Clone Wars
Credit: Lucasfilm

I am Wookiee, hear me roar!

If Chewbacca could speak English, that’s probably what he’d say, because he’s making his highly-anticipated debut on this Friday’s season finale of Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars (airing 8:00 pm EST, read our recaps here!). So far, your only real glimpse of the animated Chewie has been a too-brief introduction when he first meets up with Ahsoka Tano and a group of other Jedi Padawans being hunted on a hostile jungle world. But now EW’s got an exclusive first look at the Wookiee … in action. Check it out:

This may be the season 3 finale, but supervising director Dave Filoni says that the Lucasfilm animation team has been planning to include Wookiees on The Clone Wars from day one. “Wookiees are such an important part of what we think of as Star Wars,” Filoni tells me. “Hair is always difficult [to animate], so the key was developing our animation style enough so that they wouldn’t look like hunks of clay. And we didn’t expect that the first Wookiee we’d feature on the show would be, you know, the most famous one of all, Chewbacca.”

In the two-parter, titled “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt,” Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan, Ahsoka, is captured by Trandoshan (think: Bossk) slavers. She’s deposited on an island on the fearsome jungle planet Wasskah, and, along with other Jedi younglings, hunted as sport, Most Dangerous Game-style, by her reptilian captors.

Filoni directed both episodes himself and decided to raise the bar for the kind of textured environments seen on the show — Wasskah would feature a lush, verdant jungle, with characters scurrying up trees, along branches, and through vines. Filoni’s the first to admit the difficulty of animating foliage. “Let’s just say … barren, rocky planets are much, much easier to animate,” he notes with a chuckle — fans know we’ve seen quite a few of those types of worlds along the way. “For Wasskah, we built the entire jungle environment first, before figuring out the exact dynamics of the action … almost as if we were on location and shooting a live-action film.”

One White Russian-tinted Easter Egg? Huge Lebowski fan Filoni admits that one of the bloodthirsty Trandoshans is wearing orange sunglasses — a nod to John Goodman’s unforgettable Walter Sobchak. “We even had a moment where, after he’s killed a prisoner in the hunt, he turns to another Trandoshan and says, ‘Do you want me to get her toe? I can get you her toe.’ But we thought maybe that was going too far.” And, after all, there are rules…

So now that Chewbacca’s a part of the animated Clone Wars universe, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a regular, right? “Well, I don’t know if he’d be a regular, because I’m wary of altering an original trilogy character’s backstory to that degree, but it’s safe to say that once we create a character model, we’re not just going to use it once.”