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. Chewie's design was based on Ralph McQuarrie's concept art.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. Chewbacca won a lifetime achievement award.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. Chewie has a family back home.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (a.k.a. “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. Mayhew's big feet are what kickstarted his career.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. Mayhew kept his day job while shooting Star Wars.

Getty Images

During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. Darth Vader could have been Chewbacca.

Getty Images

David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca. When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

Updated for 2019

11 Gifts for the Sci-Fi Fanatic in Your Life

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Science fiction has found its way into countless books, movies, TV shows, and video games over the years, making it tough to figure out which products are actually worth your time when shopping for a fan of the genre. We’re taking the thought out of it with these 11 recommendations for the sci-fi fan in your life.

1. Star Trek: The Original Topps Trading Card Series; $22

Abrams/Amazon

Topps trading cards were the essential collectible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—so it was only right that Star Trek would have its own set for fans to obsess over (though it actually debuted seven years after the original series was canceled). In this chunky coffee-table book from Abrams, high-quality scans of the fronts and backs of all 88 standard cards are featured alongside insights and essays from Trek experts Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Star Trek Socks; $25

Bio World/Amazon

Though you might not want your loved one to walk around the house in a Starfleet uniform, you should definitely get them these Next Generation socks to make their feet feel a bit more official. And whether they relate to the command, engineering, or science division of the Enterprise, there’s a pair here for them.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga; $28

Ace/Amazon

With a new take on the Dune movie franchise hitting theaters soon, there’s no better time to make sure the sci-fi buff in your life has the first three installments—Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune—in author Frank Herbert’s landmark book series.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Sci-Fi Book Cover Postcards; $21

Penguin Books/Amazon

One of the most striking aspects of the sci-fi genre is the imaginative, if not downright weird, book covers that come along with it. This collection of postcards features reproductions of 100 covers from publisher Penguin’s past, featuring work from H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. This set is ideal for any avid collector, especially ones that want to turn the postcards into unique crafts and decorations for the home.

Buy it: Amazon

5. and 6. The Making of Alien and The Making of Aliens; $31-$42

Titan Books/Amazon

If you ever want a comprehensive behind-the-scenes book about your favorite movie, look for the name J.W. Rinzler. He’s best known for his in-depth accounts of the original Star Wars trilogy, but he’s also dabbled in other franchises, like the first two movies in the Alien series. Packed with rare photos, unused concepts, original script drafts details, and more, these books contain all the anecdotes and details a fanatic could ever want.

Buy it: Alien (Amazon), Aliens (Amazon)

7. The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women; $20

The Library of America/Amazon

Some of sci-fi’s best women writers get the spotlight in this expansive anthology collection from the Library of America. The stories themselves range from the campier pulps of the '20 and '30s through the more thoughtful and serious evolution of the genre in the ‘60s. This is a crash course in sci-fi history, told through the lens of an often-unappreciated group of authors, including James Tiptree, Jr. (real name Alice Bradley Sheldon) and Leigh Brackett, who was responsible for the first draft of 1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Classic Sci-Fi Magazine 1000-Piece Puzzle; $22

Brook & Wyman/Amazon

Though sci-fi is usually exclusive to novels and blockbuster movies today, it really got its start thanks to the plethora of genre magazines on stands during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And now, you can put together those striking—and impeccably surreal—covers to Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, and more in this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Cyberpunk 2077; $60

CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 has arguably been the most anticipated piece of sci-fi media over the last five years. CD Projekt Red already created one of this generation’s best games with The Witcher 3, and now the studio is throwing players into a Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk world, where every choice you make will shape the world around you in different ways. Plus, you’ve got an arsenal of weapons and augmentations at your disposal. This one hits shelves on December 10.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films; $113

Criterion/Amazon

Godzilla’s unique charms resides in the way the franchise seamlessly alternates between thought-provoking and schlocky. And in this handsome, 15-movie Blu-ray set from Criterion, fans can revisit the series’s most influential installments, from 1954's groundbreaking original all the way through the campier later days of Megalon and Mechagodzilla. The set also contains both the U.S. and Japanese versions of 1963’s cringe classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. In typical Criterion fashion, the whole package is accompanied by hours of extras and a gorgeous hardcover book filled with original artwork.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Moebius Library: The World of Edena; $34

