Where Wookies come from

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A heavily sourced essay about the origins of Chewbacca? Yes, please.

Chewbacca didn't spring fully formed from George Lucas' head, writes Michael Heilemann. Instead, Chewie's essential Chewiness is built up from a mish-mash of ideas and references, apparently starting with one, Ralph Wookie, a Texan friend of Terry McGovern, a voice actor who worked on Lucas' 1970 film THX 1138.

Chewie went through several visual iterations, and the final inspiration for what we know today as the Chewbacca Look seems to have been copied from an illustration of a George R.R. Martin story. The key change: Ralph McQuarrie removed the breasts.

Ralph McQuarrie: "George also gave me a drawing he liked from a 1930s illustrator of science fiction that showed a big, apelike, furry beast with a row of female breasts down its chest. So I took the breasts off and added a bandolier and ammunition and weapons, and changed its face so it looked somewhat more like the final character, and I left it at that."

As is obvious from the following side-by-side comparison, the illustration McQuarrie is referring to wasn't decades old, but months, being none other than this one by Dune legend John Schoenherr, from the July 1975 issue of Analog.

The point of this essay, though, is not an expose, but rather an in-depth look at how creation works. Bits and pieces come together to form a whole. New ideas have always had inspiration in other people's ideas, which had inspiration in others'. It looks like Chewbacca wouldn't have existed as we know him without John Schoenherr's unintentional contribution to the process, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Personally, I think this visual inspiration gets a little close for comfort, but it's also not like the entire concept of Chewbacca was ripped off. Instead, I think this is a good example of why there needs to be some kind of distinction between using ideas to inform and create new ideas, and simple cut-paste plagiarism. Where to make that distinction is an issue I struggle with a lot, though, and I don't have a solid opinion yet. But it's clear there's a lot more gray area in there then people—including myself—are often willing to admit.

Binary Bonsai: George Lucas Stole Chewbacca, But It's OK

Via Matt Soniak

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