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The meaning behind Chewbacca's medal in Rise of Skywalker

Contains spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker

It's been 42 long years, but Chewbacca has finally gotten his medal.

With the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came answers to some long-burning questions. We now know who Rey's (Daisy Ridley) parents — and, more importantly, grandparents — were, and we discovered where Snoke (Andy Serkis) came from. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finally picked a side, Rey completed her Jedi training, and General Leia Organa said her last goodbye years after Carrie Fisher passed away. 

One of the biggest issues The Rise of Skywalker finally resolved, however, was a problem fans identified in the closing scene of Star Wars: A New Hope way back in 1977. While then-Princess Leia presented both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) with Medals of Bravery for destroying the Death Star in the Battle of Yavin, Solo's trusted companion and co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) never received one.

It's a snub that has irked Star Wars fans for decades. The Wookiee was an accomplished pilot like his two human cohorts, a useful mechanic, and quite a formidable fighter on the many occasions in which the group got themselves into hot water. There was no reason that Chewie should have been left out of all the medal-awarding festivities — and yet, he was.

The Rise of Skywalker finally saw everyone's favorite Wookiee get his well-deserved medal — but what, exactly, does the accolade mean?

Chewie certainly earned his Medal of Bravery

The Star Wars sequel trilogy has put the Wookiee through the wringer. Aside from having gotten into plenty of danger himself, Chewbacca lost his long-time friend Han in The Force Awakens when Kylo Ren (Han's own son) murdered him, Luke became one with the Force at the end of The Last Jedi, and Leia met her end during the events of Rise of Skywalker. During the course of that film, Chewie nearly died himself when Rey suddenly — and somewhat unexpectedly — discovered she had the ability to summon Force lightning while trying to keep the transport that kidnapped Chewie on the ground.

Fortunately, Rey and her companions found that the Wookiee was on a different transport, being kept on one of the First Order's ships. A rescue mission ensued, and Chewie was right back in the thick of things for the final battle. This time, though, he received his just rewards for his many years of service to fighting both the Empire and the First Order when the dust settled.

It came from an unexpected source. With the battle done and dusted and the First Order well and truly destroyed, pirate-queen-turned-Resistance-warrior Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) approached Chewie (now played by Joonas Suatamo) with medal in hand, presenting it to him with the words, "This is for you."

The meaning behind the hardware

Chewie's medal is, of course, identical to the medals hung around the necks of Luke and Han in A New Hope. Although it's not specifically stated in the film where Maz got the medal, it's presumably the one that was originally given to Han. While Leia herself was not awarded with a medal for bravery in the first Star Wars film, she was married to Han for a number of years. Given that the medal was seen in her possession during Rise of Skywalker, it's likely something that was passed on to her by her former husband.

However, in author Kevin Shinick's new Star Wars novel Force Collector, it's revealed that Han Solo gave his New Hope medal to Maz to "pay for a drink," telling her that it belonged to him when it was actually — wait for it — Luke Skywalker's. 

In any case, the fact that Maz gave Chewbacca the medal likely has a meaning far greater than simple appeasement for fans who have been calling for the Wookiee to get his medal onscreen for all of these years. With Leia now also dead in the final film of the Skywalker saga, Chewie is the only member of the original four still alive. The medal serves as a memento for everything the group went through over the years; a Medal of Bravery it may be, but it means so much more than that. It's a way of acknowledging that this trio of heroes who each played their roles in saving the galaxy from the forces of the Dark Side didn't do it alone — that through all the years and countless dangers, Chewie was right there fighting alongside them.

Why was Chewie left out in the first place?

With fans angry that the Wookiee was excluded from the initial awards ceremony, there was plenty of explanation offered from various sources to explain away the omission over the years. In January 2019, George Lucas explained, "Chewbacca wasn't given a medal because medals don't really mean much to Wookiees. They don't really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies... Chewbacca was in fact given a great prize and honor during a ceremony with his own people. The whole contingent from the Rebel Alliance went to Chewbacca's people and participated in a very large celebration. It was an honor for the entire Wookiee race." (via MovieWeb)

Okay, George, fair enough. Back in 2015, though, Mayhew offered up his own cheeky possible explanations as to why Chewie was snubbed. "I think it was one of two reasons," Mayhew said. "One, they didn't have enough money to buy me a medal. Or two, Carrie couldn't reach my neck, and it was probably too expensive to build a little step so that I could step down or she could step up and give me the medal." (via CinemaBlend)

Star Wars lore also went back and forth a little over the years, with some suggesting perhaps Chewie had refused the medal in keeping with Lucas' explanation, while others offered he had been given one more privately. While both plausible explanations, it hasn't stopped fans from calling for the moment to appear on the big screen. It may have taken 42 years, but fans finally got to see the moment when Chewie's part in defeating the Dark Side — in whatever form it presented itself — was properly recognized.