Dark Horse Comics/Amazon

One of sci-fi comics’ most important artists, Moebius helped define a visual style that would influence George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and pretty much every other major force in the genre for decades to come. In this collection, Moebius’s The World of Edna stories are reprinted in beautiful hardcover format, complete with lush colors that perfectly complement the strange worlds to which he transports readers.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

Celebrate Season 2 of The Mandalorian With These 10 Products

LEGO/Amazon
LEGO/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The second season of The Mandalorian is here, and that means a tidal wave of new merchandise is already on store shelves for eager fans to devour. And, of course, when we're talking about Mandalorian merch, we're really talking about anything with Baby Yoda's face printed onto it. And there's plenty of that available for the series' sophomore season on Disney+, whether you want to invest hours in a new LEGO set or just want to kick back and have a drink out of a Baby Yoda-shaped tiki mug. Check out some of our favorite products below.

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Polaroid Camera; $140

Polaroid/Amazon

Polaroid cameras are as classic as Star Wars itself, so this collaboration feels natural. The instant camera has The Mandalorian logo etched onto it, and the unique i-Type film prints photos with little Baby Yoda illustrations decorating the borders.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Amazon 3rd Generation Echo Dot The Child Stand; $25

Otterbox/Amazon

Amazon Echo Dots have become so popular, it seems most homes have a couple lying around. With this Baby Yoda stand, you can make sure you'll always know which one is yours. The iconically elongated ears will brighten up any Star Wars fan’s room and get them ready for the new season of the show.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Marshmallow Cereal; $11

General Mills/Amazon

It feels like cereal hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, which is why this Mandalorian cereal is a real treat. It's not just that Baby Yoda's grinning on the box; the cereal itself also has marshmallow pieces shaped like the character.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Baby Yoda Socks; $11

Disney

Even your feet can join in on the Mandalorian hype with this set of Baby Yoda socks from Disney.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Stanley Mandalorian Insulated Mugs; $30-$35

Stanley/Amazon

The famous thermos mug brand, Stanley, has teamed up with Disney to create three exclusive bottles featuring imagery from The Mandalorian. The models include a vacuum bottle with The Mandalorian logo, a trigger-action mug showcasing The Child, and an insulated tumbler with Mando's helmet on it. And since these are from Stanley, you know your drinks will be kept at just the right temperature for up to 24 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Mandalorian-Themed Monopoly; $30

Hasbro

The world of intergalactic bounty hunting makes a seamless transition into Hasbro’s classic game of property management and armchair capitalism in this special edition of Monopoly. Here, staples like Park Place and Baltic Avenue are replaced by the Armorer’s Workshop and a Jawa Camp, with boot and thimble tokens making way for Mando, Baby Yoda, and Moff Gideon pieces.

Buy it: Amazon

7. LEGO Razor Crest Ship; $130

LEGO/Amazon

Mando’s bulky star cruiser is one of the most memorable additions to the Star Wars ship library since the Disney acquisition. This 1023-piece LEGO set allows you to recreate the vessel brick by brick. The Razor Crest set even opens up to reveal a cargo hold, cockpit, and an escape pod—which are all the perfect size to fit the minifigures of Mando, Greef Karga, and Baby Yoda that come along with it.

Buy it: Amazon

8. 10-Inch Chrome Mandalorian Funko Pop!; $40

Funko/Amazon

If any duo deserved an extra-large Funko Pop!, it’s this one. Here, the Mandalorian, real name Din Djarin, is decked out in a special chrome helmet variant meant to resemble his fancy beskar armor. In his clutches is Baby Yoda, and the pair strikes a pose that's perfect for displaying on a desk or bookshelf.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baby Yoda Tiki Mug; $27

Geeki Tiki/Toynk

This tiki mug is firmly in the “at this point, why not?” category of Baby Yoda merchandise. At 16 ounces, it’s an adorable vessel for your favorite island drink, ensuring that even your beverages are on brand while you binge the latest season of The Mandalorian.

Buy it: Toynk

10. Baby Yoda 39-Inch Area Rug; $50

Robe Factory LLC/Amazon

For floors that have a distinct lack of Baby Yoda, this 39-inch area rug sports a vivid illustration of everyone’s favorite pint-sized Force wielder sitting in his adorable floating bassinet. Made of 100 percent polyester, this rug would be right at home in your bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.

Buy it: Toynk

Related: 11 Great Gifts for Star Wars Fans

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!