The rest is history.
But then that scene was reshot the following Wednesday and then subsequently cut, probably for technical, maybe for budgetary concerns. Then mauled by horrific special effects in the special edition re-release. And again the 2004 DVD release. And then lovingly restored to its original state from scraps by Garrett Gilchrist, a fan.
But the rest is history.
Have you ever noticed how Chewbacca doesn’t actually do anything in Star Wars (much like Leia, the human McGuffin)? As a prince on Yavin in the early drafts, he had a role to play, but even Lucas admits openly that he was a ‘kind of alien sidekick’. And other than being the point man as Han picks up chicks in fringe star systems, Chewie does little more than tag along and man the Falcon while Han is off playing hero at the guns. He could be replaced with an autopilot, and the story would unfold largely the way it did with him in it (provided that Han himself hooked up with Obi-Wan).
The real reason he’s there at all, is simply to provide flavor, since as the story evolved there was no longer use for aliens outside of the Mos Eisley cantina.
But Star Wars without Chewie? What a bore.
Star Wars is well known for its more well-known sources of inspiration — Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, Flash Gordon — but even so there are many touches about it that are often thought of simply as blessed (a karma account brutally balanced out by the prequels). I wrote this post first because I thought I’d found a covered-up missing link in John Schoenherr’s work for Analog — still conveniently ‘forgotten’ — but as I started writing and researching the story, aside from the occasional comparison with between Chewie and Schoenherrs creatures, it struck me that while this wasn’t something that had seen a lot of exposure, more strikingly I had in fact never read a proper chronology for how Chewbacca came together, not from fans, not from official sources.
And by putting this together, more importantly, I suddenly found myself in familiar territory.
Chewbacca didn’t spring to life out of nowhere, fully formed when Lucas saw his dog in the passenger seat of his car. That’s the soundbite. A single step. The reality is complex and human. From vague names floating around, the kernel of an idea, changing purposes and roles of characters, major restructuring, the design hopping from person to person, scrapping the existing concept and going down a different path, seeing existing things in a different light and having to conform a range of ideas to complement and enrich one another.
The familiar territory I found myself in was the creative process. I saw the struggles we’ve had on the games I’ve worked on, how some influences would change entirely and others would cruise straight on through to the final product and even the decision making process I’ve gone through on my own projects. It’s a never-ending series of often mundane and very down-to-earth practical decisions, often enough to make you lose sight of the big picture.
It’s makes one breathe a sigh of relief; Star Wars wasn’t a mystical, muse-favored event; an all-powerful force of unbridled inspiration. It puts its pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.
But where it differs, is in having the talent, the vision and more importantly, the willingness to say: “This isn’t good enough. This isn’t what I’m looking for”, while keeping the larger picture in mind. It happened with Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon (a story for another time) and even the scripts themselves. All one has to do is take bushbaby chewie, green-skinned Han, Cantwell’s first Millennium Falcon and the first drafts, and Star Wars would be all but forgotten today.
It seems fitting for an article built on other people’s work to finish with someone else’s conclusion. And a friend of mine, and fellow McQuarrie-fan, Kiel Bryant upon reading this wrote to me in a mail:
Kiel Bryant: I’m dismayed by the cult of originality — it sets up impossible, false expectations which fail to grasp what art is. Innovation is good, exploration is to be encouraged — they build on what’s gone before — but more often than not it’s enjoyable to simply experience an idea well-conceived, regardless of that idea’s source or its “originality.” And in the final analysis, were Star Wars or [Raiders of the Lost Ark] ever intended to be wildly original? No, they’re pastiche — valentines to the swashbuckling genres of yore. Kids, especially millennials, make a simple and honest mistake borne out of youth: they see Star Wars before they’ve seen its inspirations and assume it came that way fully assembled, direct from Lucas’ head. They witness result, not process. Then, growing as artists or cinephiles, their awareness gradually enlarges, the supporting armature begins to show — and because the film wasn’t what they’d originally dreamt (a total creation, which is an impossibility), they decide George Lucas isn’t worth the praise they originally foisted on him. Absolutely circular, and absolutely pointless.
It is far easier to destroy than to create.
Luckily the pendulum of discovery swings both ways, and as easily as it can alienate the easily dissuaded, it can also send people down the road of discovery a film like Star Wars deserves. Uncovering the story and creative process behind it, is what keeps taking me back to this 33-year-old film, which you’d think by now had given up all of its secrets to the world.
And in that, I see myself, the people around me, our story and struggle with the same creative process and day-to-day problems. But to find those things, you have to look beyond the noisy anecdotes and creation-mythology it’s surrounded by, and you’ll find that any act of ‘creation’, from writing this post, to designing a website or even creating an iPhone, requires much of the same that went into creating a wookiee for a galaxy far far away.
Happy life day.
It’s worth noting that despite McQuarrie saying that: “While it may appear that the character was derived from my early Chewbacca designs, it was really taken from my cat” (12, p. 34) about his designs for the cover of the non-Star Wars-related The War for Eternity, published in 1983, it is nonetheless hard to look at it and not see it as the final resting place of bushbaby Chewie.