The last trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story included a brief shot of Chewbacca and one his fellow Wookiees pressing their foreheads together in a loving gesture. When watching the trailer for the first time, I instantly thought that the film was going to feature Chewbacca's family and that the Wookiee in this shot could possibly be Chewie's wife, Malla.
I have absolutely no basis for this theory, and I don't even know if the Wookiee in this shot is a female. We don't know how Wookiees distinguish gender — we only know that they do and that it's never really an issue for people in the galaxy far, far away. I'm talking about something other than Malla wearing an apron in the Star Wars Holiday Special, by the way — that apron can go wherever Dash Rendar went and they both can stay there.
As great as it would be for this Wookiee to turn out to be Malla, most of us still don't know a whole lot about what this movie will include. We will see Chewie's first meeting with Han Solo, and what the events are behind the famous "life debt" between them, the debt being one of the things that bind Chewie and Han together. We are also likely to get a glimpse of the planet Kessel. Though the planet is widely known in terms of the often remarked upon "Kessel Run," it's also home to some awful spice mines that make use of Wookiee slave labor. If Han saves Chewie from some kind of slave labor, could other Wookiees be saved in the process?
Taking that into consideration, what if Malla is one of them? Even if she isn't, could Chewie's family play a role in the new film? Now is as good a time as any to take a trip up and down the Star Wars canon to explore the history behind the family of everyone's favorite Wookiee.
Chewbacca's family has deep roots, and by deep, I mean pre-Empire Strikes Back deep. Their first appearance in anything Star Wars related (and only onscreen depiction) came... in the Star Wars Holiday Special.
In that (hard to watch) TV event, Chewie, Han, and the rest of the gang took a little trip to Chewie's home planet of Kashyyyk. We met Chewie's wife, Mallatobuck (Malla), Chewie's son, Lumpawaroo (Lumpy), and Chewie's father, Attichituck (Itchy). Malla wore an odd red robe, Lumpy played with a wooden X-Wing, and they all celebrated "Life Day" together. It was painful. So painful, in fact, that George Lucas quickly disavowed the special and struck it from what little canon existed back then.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith featured the planet Kashyyyk in the Clone Wars era, and we saw a younger Chewbacca giving assistance to Yoda, though we didn't see any trace of his family here. We only found out later that Wookiees in the new canon went the same route as Wookiees in the old canon — they wound up as slaves to the Empire. They helped build the Death Star, they worked in mines (such as the ones on Kessel), and their entire planet was converted into a giant forced-labor camp. The Empire was not very good to the Wookiees.
With the new canon established, some of us wondered (well, I wondered) if Chewbacca's family would ever come back into the picture. Being featured in a film seemed unlikely, but perhaps the new order of (in-canon) books would do it. Sure enough, they did.
The 2015 young readers version of A New Hope (subtitled The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy) by Alexandra Bracken made reference to Malla, but it wasn't until Chuck Wendig's Aftermath trilogy came along that both Malla and Lumpy were firmly established in the new canon.
The first Aftermath book, taking place between the battles of Endor and Jakku, finds Han and Chewie deciding to finally do something about the Imperial presence on Kashyyyk. The New Republic isn't getting around to it fast enough, so Han and Chewie do what they do best: They throw themselves at the problem and ignore the odds.
The liberation of Kashyyyk becomes a major plot point of the second Aftermath book, appropriately titled Aftermath: Life Debt. It is in this book that both Malla and Lumpawaroo (now re-nicknamed Waroo, thank the maker) were fully mentioned, and they were brought up again in the trilogy closer, Aftermath: Empire's End. Waroo fully appears in that book and is even the starring character of one of the book's "interlude" chapters.
Regarding the Wookiee storyline that runs throughout Aftermath, Wendig said, "The liberation of Kashyyyk was something introduced in the first book, with the hope of following up on it in the second book were I to be the writer for a whole Aftermath trilogy... you can’t intro that concept, I think, and then just let it go. (In narrative design, we call that 'Chekhov’s Wookiee.' Okay, nobody calls it that, shut up.) But point being, the whole second book became about this idea of being good-but-broken characters in a damaged universe and having a debt to other such characters. And for Han and Chewie, I think part of that backstory is about Kashyyyk."
Wendig also maintained that there must always be room to find a more intimate story inside the larger one, saying, "Star Wars is very good at the small story nested inside a larger conflict — and so the answer for that wasn’t just that Chewie wanted to free his people, but that he had some skin in the game in the form of family."
In terms of who Chewie's wife and son would turn out to be, was it a foregone conclusion that Malla and Lumpawaroo would specifically be used? According to Wendig, it was not — though, it was preferable to introducing entirely new characters. "I wanted it to be them because I don’t see any value in overwriting something that is beloved," he said. "They could always be new characters, sure, but it was a neat opportunity to call back to something we know, even if some of that comes from the (coughs into hand) Holiday Special."
When thinking of the burdens of an occupied homeworld and an enslaved family, chances are good that you'll never really look at Chewie in the original trilogy (or the new film) the same way again. In the latest Star Wars book, (Star Wars: Last Shot, by Daniel Jose Older) a pre-New Hope Han is jabbering on (and on) to Chewie about his love life. Chewie has a faraway look in his eye, and Han realizes that Chewie is once again thinking about Kashyyyk. It is a testament to the bond between them that Han immediately shuts up about himself, and simply says, "You'll get back one day."
Wendig agreed that the situation on Kashyyyk is almost certainly on both of their minds throughout the original trilogy. As he says, "Your family is literally imprisoned on your homeworld which has been turned into a vicious Imperial work-camp. How could you NOT? And that helps to fuel our understanding of why Han and Chewie go rogue to save Kashyyyk — this has been a burden on the two of them for likely decades."
Thanks to the Aftermath trilogy (as well as Last Shot and Claudia Gray's Bloodline) we know that Chewie eventually does get to take care of that burden — but thanks to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, we also know that he eventually leaves Kashyyyk once again for reasons unknown. Since Last Shot features him briefly leaving to help Han and Lando out of a jam, perhaps his exit prior to The Force Awakens was intended to be one of these short trips and it just... kind of kept going.The question remains: Will we see Malla or Waroo in Solo: A Star Wars Story? If we don't, might we possibly see them in Episode IX? A return to Kashyyyk wouldn't be out of order.
There is still a lot we don't know about Wookiees. As mentioned above, we don't know how they distinguish gender, and we don't really know how they "mate." Thanks to Claudia Gray's Lost Stars, we know that "grooming" someone else is one of the most intimate things a Wookiee can do — we see Chewie do this to Han after Han's unfreezing in Return of the Jedi.
Aside from this... do we want to know more? I'm not really sure — perhaps what happens on Kashyyyk should stay on Kashyyyk.
Chewie and his family, on the other hand... I'll take any and all information there is. We've lost Han, we've lost Luke, and due to real-life circumstances, we've lost General Leia. It's time to... all together now... let the Wookiee win.