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Chewbacca's Entire Backstory Explained

Everyone knows who Chewbacca is: The lovable yet fearsome Wookiee from the Star Wars franchise. But how much do we actually know about our beloved Chewbacca? Many casual fans would say, "not much." With the possible exception of Solo: A Star Wars Story from 2018, Chewbacca seems like a side character in most of the Star Wars films. An enigma. A mystery, shrouded in hair.

Who is this guy (and he is a guy, it's hard to tell sometimes)? Does he have a life outside of the canonical Star Wars media? Why does he stick by Han Solo no matter what? Why is his weapon so different from almost everyone else's? Why does he speak in what sounds like gurgling when he clearly understands different languages? Is Chewbacca his actual given name? We took a deep dive into Star Wars lore to find what makes this guy (again, definitely a guy), tick.

Chewbacca is, like, super old (plus other wookiee facts!)

Wookiees hail from the planet Kashyyyk (we had to double check to make sure we included enough ys in Kashyyyk). A Wookiee's thick, illustrious fur coat is known to repel water, which is good, because Kashyyyk has some swampy bits (some of its rivers have dried up, though.) The species has females and males — and even though every wookiee is covered in fur, only the males grow beards. It's all relative, we guess. Wookiees can understand a variety of languages but they're only physically able to communicate in Shyriiwook, which is where we get that majestic Wookiee sound we all know and love (by the way, Chewbacca is not his real name, it's just easier for humans to pronounce than it would be in Shyriiwook.) In addition to this, Wookiees live a ridiculously long time. Like, crazy long. In 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story, a prequel to the mainline Star Wars saga, Chewbacca is said to be 190 years old. In the later films, he'd be in his 230s. Here's another fun fact: Wookiees maintain their size by eating up to 6000 calories a day, a fact that may come in handy later in this article. 

Chewbacca is a terrible dad

The 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special may or may not be canon, but this infamous landmark in television history marks the spot where we met Chewbacca's family for the first time. Chewie's family is featured in several books, but none of the films. Although Chewbacca's wife appeared to have a cameo in 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story, Director Ron Howard quickly clarified that this is not the case. 

Since Chewie barely acknowledges his family elsewhere, we're focusing on the Holiday Special. Chewbacca's wife Mallatobuck, father Attichitcuk, and son Lumpawaroo (the latter two are named Itchy and Lumpy in the special), spend the show anxiously waiting for Chewie and Han to come home for Life Day. Before reuniting with Chewie, the family is intruded upon by stormtroopers searching for him. Lumpy scrambles to lure the troopers away, succeeding with all but one. When Han and Chewie finally get home, Lumpy has to watch Han kill the last remaining stormtrooper right before his eyes. If this Holiday Special plot sounds convoluted, that's only because it's convoluted. The fact remains, though: Chewie has a family, and he almost never mentions them. He leaves his wife and son for years on end to hang with a strange human man, and then brings that man home for holidays. Plus, his exploits make his family a target of the Empire! Solid parenting.

Chewbacca was supposed to eat Han Solo

This is why we told you about Wookiees' high calorie intake. This story was alluded to in several books, but we got some nice confirmation of this potential grossness from 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story. When Lt. Bolandin captures Han Solo, he throws him into a pit to be fed to "The Beast"... who, of course, turns out to be Chewbacca. That's right, Han Solo was Chewbacca's breakfast, and he's been following that uneaten meal around for the majority of his life. When confronted with an angry, hungry Wookiee, Han is only able to save himself by speaking Shyyriiwook, Chewie's native language. Han convinces Chewbacca they can escape together. Chewie's compassion overrules his intense hunger and he takes the immense risk of trusting Han. Obviously, this risk pays off. We hope Han got a nice "Glad I Didn't Eat You!" card on their friendiversary.

Chewie takes life debts very seriously

Multiple species in the Star Wars universe believe in the concept of a life debt. This is why many speculate that a Wookiee like Chewbacca stuck around Han Solo, a.k.a. his breakfast, for life and often ignored his own family to do so. We can't stress this enough: Dude just leaves his family all the time. Chewie's life debt is also expounded upon in the non-canonical Legends series — basically, in the old expanded universe of Star Wars stories, Chewbacca owes Han his freedom, and therefore, his time and loyalty. He's more devoted to his spice-running buddy than his wife and child.

According to Episode 1: The Phantom Menace from 1999, another Star Wars species that believes in the concept of a life debt is the Gungans, and we're not going to say another word about that because we've all heard more than enough Jar Jar jokes in our lifetimes.

