Saturday, April 16, 2016

STAR WARS 1999: CHEWBACCA

Looking back at the 1999 Dark Horse mini-series that was written by Darko Macan
A retrospective by Sean Gilbert



Not long after Dark Horse’s collusion with Del Rey in the plot to boost sales by killing Chewbacca, Dark Horse Comics published Chewbacca’s first ever solo comic title to exploit pay tribute to the fallen hero. A little like holding a memorial for someone you murdered, but I guess if the point was to boost sales then they had to produce something to sell or else Chewie really would have died for nothing.

STAR WARS: Chewbacca was a four issue comic book miniseries that presented several characters from the saga sharing stories from Chewie’s past. The first issue features reminisces from the Wookiee home world. First Chewie’s wife, Mallatobuck, tells the story of how she and Chewbacca fell in love, about a hundred years prior to his introduction in EPISODE IV. While attempting to court Chewbacca by throwing softball-sized lice at him, Malla is captured by Trandoshan slavers. Chewbacca rushes to the rescue, ripping off their arms and throwing them down into the savage lower levels of Kashyyyk.

This is notable for a lot of reasons. First, this officially canonized Chewbacca’s family from the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL. While they had been referenced in other sources prior to the development of the Expanded Universe, no one had made any mention of them after. Not only is Mallatobuck featured here by name as Chewie’s wife, she also says in her story that they later had a son together.








"ALL OF IT."

The presence of the Trandoshan slavers is derivative of the story Chewie’s father tells in THE WOOKIEE STORYBOOK. The slavers were unnamed in the story, but were illustrated as lizard people. In that version of  the story, Chewbacca had been captured by the slavers and was rescued by a young Han Solo.


So this comic was basically trying to bring everything into the new canon.

Kinda familar, huh? I like how the guy on top stops to pose for a space selfie.


The Chewbacca comic breaks ground even further by not only telling stories from the Wookiees’ point of view, but actually in their own words. We know the Wookiees have their own language, Shyriiwook, but George Lucas had always made it clear that he never under any circumstances wanting them speaking English. This technically doesn’t break that rule, because the English dialogue we’re reading in the comic has presumably been translated from Shyriiwook. 

Timothy Zahn similarly bent the same rule in HEIR TO THE EMPIRE by having a Wookiee character who spoke in a way that was more understandable to humans due to a speech impediment. He was still speaking the Wookiee language, but since Leia was able to understand and converse with him, the dialogue was written out for us in English. This convention is never followed when Chewbacca speaks, even when he’s speaking to someone like Han, who has a fluent understanding of the language. 

That makes this comic the first time in canon that Chewie speaks dialogue that we can understand. The only other time I know of where this happened was in the aforementioned WOOKIEE STORYBOOK.

In the next story, Chewbacca’s father Attichitkuk (known as Itchy in the holiday special), relates a time when Chewbacca was challenged by an angry albino Wookiee who wanted Malla for himself. The albino chose to use his Wookiee claws in the fight, which was strictly forbidden. Wookiees only use their claws for climbing, which is why you never see Chewie shredding a guy to ribbons. He just rips their arms off like a gentleman. 


FILE PHOTO

Since his opponent decided to be unsportingly scratchy during their fight, Chewie felt the best response would be to drag him down to the lowest levels of Kashyyyk and leave him there, where his white fur would make him easy prey for the awful monsters that lived on the planet’s surface. 

Seems like Chewie solves a lot of problems by tossing them down to the lower levels of the planet. If you recall, that’s exactly how they dealt with the stormtrooper who was bothering his family in the holiday special. If you were to climb down the tree where Chewbacca’s house is built, you’d probably just find a pile of bones.

The wraparound premise of the series is that R2-D2 and C-3PO are running around the galaxy collecting stories about Chewbacca’s adventures. In the second issue, they take that effort to the unknown backwaters to interview some of Chewie’s old enemies for some reason. This sounds like a really bizarre way to memorialize Chewie, but the whole business of Chewbacca's death was a weird time for the STAR WARS saga. In the first story of this issue, the droids find a Trandoshan slaver who once had an extreme encounter with our hirsute hero.


FILE PHOTO


In the slaver’s story, Wookiees are easy to keep captive because they’re all basically idiots. Clan rivalry is so intense that if they aren’t trying kill each other outright while in captivity, they will at least go out of their way to make sure that nobody else escapes.

Until Chewie comes along. Betrayed by the family of the white Wookiee Chewbacca threw down to the darkest depths of Kashyyyk, Chewbacca is sold to slavers and finds himself confronted with the petty rivalries of his fellow captors. Convincing them to work together long enough to get back to Kashyyyk, where they can kill each other like civilized people, Chewbacca leads a slave revolt. They all start spitting up spare parts they’d kept squirreled away in their mouths just in case they ever needed to start a Wookiee riot somewhere or something. 

So I guess Wookiees just keep random things in their mouths like big gross MacGyvers, knowing that no one would ever dare search a Wookiee’s mouth. I guess they never bothered to learn step two of that plan, because God knows how long they were all just walking around with batteries and spark plugs in their mouths before Chewbacca suggested the innovation of actually using them for something.

