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The Return of the Walking Carpet

The Return of the Walking Carpet

| On 09, Apr 2014

At last, we have the mighty Chewbacca! The first confirmed casting of one of the original Star Wars actor reprising a role, 7’3″ Peter Mayhew will return as the favorite sidekick in Episode VII. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mayhew bowed out of the upcoming Comicpalooza convention in Texas to appear in an unnamed film, leading to rampant online speculation that Chewy will be making a comeback.
 
Appearing in all three of the original trilogy films and making a brief cameo in Episode III, the latest installment will commence principal photography next month in London’s Pinewood Studios and is scheduled to hit theaters on December 18, 2015 and will be the first of a new trilogy.
 
Director J.J. Abrams decision to cast an actor instead of opting for the CGI route Lucas took with some alien creatures in the prequels (most notably Yoda), confirms his proclamation that the new films will feature more actual sets and actors instead of the green-screen CGI heavy style of Episodes I-III.
 
Despite a plethora of rumors, casting of the big three of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford have not been confirmed, but this may be a technicality. Lucasfilm and Walt Disney may want to reveal them at a major press event, drumming up excitement for the galaxy far, far away.  Aside from Chewy, only droid R2-D2 has been confirmed for the new movie.
 
For those needing a refresher or living under a Tatoonie rock for the past 35 years, Chewbacca is the 200 year old Wookie co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, along with Captain Han Solo (Ford). Imprisoned by the Empire, Chewy was rescued by then-Imperial Captain Solo, who was ordered to skin the Wookie. Upon Solo’s refusal, he was dismissed from the Navy and began a life as a smuggler.  Chewbacca returned the favor by offering a life debt to Solo, making the two nearly inseparable throughout the duration of the Star Wars timeline.
 
The character was inspired by George Lucas’s loyal dog Indiana, who frequently sat in the passenger seat of his car in the mid 1970’s. The dog’s name was later used as the inspiration for another major Lucasfilm character: Indiana Jones. The name Chewbacca may be derived from собака (sobaka), the Russian word fordog.
 
The original five Wookie suits were made from yak hair and mohair and were used in Episodes IV-VI and the Holiday Special in 1978. Only Mayhew’s blue eyes could be seen. The recognizable voice was created by sound designer Ben Burtt, utilizing a mixture of several animal recordings including walruses, lions, camels, bears, rabbits, tigers and badgers.
 
Chewbacca has appeared in numerous literary adaptations of the Expanded Universe including novels, comic books and short stories, all authorized by Lucasfilm. But it was in 1999 that started the biggest controversy. In the novel “Vector Prime” by R.A. Salvatore, Chewbacca was killed when trying to save Han and Leia’s son Anakin from a collision between the planet Sernpidal and one of its moons. The first death of a major character did not sit well with fans, leading to alleged death threats against the author.
 
Taking place over 20 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi”, it was the first in a book series entitled the New Jedi Order, and focused on a new threat from aliens determined to destroy all in the Star Wars galaxy, Rebels and Empire alike. The Yuuzhan Vong were tattooed covered, religious zealots who traveled in biological, organic spaceships and viewed any technology as blasphemous.  One of a handful of species from outside the Star Wars universe, they were responsible for the deaths of 365 trillion sentient beings.
 
It is pretty obvious; Abrams and company do not want to set the new trilogy after these horrific events and plan to hit the reset button.
 
By casting Mayhew, Lucasfilm has essentially confirmed that anything in the Expanded Universe (at least after Return of the Jedi) can be tossed in the trash and will not be considered canon. What once was officially sanctioned has now been reduced to very expensive fan fiction. Expensive if you (like myself) purchased many of these novels, paperbacks and comics, which number well over 100 editions.
 
I understand the importance to focus on the films and basically ignore the literary publications, but this move is almost a FU to loyal fans who purchased the books when there was nothing else available from Star Wars during the lost years between Episode VI and I. The mixed message continued throughout the prequels when more books became available, include the death of Chewbacca the same year as the release of Episode I.
 
There were some weak stories, especially during the Bantam publication years, but that doesn’t mean to have a mass book burning, which is what Lucasfilm appears to be doing here.
 
Chewy’s return from the dead about 10-15 years after Vector Prime, if you take into consideration that Episode VII is set 30-35 years after Jedi, means other major literary characters will be edited or completely omitted.
 
Han and Leia’s children Jacen, Jaina and Anakin along with Luke’s wife Mara Jade and their son Ben Skywalker will be erased and forgotten by December 2015, unless an alternative timeline is chosen before the New Jedi Order series, which is a possibility but unlikely.
 
Abrams has already parted ways with George Lucas’s handpicked screenwriter for Episode VII, Academy Award winner Michael Apted, and has rewritten the script with Lawrence Kasdan with his own take.
 
Was Lucas trying to stay the course, however loosely, with the EU and keep the loyal reading fans appeased? Some of the EU authors have met with Lucas over the years, most notably Timothy Zahn, giving the impression that the creator blessed their work over the years.
 
It’s J.J.’s project now. We will have to wait and see who will be cast as the younger generation in Episode VII and see if any names leak out to confirm suspicions.
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