Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Chewbacca 5, originally released December 30th, 2015.
Taylor: In the new Star Wars movie, it’s apparent that director J.J. Abrams wanted to make Chewbacca a more rounded character. The need for doing this is plain – Chewbacca is one of the main characters in the Star Wars movies, but he’s little more than Han Solo’s charismatic shadow. Abrams rounds out Chewbacca by having him interact with more characters than just Han and by also giving him more heroic things to do like blasting stormtroopers. For the most part I find this to be a fairly successful venture into Chewbacca’s character. He’s portrayed as being important but not to the point that his language barrier interferes with things at all. The Chewbacca comic series similarly attempts to flesh out this character, but as issue 5 highlights, it is not nearly as successful as Episode 7.
Chewbacca and Zarro are captured and sent to the star destroyer over Andelm IV, after having things go south in their bid to stop Jaum. Jaum, who is trying to make a deal with the Empire to begin mining on Andelm IV, is surpried to see Chewie and Zarro on the star destroyer because he thought they were dead. He’s even more surprised to learn that the Empire he thinks he’s setting them up with fake mining samples and that he’s also trying to blow up their star destroyer. This is all due to our heroes, of course, who steal a TIE fighter and crash land back on the planet and say goodbye their goodbyes to each other.
Certainly the idea of this final issue in the Chewbacca miniseries is to show me that Chewie is a hero in his own right without the aid of Han Solo. However, throughout the issue I’m constantly shown Chewbacca accomplishing heroic tasks without so much as breaking a sweat. Every time Chewie and Zarro seem like they’re in mortal danger, they escape it with seeming ease. When our heroes make their daring escape from the exploding star destroyer hanger bay, it appears to me that doing so is easy.
To be clear, in the above page, Chewie and Zarro narrowly escape the explosion in the hanger, accidentally smash off one of the TIE’s wings, reenter Andelm IV’s atmosphere without said wing, and crash land the TIE in such a way that they are able to walk away from the crash. That’s a lot of information for one page! The effect of so much on one page is that the action becomes trivialized. I don’t get the sense that our heroes are in any danger here because writer Gerry Duggan doesn’t show me any of their struggle. I feel like flying and landing a TIE fighter without a wing would be really hard but apparently it’s not since Duggan doesn’t show me any struggle Chewie or Zarro undergo. This ultimately lessens these acts of heroism and instead of making Chewie like a badass hero, he’s just going about a typical, easy day.
I don’t think Duggan wants to lessen what Chewie is accomplishing in this issue and I get the sense that he’s trying to do too much in a span of 20 pages. Take for example what happens after Chewie and Zarro crash land. Zarro somehow knows they landed close to Chewie’s original landing site and that they can easily walk to it.
Again, I get the same idea that whatever Chewie does in this issue is just easy. He doesn’t crash land far away from civilization. He doesn’t get lost. Instead he goes for a pleasant stroll through the flowers and suddenly he’s able to finally leave Andelm IV. This particular aspect of the issue just screams deus ex machina. Chewie’s ship is close because it has to be to allow the plot to move forward at a lightening pace. Again, the result of this is that the story suffers and the very reason for this series existing – to show us how heroic Chewbacca is – is nullified.
Patrick, I feel like we we’re kind of short changed here. I would like to see a Chewbacca series that’s well done. Again, he’s an important part of Star Wars and I would like to see his character developed more. I don’t think we kind blame Duggan entirely here – limits on pages sometimes get writers into a bind. What are your thoughts? Did you find more things to like here than I did?
Patrick: I think you might be trying to project a characterization of Chewbacca onto a series that isn’t interested in that particular characterization. I’m usually a proponent for grounded, realistic heroes that struggle to achieve their objectives, but I’d argue that that’s not necessarily what Chewie has ever been. I think we are supposed to be charmed by how effortlessly he achieves his goals. The original trilogy bares this idea in that iconic scene where he and C-3PO are playing holo-chess – he doesn’t have to work particularly hard to win a game, he’s simply born with the physical gifts that make him impervious to losing. In a way, “I suggest a new strategy: let the Wookie win” is a mandate for anyone telling a Chewbacca story.
All of which is to say that I did enjoy this issue quite a bit more than you did, Taylor. In fact, I think there are aspects of Chewbacca’s character that this issue does articulate extraordinarily well. Without ever translating any of his howls and barks, Duggan and artist Phil Noto put his giant Wookie heart on display in the final ten pages. That Chewie and Zarro crash in the same tranquil field of flowers that they originally met in is one of those Star Wars hyper-coincidences, but rather than a coincidence of plot contrivance, it’s a coincidence of thematic consistency. Remember how we met Noto’s rendition of Chewie? Hands crossed behind his head as he lounged in the field – an image I feel in love with instantly.
This issue brings us right back to this field, only now, instead of focusing on Chewie’s innate awesomeness, Duggan and Noto direct us toward the strengths of Chewbacca’s relationships. Zarro’s been a fun adventuring companion for the last five issues, but I wouldn’t say that I’d understood how much Chewie cared for her until the point that he pulls out his medal from the end of A New Hope, and bequeaths it to a new generation of rebel hero.
Even this moment of generosity and kindness is set up for probably the most personal development in Chewbacca’s life that we’ve ever been privy to. He indicates that he can’t wear the medal because he’s already got this bandoleer – Zarro infers that the medal would “clash with [his] whole warrior vibe,” but the truth is so much more revealing about Chewie’s most compelling character trait: loyalty.
As Zarro speculates to her father about what the life of the Wookie who’s name she never got, Noto takes us on a journey back to Chewbacca’s home planet of Kashyyyk. Chewbacca’s mission — which was interrupted for the events of this series — was simply to return the bandoleer of one of his fallen Wookie brethren to its deceased owner. The medal doesn’t just clash with his warrior vibe, it would separate him from his heritage, and indirectly dishonor his loved ones. For Chewie, it’s not about being an impossibly capable agent for the Rebellion, it’s about being a proud warrior son of Kashyyyk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any piece of Star Wars that so eloquently states his values. I would have been totally content to always see Chewie as Han’s secret weapon (or Rey’s secret weapon going forward), but it does me well to have a better idea of what drives him.
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Oh, I really enjoyed Chewbacca in the Force Awakens. Honestly, what made him so good wasn’t that he shot stormtroopers. It was that he got actual dialogue. The hard thing about a character like Chewbecca and Groot is that the easy thing is just to have them say something but not care too much about what they are saying. But in truth, it is important to know exactly what they are saying.
James Gunn, when he wrote the script for Guardians of the Galaxy, wrote actual lines for Groot, even when in the actual movie, all he says is ‘I am Groot’. He did it so that Vin Diesel actually knew what his lines actually meant, and you could tell. I don’t know is JJ Abrams did exactly that, but in the Force Awakens, there is a real sense of actual lines. He gets to brag to his nurse, correct Han, suggest plans, have actual conversations with Rey. Stuff like this really helped make Chewbacca shine in the movie.
On this comic, I love that they actually gave Chewbacca the medal he deserved in a New Hope. Can’t say much more, as today I seem to be writing comments on books I haven’t read (though I do want to read Chewbacca at some point)