Image Credit: LucasfilmGet ready to don your “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee!” T-shirt, because everybody’s favorite walking carpet is back! Chewbacca, Han Solo’s endlessly devoted sidekick and Millennium Falcon co-pilot from the original Star Wars trilogy, is making his animation debut in the season finale of Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars on April 1 (read our recaps here). Fans have speculated since the series’ inception that Chewbacca, already 200 years old by the time of the original Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope, might make an appearance. But the difficulty of animating hair — and, let’s face it, that’s pretty much all Chewie is — proved insurmountable until recently.
“We’ve wanted to have Chewbacca on the show from the beginning,” says supervising director Dave Filoni. “But the technical side just wasn’t there, until we devoted extra resources into researching how to animate fur when George said Chewbacca had to appear this season.” As part of that research, Filoni and the animation team brought in original Chewbacca actor, Peter Mayhew, to advise how to capture the Wookiee’s movements and gait, although they did not use motion capture or rotoscope techniques. “When I played Chewie, I was just being myself,” the 7-foot-3 actor adds. “He has a peculiar walk, because his walk is my walk. I didn’t add anything different.” Filoni adds, “You can’t have Chewbacca without Peter being involved. His movements and his mannerisms make that character.”
Lucasfilm is as mum as a carbon-frozen Han Solo about plot details regarding “Wookiee Hunt,” but they will tell me this: It won’t take place on the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk, and it will feature Trandoshans, the reptilian species that helped the Empire enslave the Wookiees, best known for the Empire Strikes Back bounty hunter Bossk.
Mayhew enjoys the peculiar distinction of playing an iconic character… without ever actually having been seen onscreen himself. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “I can be famous when I want to be, but cherish my anonymity the rest of the time.” An accidental celebrity, he was a hospital orderly when a British newspaper article featuring men with large feet, including him, brought him to the attention of the producers of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. He ended up playing a minotaur in that film, released in 1977.
Mayhew only landed the part of Chewbacca in Star Wars when David Prowse, who was considered for the role, opted to play Darth Vader instead. Still, he never voiced Chewie’s famous roar. Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt mixed it together from bear growls and other animal sounds. But for The Clone Wars, Mayhew will be lending his vocals to the character. “I’ve had a lot of practice,” he says, having the opportunity to perfect it at the 20-25 fan conventions he attends each year. “I wanted to find a way to include [his voice] as a thank you for helping us out with the character,” Filoni says. “Anthony Daniels still gets to voice C-3PO, we brought Daniel Logan back to play Boba Fett, and I just didn’t think it would be right to have this icon on the show without the man himself lending his voice.”
Why is Chewbacca still so popular? “Because he’s like a Teddy bear,” Mayhew muses. “You want to hug him. But he’s also always got your back.”
Check out our exclusive footage of Mayhew, Filoni, and the animation team talking about bringing Chewbacca to animated life, plus a clip of Chewie’s grand entrance. And remember, folks. Unless you want an arm pulled out of its socket, let the Wookiee win.