Co-pilot of the fastest “piece of junk” in the galaxy, the 7-foot-tall, sasquatch-like alien Chewbacca is now recognized as a fan-favorite Star Wars character. Though during production, the studio had many reservations about including such a beastly creature in a children’s film, offering suggestions to repress his somewhat wild side. Had director George Lucas taken their memos seriously, the character we all know and love today may have become something considerably different.
With a remarkably imaginative story and colorful cast of characters, Star Wars made an impact upon its release that is still felt in our society more than 30 years later. But at the time, however, it wasn't easy to see that Star Wars would be a successful film, let alone have any chance of becoming the highest-grossing movie of its time. An oversaturation of science fiction flicks about 20 years prior deterred any serious interest in the genre from studios, while the most successful movies of the decade paralleled the cynicism many felt during the final stages of the Vietnam War.
20th Century Fox understood the risks of the production upon purchasing the film rights in 1973, consequently spending the next four years second-guessing every decision made by George Lucas in an attempt to produce a crowd-pleasing hit.
One of the initial problems Fox had with Star Wars was the depiction of Chewbacca. Despite the fact that the character was covered in fur, studio executives were concerned that the bandolier he wore around his chest highlighted his lack of clothing, which could have alarmed the censors and potentially harmed the film’s distribution.
Mark Hamill, the actor who portrayed Luke Skywalker, recalled to Space.com:
"I remember the memos from 20th Century Fox, 'Can you put a pair of lederhosen on the Wookie [sic]?' All they could think of was, 'This character has no pants on!' This went back and forth. They did sketches of him in culottes and baggy shorts."
Of the concept art that has been released to the public, one can easily find depictions of Chewbacca in utility vests, skirts and cutoff shorts. While this certainly wasn’t the most drastic change Fox proposed—it is alleged that some executives thought a film with “Wars” in the title would be hard to market and wanted Lucas to drop it—one can easily see how the nature of the character would have been affected had he been wearing baggy shorts or lederhosen.
Lucas fought adamantly against the decision, and somewhere between readjusting the rising production budget and redrafting the complex screenplay for the umpteenth time, the idea for a clothed wookiee was dropped.
In the end, 20th Century Fox’s risk paid off, as Star Wars was considered a fresh and exciting film for a darker time. It shattered box-office records upon its release, and its characters—including Chewbacca—were revered for being memorable, innovative and, yes, a little wild.
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