False facts about Chewbacca you always thought were true

Chewbacca is more than just Han Solo's sidekick. He's a fearsome warrior. He's a top-tier pilot. He's an accomplished mechanic, a successful smuggler, a loving father, and a trusted friend. He's also incredibly mysterious. Chewbacca only speaks in incomprehensible grunts and growls, and much of his backstory remains unknown, especially since Disney chucked out the old Star Wars Expanded Universe and all the continuity that goes with it.

Chewbacca's enigmatic nature hasn't stopped the faithful Wookiee from becoming one of the most popular Star Wars characters around, but when you combine popularity and mystery, it's no surprise there are a few misconceptions about Han Solo's beloved co-pilot floating around. Let's set the record straight. From his early days on Kashyyyk to his time with the Rebel Alliance to his time chilling with Porgs on the distant planet of Ahch-To, Chewbacca has proven that he doesn't need to rely on rumors, myths, and half-truths. He's cool just as it is.

He didn't get a medal

Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope ends on a hopeful note. The Death Star has been destroyed, the Empire is on the run, and the Rebel Alliance lives to fight another day, so the Rebels decide to celebrate by handing out awards to everyone who made their victory at Yavin IV possible. During the celebration, Luke Skywalker gets a medal. Han Solo gets a medal. Chewbacca gets bupkis.

Star Wars fans have been angry about the slight ever since. Well, fume no longer: You may not have seen it on-screen, but canon holds that Chewbacca did get a medal. He sort of got two! In 1997, MTV decided to correct George Lucas' oversight and gave Chewbacca a lifetime achievement award that looked almost exactly like the Rebels' Medal of Honor. The award was even presented by Carrie Fisher, just like Luke and Han's. Later, Chewie's medal popped up in canon, too. Greg Rucka's young adult novel Smuggler's Run opens with Chewbacca admiring his medal as the Rebels prepare to evacuate their Yavin base. In Marvel Comics' Chewbacca miniseries, Chewie gives his award to a girl named Zarro, who'll likely appreciate it more.

So why didn't we see Chewbacca get honored in the actual movie? As George Lucas explains it, Wookiees don't really care about awards, and besides, Leia couldn't reach Chewie's neck anyway, so she gave him his medal in a private ceremony a little later. Why couldn't Chewbacca just bend over? That, at least, remains a mystery.

His family isn't canon

The Star Wars Holiday Special isn't just one of the most bizarre Christmas specials ever broadcast on television. It's also a crucial and hilarious piece of Star Wars lore. Filmed in 1978, The Star Wars Holiday Special reunites the film's main cast in a musical adventure that featured the debut of Chewbacca's extended family: his wife Malla, son Lumpawaroo ("Lumpy"), and father Attichitcuk, or "Itchy."

The Star Wars Holiday Special is also phenomenally bad — you don't know the meaning of pain until you've heard Carrie Fisher croon an ode to "Life Day." At Lucas' behest, the special only aired once, and it was never released on home video. Malla and Lumpy did make their way into the old Expanded Universe, but Disney threw all that material into the garbage compactor when it bought the franchise in 2012.

You'd think that would mean Chewie's family is gone from continuity for good. You'd be wrong. While Malla and Lumpy don't play major roles in current Star Wars canon, they've been mentioned in a YA novelization of A New Hope and Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy, which explains what happened right after Return of the Jedi. Itchy is the only member of the Chewbacca clan who's still missing — but, given the way Star Wars canon works, it's probably only a matter of time before he pops up again.

He was an entirely original creation

Chewbacca didn't spring fully formed from George Lucas' imagination. In fact, from a certain point of view, Lucas stole Chewbacca wholesale. Sure, the very first Star Wars draft (or, at least, what would eventually become Star Wars) contains a character named Chewbacca, who's described as an 8-foot "bushbaby with fierce baboon-like fang[s]," but Chewie didn't take on his final form until much, much later — and not until Lucas took a big cue from the work of another high-profile fantasy author.

Famous concept designer Ralph McQuarrie, who's responsible for a number of iconic Star Wars designs, went through a number of different takes on Chewbacca, including a few that resembled lemurs (years later, Lucasfilm repurposed those drawings for Zeb, a member of Star Wars Rebels' cast). Apparently, none of those pictures were quite right. At some point during production, Lucas handed McQuarrie a drawing of a furry, bow-wielding creature created by noted sci-fi artist John Schoenherr. The similarities between Schoenherr's picture and McQuarrie's subsequent designs are striking, and it's pretty clear where McQuarrie's influences lie.

The source of Schoenherr's art, by the way? Why, an illustration for a 1975 novelette written by George R. R. Martin. Yes, that George R. R. Martin. The look isn't the only piece of Chewbacca's backstory that Lucas "borrowed," either — the word "wookiee" was actually invented by an actor on Lucas' previous sci-fi film, THX-1138, while he was improvising some dialogue in the recording booth.

