May 3, 2019

"Why didn’t Chewbacca get a medal?"

On the occasion of the death of Peter Mayhew (the original actor to play Chewbacca), Kyle Swenson asks what is an old question . It's not a question I've ever considered (unless I forgot my musings about a movie I saw more than 40 years ago). But the answer has got to be speciesism (that is, metaphorically, racism) — right? Otherwise, why remember and perseverate about this plot point? It's got to interweave with our present-day obsessions or why write a WaPo column about it?
As a crowd looks on, Princess Leia bestows gold medals on both Skywalker and Solo. But Chewbacca — who displayed just as much courage as his two human cohorts — goes unrewarded. The scene has since had fans asking whether Chewbacca was unjustly cheated out of the victory spoils. Or, as the “Star Wars Explained” YouTube channel asked in 2016: “Is the Rebel Alliance just as racist as the Empire?”
Mayhew himself had 2 answers:
“One, they didn’t have enough money to buy me a medal. Or two, Carrie [Fisher] couldn’t reach my neck, and it was probably too expensive to build a little step so that I could step down or she could step up and give me the medal.”
Back in 1977, George Lucas said something that I think is a cover-your-ass, after-the-fact explanation:
“Chewbacca wasn’t given a medal because medals don’t really mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies,” Lucas said. “The Wookiee Chewbacca was in fact given a great prize and honor during a ceremony with his own people. The whole contingent from the Rebel Alliance went to Chewbacca’s people and participated in a very large celebration. It was an honor for the entire Wookiee race.”
Swenson digs up something that I actually did remember ‚ Chewbacca got a Lifetime Achievement Award at the MTV Movie Awards (in 1997):

48 comments:

rhhardin said...

It comes down to whether they can interbreed or not. The medal does no good if you can't get laid.

tim maguire said...

I don't remember when I first heard the complaint. I was 11 when I saw Star Wars and had no racial awareness whatsoever so if I did think of the problem on my own, it would have been years later.

It's funny we're still concerned about the lack of recognition for a fictional character 40 years ago.

Justice for Chewy!

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim in vermont said...

I think Lucas’s answer is a fine one and would make a great movie. They are all heading over the Chewie’s place for a big bash in his honor when the Empire finds out about it and tries to take their revenge. Kind of like when my mom’s town was liberated, but the Nazis bombed it a couple days later during the celebrations. The whole gang is back together and a new adventure ensues.

traditionalguy said...

Our cultural vast wasteland has to fill time between commercials. Star wars was not speciesist.And that's even better than not being racist within the Human species.

Lincolntf said...

I got a medal, Silver, a couple weeks ago. First medal I'd won for anything in about 25 years. Even as a middle-aged schlub, there's something cool about having a medal placed around your neck. Chewie got screwed.

Henry said...

Why didn't R2D2 get a medal? Or C3PO?

It's because Chewbacca and the robots are pets.

Wilbur said...

He did get a participation trophy.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"It was an honor for the entire Wookiee race.”

Group assignment of reward or punishment based on individual achievement.

Socialism and racism straight up.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Chewy didn't get a medal because Princess Leia was trying to hide her illicit relationship with him. She was getting some freaky wookie-nookie on the side.

So yeah, racist. Just not in the way you thought.

Fernandinande said...

Speciesism is fine and dandy in the movies but it's heartbreaking when it happens in real life: the deeply immoral people down at The County Office wouldn't let us adopt a service child for our autistic dog.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

He was cheated in real life, too. The actor who played him got very little pay. George Lucas is another hollywood greed-head I cannot stand.

narciso said...

That's not the craziest twist they compared that ceremony with triumph of the will, shirley.

Mr. Forward said...

Wookiees eat medals.

Kay said...

I’m really surprised that George Lucas didn’t just CGI a medal into one of the later versions of the movie.

clint said...

Let's not forget that R2D2 and C3P0 are actually slaves. Property. Farm boy Luke thinks nothing of suggesting that they mind-wipe R2D2 because he's insufficiently servile. And in the end, not only didn't they get medals, they didn't even gain their freedom.

Never mind the fact that R2D2 is the real hero. The movie starts with him receiving the quest from Princess Leia. He treks solo across the desert, is captured by slavers, tricks Luke into removing his restraining bolt, finds the Jedi and delivers his message. In the Death Star, while the others are just focused on escape, R2D2 finds out that the Princess is in danger, alerts the others, and then when the rescue goes wrong it's R2D2 who disables the trash compactor and saves all their lives. He delivers the plans to the rebel alliance -- mission accomplished! (And did they even say thanks? Luke's a hero. Han gets paid. What does R2 get?)

But that's not all. He volunteers to be Luke's wing-droid in the attack on the Death Star, heroically goes above-and-beyond in keeping Luke's fighter flying during the battle, and then hacks in and makes the shot which no mere human could possibly make unaided. (I realize the latter isn't canon, but what's more likely -- a super-intelligent super-hacker taking over the targeting system to make the shot or The Magic of Blind Faith, really?) Then they have a medal ceremony where the dumb kid and the selfish crook get medals -- when R2 asks "What about me?" he gets a condescending pat on the head.