Anyway, the next story is about a spritely bounty hunter who used to look like a twelve year old girl until her uber creepy boyfriend talked her into climbing into the thruster of her ship so he could blow her up and leave her for dead. Oldest trick in the book. 


Someone should also warn this girl about the dangers of candy houses.


Without a ship or a friend, she is eventually saved by Chewbacca and a masterless band of medical droids. Short story shorter – now she likes Wookiees and robots. Threepio and Artoo must’ve dug pretty deep to uncover that story. Almost as deep as the writer. Why are they going all over the galaxy to interview random strangers about Chewbacca? Did Chewie not have any real friends?

The final story of this issue is a particularly disappointing milestone event in the expanded canon. The story is told by the father of the white Wookiee, the man who originally sold Chewie out to the slavers, but since neither slavers nor Wookiees can be trusted in these stories, it would seem, his family ends up getting captured too.

Since Chewbacca has two basic functions in this series – saving people from slavers and ripping people’s arms off – he does his best to combine these skill sets as often as possible. But there’s a wrinkle this time: The slavers were delivering the Wookiee slaves to Imperial Star Destroyer Captain Nyklas, who is none too pleased at losing his slaves. So he sends budding young Imperial Lieutenant Han Solo to lead a TIE assault on the escaping Wookiees and make them pay for having the cheek to run away.

Solo refuses this order and... you can guess the rest. At least you'll have to, because you're not going to see it in this story.

In the third issue, the droids interview Wedge Antilles, who has a humorous anecdote about the time he took off in a speeder while Chewie was still clinging to the bottom of it. Because his Wookiee-speak was a little rusty, Wedge took a hronk for a hroog and mistakenly thought Chewbacca was giving him the all clear to launch when he was actually still hanging on to the bottom of the speeder. This is a lighter story with a lower death count than the others, so it’s a welcome break from the rest of the series in that respect.

In the next story, Lando recounts the millionth time Chewbacca was forced to fight in a space arena. Sometime after the Battle of Endor, Lando and Chewie visited a remote plan still under Imperial control. The Moff there was so consumed with boredom that he offered Lando a wager: If Chewbacca could beat his champion in a space arena, the Moff would surrender. The Moff’s champion was inexplicably a giant killer robot with C-3PO’s head. Interestingly, this story was published in 1999, so it predicted the same exact weird turn Threepio would take in EPISODE II. Instead of fighting him, Chewie just ripped out his circuitry to disable his homicidal programming. He is an engineer, you know. He doesn’t have to go around punching things to solve his problems.

Chewbacca was just as annoyed by the arena clich√© as we are, since he’s always the one being made to fight in them. He suggested instead that Lando and the Moff settle their wager personally. So Lando had a very short fist fight with an Imperial Moff and they were on their way.

The dramatic pacing is overly theatrical as one story transitions to another. After every story, the storyteller takes a moment to say something really depressing. Lando muses, apropos of nothing, that he doesn’t really know if Chewbacca even considered him a friend.

They never had this trouble in the old Marvel STAR WARS comic. Lando actually helped save Chewie and his family from a pack of slavers in one story, which pretty much made them square over the whole Bespin debacle.


Nothing says friendship like saving a guy's family from slavers, Lando.
I think you and Chewie are good.


Luke actually spends his whole interview moping about the uselessness of saving the galaxy when you can’t even save one of your best friends from having a moon dropped on him. He also can’t help but wonder if their constant wars will ever end. But that's not really in deference to Chewbacca, is it? Luke seems to be feeling sorry for himself and not giving much thought at all to his friend's memory.

In the fourth and final issue of the Chewbacca series, the moping and sulking reaches new depths. In lieu of telling a Chewbacca story, Leia just confesses to the droids that she secretly wanted Chewbacca out of the way so she could command more of Han’s attention. Then she just starts crying over the fact that her children will grow up and leave her, Han will leave her, and she will end up alone. It’s a melodramatic bout of self-pity that is as bleak as it is uncharacteristic. Leia comes off as selfish and petty, desperate not to be left alone and helpless to do anything about it. While she admits that Chewie saved her children on multiple occasions, ultimately giving his life to save her youngest son Anakin, she still can’t come up with a single kind word to say about him.

Finally we come to Han, who has basically been crippled by grief and is seeking refuge in the Millennium Falcon. He tells the droids about yet another time Chewbacca saved one of his children, his daughter Jaina, who at one point slid down a tube and ended up in a trash heap with a crazy Death Star Droid that wanted to train her to become the new Emperor. Han and Leia’s reminisces have a lot less to do with Chewie’s courage than they do with their complete and utter ineptitude as parents. 

Following the tone of the Solo saga that played out in the Expanded Universe, you really get a sense of how that could have plausibly led to their son becoming a Darth Vader-obsessed Dark Jedi.


"When I was a kid, my parents were gone so much... I thought I was a Noghri until I was ten."


Finally, Han laments that he never told Chewbacca he loved him, just to twist the knife a little more. 



Thus ends Dark Horse’s tribute to the life and death of Chewbacca. 

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