That’s the name for Chewbacca’s grunts, growls, and roars, a language often imitated but never fully deciphered by Star Wars fans.
That’s because most of what Chewie says is a sound-designed hybrid of animal noises, which made it especially hard for the actors in Solo: A Star Wars Story when they had a whole dialogue scene in the Wookiee native tongue.
Although there isn’t a specific lexicon (like Klingon in the Star Trek series, or Dothraki in Game of Thrones), new Han actor Alden Ehrenreich had to make sure he repeated the same noises whenever he was saying the same English line to Chewie.
Chewbacca actor Joonas Suotamo had it much easier. He just speaks English in a yawning/roaring accent and it’s overdubbed later.
In Part 1 of EW’s five-part video series this week, here are the stars of the movie, in theaters May 25, explaining how to converse with a Wookiee.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Usually we see Chewie roar and Han replies in English, but in Solo, you both get a chance to speak the native Wookiee language. Tell me about having this conversation in “Shyriiwook” dialect.
ALDEN EHRENREICH: Joonas always does some version of the line with the noise, and that’s really fun. [It’s replaced in the finished film with distorted audio of animal sounds.] Sometimes he’ll say what he would be saying [in English] but sort of in the …
JOONAS SUOTAMO: [In plaintive Chewie warble] “Do you speak my language?”
EHRENREICH: [Laughs] There’s probably a great version of the movie where they just leave all those things in!
SUOTAMO: I would love that, but there are some swear words.
EHRENREICH: [Nods] There’s a lot of swear words.
SUOTAMO: I heard one particular swear word wasn’t cut until the very last moments where they found a bear sound, and I was devastated. They should have stopped looking and just left it in there.
Alden, when you were having your side of the conversation, are you just improvising sounds, or did they actually give you specific roars and grunts?
EHRENREICH: There’s a repeating line. I think I say, “I have a plan.” So we had to make sure that when I repeat an English word, it’s the same Shyriiwook word that I’m repeating. Besides that, I’m mostly just [improvising.] But Joonas really taught me how to do it, these deep cut Wookiee things that you have to break the noise at the beginning. [Does a series of grunts and roars.] And like the laugh …
SUOTAMO: [Does the huffing Wookiee laugh]
EHRENREICH: I should say, Joonas has to do an unbelievable amount of stuff. It’s not just wearing the suit. He has to move in a very particular way. He has to understand how a Wookiee’s thinking. And there’s not a lot of ways to communicate, but I think Joonas has brought a lot of heart to it and just does a really impressive job. More than people can even totally understand.
SUOTAMO: Thanks so much, man.
EHRENREICH: Well, I’m lying, but …
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 in EW’s interview: The Solo actors share stories of Harrison Ford.