It’s another Fan Theory Friday. Although this is a special one, on a Saturday, because today is Star Wars Day. Today’s fan theory is in honor of Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca and passed away this week at the age of 74.
There is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. A detail in the final scene of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. One of the famous “throne room scenes” in the series, which also happens to be one of my favorite scenes in the Star Wars films.
This is the scene in question:
Watch it, now, if you have not seen it lately, and consider if there are any questions you have unanswered at the end of the scene.
No, I’m not writing to explain Chewbacca’s lack of a medal. But it does explain something else that bothers me: why was Chewbacca talking for the entire ceremony?
“He’s not talking,” one could say. “He’s growling.”
To which I retort: “Chewbacca never simply growls. All his noises have meanings.”
Chewbacca isn’t an animal. He’s not just a sentient being but appears to be relatively intelligent.
Yes, Chewbacca was always talking
One very odd thing that has been revealed over the years is that Peter Mayhew delivered lines in English while in the Chewie costume. The reason why is unclear and there are some apocryphal explanations, but it appears to be for both the timing of the other actors’ lines and to give the actors some grounding as to what Chewbacca was actually saying.
This, in turn, raises that always unexplained question of who understands Wookie and who doesn’t, and which Wookies understand English and which don’t, and which humans, i.e. Han Solo, can speak Wookie and which don’t, but I won’t be getting into all of that here.
But this still doesn’t answer—unless there is a script somewhere that contains Chewbacca’s dialogue, yet to come to light—what Chewbacca was saying during the final scene after the Battle of Yelvin.
At this point, I must pause and cite, again, one of my favorite things to cite in conversations such as this: Death of the Author. I am of the opinion that, if a piece of information is important for the audience to know to appreciate a story, film, book, or any other work of art, then it should have been included in the narrative itself. This is why I don’t watch things like the “After the Episode” segment that remains like an irritating ghost after every HBO show.
So, all this is to say: we do not know what Chewbacca was saying and no amount of retconning or leaked scripts will genuinely answer that question. In the same sense that we do not know why he didn’t get a medal. Sure, there are ostesnsibly explanations, i.e. “wookies don’t like medals”, but I consider that explanation to be equally (or even less) valid when compared with other possible fan explanations, i.e. “only the pilot deserved medals” or “he was the only non-human in the room”.
So… what was Chewbacca saying?
Initially, I thought Chewbacca might be saying hi to a guy he knew as they walked down the aisle. I thought it might make sense, considering his military-related background. It still strikes me as odd that during what appears to be a serious, reverent ceremony, Chewbacca is just straight-up talking.
I thought his second moment of dialogue was meant to address his lack of a medal. Perhaps he was asking where it was, or perhaps he was letting everyone know he didn’t want one and was cool not getting one.
Then, I learned recently that Peter Mayhew—the actor who played Chewbacca and who passed away earlier this week, at the age of 74—had actually weighed in on this question before. According to a Reddit AMA with Mayhew conducted in 2014:
No, actually, the last words Chewie spoke in Episode IV was to dismiss the troops and thank them for their service.– Peter Mayhew, during a Reddit AMA
While this offers some clarity, I do have two thoughts: one is that, even from Mayhew’s mouth, we can’t know this for sure, considering all the reasons cited above.
Second, we still don’t know what Chewbacca was saying when the crew walked down the aisle.
So, here’s my theory:
I don’t really like the above explanations, for one big reason: Chewbacca’s emotions.
Sure, it’s hard to tell what emotion Chewie is feeling in any given moment. But I don’t think he’s happy when he growls as he goes down the aisle. He’s steamed.
While brings me to a few major points:
- I have a hard time believing everyone in the room spoke Wookie.
- Chewbacca seems very irritated during this scene
- Chewbacca, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker are the only three people in the room who are neither military nor royalty
- When Chewbacca talks the first time, the crowd reacts (they turn). However, again, are we really to believe they all knew what he was saying?
So. My Chewbacca fan theory is this:
Chewbacca was on edge during this scene, feeling neglected for his lack of a medal. I assume they had informed him ahead of time that he would not be honored with the other two. Still, this stung.
Chewbacca is a military man, arguably more experienced than anyone else in the room. His dialogue during this scene, whether comprehended or not by those around him, is an unplanned reaction to the emotions he is feeling.
Thus, he spends the scene scolding the troops, a collection of soldiers he regards with scorn.
Chewbacca’s dialogue can roughly be interpreted as:
- “Straighten up and face the princess, you lousy slackers!”
- “Applaud, you assholes”
- “All right, that’s it! Let’s all get out of here.”
This would also explain why we see a heightened role for Chewbacca in every film moving forward. They learned their lesson, regarding his temper, his abilities, and his stature. They know that if they choose to ignore him again, he’ll make things difficult for everyone.
And on that note, I’ll say again: rest in peace, Peter Mayhew. Rather than attempt to eulogize him (beyond the above), I’ll link to The Guardian’s obituary of him.