Peter Mayhew was Lucas' first choice to play Chewbacca

If you hear Peter Mayhew tell the story, you might think he was the one and only actor considered for the Chewbacca role. Basically, Mayhew says, all he had to do during his audition was stand up when George Lucas entered the room. Lucas took one look at Mayhew, who stands 7 feet 2 inches tall, turned to his producer Gary Kurtz, and said, "I think we found him."

But according to David Prowse, who ended up playing Darth Vader, Mayhew wasn't the first person Lucas asked to play Chewbacca. Prowse could've been the Wookiee instead. Lucas was impressed with Prowse's small but imposing role in A Clockwork Orange, and when they met he said he wanted to cast Prowse in one of two roles. Lucas offered Chewbacca first. "He told me it was a hairy gorilla on the side of the good guys," Prowse remembers, but the actor wasn't keen on spending "three months in a gorilla suit" and asked about the other part.

It was Darth Vader, of course, and Prowse immediately accepted. "People always remember the bad guy," Prowse explains, although he didn't realize that his face would be hidden and that his lines would be dubbed over. Still, it all seems to have worked out. Mayhew turned Chewbacca into one of cinema's most beloved sidekicks, Darth Vader became one of the most feared villains in history, and Star Wars ended up being, well, Star Wars. 'Nuff said.

He's always carried the same weapon

When a Star Wars character finds a toy they like, they tend to stick with it. Han Solo's DL-44 heavy blaster pistol is almost as iconic as his ship, the Millennium Falcon. Anakin's — and later, Luke's, and then Rey's — blue lightsaber plays a major role in all three Star Wars trilogies. Boba Fett's armor made him a superstar, while a single shot of Darth Maul's double-bladed saberstaff transformed the Sith apprentice from a lackey to a fan-favorite villain.

Chewbacca has a signature weapon, too: the crossbow-like bowcaster, which he wields in all his big-screen appearances. Unlike his brothers and sisters in arms, however, Chewie hasn't been using the exact same weapon all this time. According to the reference book Ultimate Star Wars, Chewbacca crafts new bowcasters regularly, although he does seem fairly fond of his most recent design, which combines traditional Wookiee engineering with a "power pack of a stormtrooper blaster."

That explains why bowcaster bolts change between red and green in various pieces of Star Wars media, and helps fill in one of The Force Awakens' biggest plot holes. In Star Wars: Episode VII, Han Solo acts like he's never held a bowcaster before even though he's been palling around with Chewbacca for over 40 years. Well, knowing that Chewbacca frequently swaps his weapons out, it's pretty easy to infer that Han hasn't ever used this specific bowcaster before, even if he has used others. See? Problem solved. Dodged that bolt!

His dialogue is gibberish

How does Han Solo understand what Chewbacca is saying, anyway? Easy: As it turns out, Chewbacca is secretly speaking English.

Okay, okay. It's not quite that simple. In canon, Chewbacca speaks Shyriiwook, one of three Wookiee dialects (and the one that has over 150 words for "wood"). On set, however, things are a little different. While Chewbacca doesn't have any dialogue in George Lucas' Star Wars script, actor Peter Mayhew delivered his dialogue in English, giving Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and the rest of the cast real lines to react to. Mayhew's voice was replaced by Chewbacca's signature howls and growls in post-production, but you can hear Mayhew's original delivery, most likely improvised, in a few behind-the-scenes videos.

That's a tradition that Mayhew's successor, the nearly 7-foot Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo, has carried on. On the Solo set, Suotamo occasionally grunted just like his furry alter-ego, but much of the time he would just speak English with a Wookiee accent. Both Suotamo and his Solo co-star Alden Ehrenreich would love to see Disney release a cut of the movie with Suotamo's English lines intact, but admit that it probably won't happen — as it turns out, Chewbacca cusses plenty.

R. A. Salvatore decided to kill Chewbacca off

Before Disney bought Lucasfilm and decided to explore the post-Return of the Jedi timeline on the big screen, a series of novels and comic books explained what happened to Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca after the Empire fell — and it turns out that poor ol' Chewie didn't fare very well. In Vector Prime, a novel written by popular fantasy author R. A. Salvatore, an alien race called the Yuuzhan Vong invades the galaxy far, far away and makes a planet crash into its own moon. Unfortunately, Chewbacca is on that planet, and he doesn't survive the attack.

As you can imagine, Chewbacca fans were pissed, and they let Salvatore know. They flooded his email account with complaints. They sent death threats to Vector Prime's publisher, Del Rey Books. Here's the thing, though: They were targeting the wrong guy. While Salvatore wrote Vector Prime, he wasn't the one who decided to kill Chewbacca. The decision to off Chewie was part of a 20-plus book outline that Del Rey, Lucasfilm, and some previous Star Wars writers made before Salvatore was hired for the project.

Years later, Randy Stradley, a comic book writer and editor for Dark Horse Comics, which controlled the Star Wars license for years, took credit for Chewbacca's murder. It's all moot now, of course — in the Disney-ified canon, Chewbacca lives on, even if his friends don't — but you can go ahead and leave Salvatore alone. The guy was just following orders. (Also please leave Stradley alone. It's fiction.)