Recently, the world lost a legend: Peter Mayhew, the 7’2″ British actor who originated the role of Chewbacca in 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope.” The gentle giant imbued everyone’s favorite science fiction sidekick with an enormous heart and an incomparable sense of loyalty. To honor Mayhew’s passing, here are five standout moments from the beloved Wookie he portrayed for five films (Episodes III-VII). More than just Han Solo’s copilot, confidante, and best friend in the galaxy, here is the best of Chewie.
5Chewbacca snarls at Luke when he puts the binder cuffs on (“Star Wars: A New Hope”)
What could be considered a terrifying moment from an adult-size pet barking at an approaching stranger actually provides insight into Chewbacca’s deepest fears. Chewbacca is a former slave, forced into permanent bondage by the Empire. Separated and kidnapped from his family decades earlier, audiences see Chewbacca’s visceral reaction to being placed in chains again. The only way he becomes pacified is when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) explains the plan to get them into the Death Star’s detention center. Here fans witness Han’s sweetness by the way he comforts Chewie, following a potentially violent outburst. It isn’t until several installments down the road that audiences realize this aggressive exchange is a result of someone’s past trauma being triggered.
4Chewbacca comes back to aid Han and honor his life debt (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”)
During the mission to steal coaxium from the mines of Kessel, Chewbacca runs into his fellow species and makes the decision to help them escape enslavement. Because Han (Alden Ehrenreich) doesn’t have time to lead a slave revolt, the pair make an instant decision to go their separate ways after a short-lived partnership. However, Chewie returns just in time to rescue the young scoundrel, deciding that the life debt he owes Han for saving him during their earlier train heist operation is worth honoring. Chewbacca underscores his loyalty, committing himself to a man whose moral code might be murky but whose thirst for adventure gives the Wookie a new purpose. Chewbacca’s heart is always with his people, but it’s the daring Han Solo who remains inseparable to the Wookie’s core.
3Chewbacca repays his life debt to Han during the Sarlacc Pit Battle (“Return of the Jedi”)
Chewbacca’s imposing strength, weight and height have never come in handier. Leaning over and holding on to Han for dear life on their damaged skiff, the galaxy’s furriest hero adds precious time to break free from the mayhem of the iconic sail barge assault. This provides Han an opening to free Lando’s (Billy Dee Williams) leg from the Sarlacc tentacle. The rest is written in the stars’ history books, as Lando is thus able to commandeer the damaged skiff and save the rest of his Rebel friends. However, it’s Chewbacca who is the unsung hero of this legendary escape.
2Chewbacca cries out for Han Solo before he’s frozen in carbonite (“Empire Strikes Back”)
Although he didn’t know it at the time, this isn’t the only instance in which Chewie cries out in anguish for his best friend. Han Solo has been captured by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and the Imperials, about to be frozen in carbonite and shipped to Jabba the Hutt. Chewbacca’s efforts of retaliation are dashed when the Corellian smuggler pleads that the Wookie show restraint and heed a promise. Although Chewbacca feels powerless in stopping his partner’s misfortune, he adheres to his best friend’s instruction of protecting the love of his life — Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) — at the cost of his own.
1Chewbacca finds and repairs C-3PO on Bespin (“Empire Strikes Back”)
Of all the great Chewbacca moments in the saga, this caring one stands out the most. As a sidekick character himself, Chewie knows how important every being (or robot) is to the success of the mission. Despite the protocol droid annoying his best friend — and being outright ignored by his human “masters” when interjecting — Chewie cherishes Threepio’s (Anthony Daniels) presence. The Wookie knows the droid’s absence would be a giant loss to the group dynamic. By saving the least desirable member of the team, Chewbacca proves he’s the most loyal and upstanding part of it.