If there is one character in the Star Wars universe that is universally well-liked, it’s Chewbacca. The Wookiee was first introduced in George Lucas’s Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in 1977, going on to feature in the rest of the Skywalker Saga.
Chewie has faced many battles in his Star Wars tenure, and unfortunately, his life almost came to a shocking end in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when Boba Fett aimed to kill. He was saved though, strangely by the franchise’s villain, Darth Vader. And now we know why.
Chewbacca the Wookiee was made famous by Peter Mayhew. The actor played the iconic fan-favorite character in all three films of the original trilogy and reprised his role in the sequel trilogy’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) — where he shared the character with his body double, Jason Suotamo.
Suotamo took over from Mayhew officially for the remainder of the sequel trilogy, as well as in the anthology movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). Chewie became universally well-known following Star Wars‘ debut, arguably matching his partner, the space smuggler, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), in the pop culture lexicon.
As many Star Wars fans will know, Chewbacca also had a small appearance in Lucas’s prequel trilogy film, Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith (2005), where he helped Jedi Master Yoda escape Kashyyk after Chancellor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) Order 66 execution.
The Millennium Falcon co-pilot has always been a reliable companion, never hesitating to help his friends throughout the immense Star Wars Saga. Chewie has also appeared in much of the expanded universe, namely in Lucas’s and Dave Filoni’s The Clone Wars animated series, and in the Marvel Comics miniseries, Chewbacca, in 2015.
He also starred in the widely panned Star Wars Holiday Special but let’s move on…
What happened to Chewie in The Empire Strikes Back?
It is Chewie’s protecting nature and love for his partner, Han Solo, that almost gets him killed on Cloud City. The Empire Strikes Back is one of Star Wars‘ darker installments. Following the Rebellion’s win against the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader launches a vicious assault into the very heart of the Rebel Alliance.
Upon being betrayed by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) on the planet Bespin, Han Solo, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewie are captured, with Han facing the ultimate price and being frozen in carbonite. While this is tragic in itself, upon seeing his friend being supposedly killed, Chewie roars in protest with Boba Fett ready to kill.
A strange moment happens then, and one that is thought to be one of Star Wars‘ oddest events — Darth Vader, ruler of the Galaxy and powerful force of evil, stops Fett in his tracks, keeping the Wookiee alive. Why?
Well, 41 years later, we finally know.
Why did Vader keep Chewbacca alive?
In the latest issue of Marvel Comics’ Darth Vader series, Star Wars has finally given a reason behind this weird event. And it’s sinister.
For a long time, Vader keeping Chewie alive was — yes, a strange moment — but also could have pointed to him only doing things for very specific reasons. As we know, Vader was once the young Anakin Skywalker, and his true aim was to bring his son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), to the dark side of the Force. While he was inherently evil, it could be argued that he only did evil things to further his cause.
It also could have pointed to Vader starting to see the error in his ways. Actually, Vader kept Chewie alive to show he had control over Luke’s friends. To show that every event was his own doing. Supposedly, Vader wanted the Rebellion to believe his power was waning, and that he was starting to show weakness, despite his own and the Empire’s growing strength.
As we can see from Vader’s narration in the comic book panels, he says “…believe that you and your friends have survived this long through strength and fortune…instead of my design.” This careful orchestration of emotional warfare would potentially lead to the Rebel Alliance underestimating him, leaving their defenses weakened.
We have seen in this same series, Star Wars giving more reasons behind the actions of its characters. Vader cutting off Luke’s hand was to give Luke the one thing that helped him turn to the dark side — never-ending pain. Vader keeping Chewie alive suggests there is some hope that the villain might rejoin the light side of the Force, but as Darth Vader highlights, it was just another scheme to potentially lure the Rebels into a false sense of security.
Chewbacca has often gone up against it. In fact, there is a deleted scene from Lucasfilm’s sequel trilogy that shows Kylo Ren torturing the Wookiee. We know that Kylo redeems himself in the end, but it is hard to imagine fans supporting the character’s eventual rejection of the dark side if that scene had remained. People love Chewie. Don’t hurt him.
As Star Wars continues to fill in the gaps of its sprawling saga, more is coming to light over the motivations of certain characters and the reasons behind those questionable scenes.
Why do you think Darth Vader saved Chewbacca’s life?