Chewbacca has known war his whole life

The lifelong strife Chewbacca has experienced serves as justification, perhaps, for barely ever acknowledging his family — okay, we've stressed it enough. Like many characters in the Star Wars universe, Chewbacca has known and seen galactic conflict for pretty much his entire existence, only savoring brief periods of peace between some movies. Although he spent some of this galactic tension-filled time as a smuggler, and presumably, a child — Chewbacca was front and center during the Battle of Kashyyyk, the Clone Wars, the Galactic Civil War, the First Order-Resistance War, the Other One, the One with Stars, That Fight With Mom, etc. He's also been imprisoned and witnessed the enslavement of his people. Plus, as we explained before, he lives with the knowledge that he almost ate his closest friend. Basically, Chewbacca — like thousands of other sci-fi and fantasy characters — is in serious need of trauma therapy.

Chewie is dead in the non-canonical Legends series

"Legends" refers to any official Star Wars book or backstory published or released before 2014 — aside from the canonical films, of course. Why is this important to know? Because Chewbacca dies in one of the Legends books, specifically 1999's The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime. The story is essentially this: On a shipping mission to Sernpidal, Chewbacca and Han discover that a moon is about to crash into the planet. This means Han and Chewie have to evacuate every single one of Sernpidal's citizens before disaster hits. They succeed in saving thousands of lives, but Chewbacca gets crushed by this moon while saving the life of Han's son, Anakin Solo. (We know how weird this sounds — a lot of things are different in the Legends series.) Han, Chewie's family, and others accept Chewbacca's death-by-mooning with great difficulty and honor. Han especially has a hard time forgiving his son for Chewie's death, but they reconcile. It's not his fault, after all. Subsequent Legends books go into detail surrounding Chewbacca's funeral, memorial tree, and legend.

He is an expert in Dejarik but he hates losing

Dejarik is a holographic strategy-based game sometimes referred to as Holochess. Most of what we know about Dejarik comes from books, but in several films we see just how poorly Chewbacca handles Dejarik setbacks and losses. The game first appears in 1977's A New Hope. This is where we get C-3PO's line "I suggest a new strategy, R2, let the Wookiee win." Han even jokes that Chewie will pull people's arms out if he loses (he doesn't, of course. Plus, we're not sure those things on R2-D2 can be called "arms.") Chewbacca just refuses to lose this game. He won't lose to R2-D2, or to Tobias Beckett in 2018's Solo: A Star Wars Story. He wails and pounds his fist on the table. So unsportsmanlike! Chewie gets so upset at Beckett in particular, he fails to remember he can't sweep holographic pieces off the board. In 2019's The Rise of Skywalker, Chewbacca can't handle being accused of cheating, even as a joke.

Chewbacca created his trademark bowcaster

Remember Chewbacca's weapon? A crossbow that shoots lasers? We can see why most Star Wars merchandise is focused on lightsabers, but wow, we wish we'd had these as kids. (Bowcasters do exist in Nerf form, something we wish we'd known before fitting glow sticks onto regular crossbows and accidentally demolishing the office break room.) Each bowcaster is handcrafted by its Wookiee owner. As such, they tend to vary in their construction, although they do always seem to be some sort of crossbow. Chewie put his together by improving upon previous designs by using elements from stormtrooper weapons to create a more efficient version of the traditional Wookiee weapon. His current weapon isn't the first bowcaster Chewbacca ever created, but it's certainly the best. Historically, it was thought that only Wookiees had the strength to operate a bowcaster properly, but as we saw in The Force Awakens, Han had the pleasure of using it in battle. We're jealous.

He is an expert engineer in general

We know Chewbacca is a solid navigator, pilot, and co-pilot. But he's much much more than that — it seems he's also an all-around mechanical engineer. In the Legends timeline, Chewbacca began repairing vehicles as a mere child, and even fashioned a transmitter out of random parts from a destroyed transport vessel in The Clone Wars. He seems to have at least a cursory knowledge of most of the machinery we see onscreen. In 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, he repairs C-3PO with apparent ease, modulating the controls near his neck until the droid's signature voice returns. We've seen him work on ships as well. And let's not forget that he also created and perfected his bowcaster.

Chewbacca battled an albino Wookie for his wife's hand in marriage

This story isn't canonical, but it's fun so we're including it anyway: In a series of comics, Chewie fights an albino Wookiee named Tojjevvuk, who absolutely looks like a Yeti. Anyway, since Chewbacca and Tojjevvuk are both in love with Chewie's future spouse Mallatobuck, they enter into a duel for her affections. Tojjevvuk ends up using his claws, which is apparently a big taboo in Wookiee culture. Chewie refuses to follow suit and cheat by using his own claws; instead, he employs his expert navigation skills, swerving through trees in the forest of his native Kashyyyk in order to ambush and attack Tojjevvuk, who loses the fight. Mallatobuck was apparently into this: She married Chewbacca and had a child with him, after which they probably saw one another maybe five more times in their super-long Wookiee lives. Thanks a lot, Han.