What a raw deal. See if he disables the trash compactor next time, guys.

tim in vermont said...

Blogger Kay said...
I’m really surprised that George Lucas didn’t just CGI a medal into one of the later versions of the movie.


This.

tim in vermont said...

Actually they just asked him Whose a good boy?

Bob Boyd said...

The night before the awards ceremony, Chewy got drunk and behaved inappropriately with the Princess. He came up behind her, puts his hands on hips, slid them up under her arms, copped a little side-boob, gave her royal bun a good sniffing, whispered a description of his "night saber" into her ear. In short, he Bidened her.

tcrosse said...

They gave the Cowardly Lion a medal at the end of Wizard of Oz, after all.

Bay Area Guy said...

It's hard to capture how big an event the original Star Wars was 42 years ago. It literally rocked our world.

Yeah, all the girls liked Chewy.

Menahem Globus said...

This always upset me. I was 7 when I saw the movie the first time in the theater. I assumed the Rebels were a bunch of racists.

Gahrie said...

How many of those complaining that Chewbacca didn't get a medal have never seen a single Star Wars movie?

NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

The real question is why R2D2 didn't get a medal.

gilbar said...

“Is the Rebel Alliance just as racist as the Empire?”

NO, it's Not! It's ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE MORE RACIST than the Empire
And That's Saying something!

No Droids Allowed!

gilbar said...

WHY is this glorification of racism Still Allowed to be shown to American Youth?

IS IT ALL RIGHT TO OWN THINKING PERSONS?
George Lucas thinks it is! We need to tear down the statues to these 'heroes'

Droids need Reparations

Jeff said...

He got 72 virgins.

LCB said...

When a pilot (WW2 era) got a medal for bringing his damaged bomber back or for flying in to flak that shot everyone else down, the co-pilot usually didn't. End of story...

LCB said...

When a pilot (WW2 era) got a medal for bringing his damaged bomber back or for flying in to flak that shot everyone else down, the co-pilot usually didn't. End of story...

Kevin said...

- Squadron Commander

Leia?


- Leia

The Millennium Falcon performs a split S?

That's the last thing you should do.

The TIE fighter's right on your tail.

Freeze there. The TIE fighter has you in his gunsight. What were you thinking?


- Chewbacca

RRWWWGG


- Leia

That's a big gamble with a ship that can make the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

Unfortunately, it worked.

The TIE fighter never got a clean shot.

Chewbacca makes an aggressive vertical move and defeats him with a laser.

The encounter was a victory, but we show it as an example of what not to do.

Next.


- Luke

[Whispers to Chewbacca]

Gutsiest move I ever saw, man.


-Leia

Now then, this next encounter is a perfect example of a textbook maneuver.



[Outside, after the debriefing]

- Leia

Lieutenant?

My review of your performance was right on, in my professional opinion.

[Chewbacca puts hand to ear to signal he can't hear her. Then takes off on speeder bike. Leia follows, almost mowing down several indigenous creatures. Chewbacca notices her following and pulls over.]

- Chewbacca

RAWRGWAWGGR.

- Leia

I'm gonna finish my sentence. My review of your performance was right on.

I see some real genius in your flying, but I can't say that in there.

I was afraid they'd see right through me.

And I don't want anyone to know that I've fallen for you.

Greg Q said...

Showing my geek side: in the novel it said that Chewie got a medal, but Leia was too short to be able to put it on him.

Fernandinande said...

It's hard to capture how big an event the original Star Wars was 42 years ago.

I remember it! And some guy talking it up and saying how great it was, you gotta go see it, but I'd just seen Dark Star and Star Wars seemed like a poor imitation of it. Never watched another one.

rcocean said...

Why would Chewbacca care about a medal? He's a big hairy Dog-lion. My Dog doesn't want a medal, he wants some meat. Maybe Chewbacca got rewarded with a big Pot roast.

rcocean said...

I'm still trying to figure out how Carrie Fischer got to be a Princess. That must be one mediocre looking Royal Family! Audrey Hepburn = Princess. Grace Kelly = Princess.
Carrie Fischer= Barmaid.

rcocean said...

You know really racist? All the Storm-troopers are incompetent white guys. The only one, who can fight is Darth Vadar and he's black and voiced by James earl Jones.

tommyesq said...

According to Lucas, there was a whole big ceremony for Chewy, but he couldn't be bothered to film it. It is not the Rebel Alliance that is racist/specieist - it is LUCAS!

Matt said...

Its not CYA if the universe only exists in your own head.

Earnest Prole said...

Are you kidding? There was an entire two-hour celebration devoted to Chewy called the Star Wars Holiday Special. Trust me.

But it's of far greater cultural importance that Han shot first.

Yancey Ward said...

He pissed on the carpet, that is why he didn't get a medal.

Yancey Ward said...

I didn't know that Mayhew had been replaced in the latest film.

In any case, RIP, Peter Mayhew!

Yancey Ward said...

Kevin,

LOL!! It took me a few seconds to remember from where you lifted that dialogue!

rehajm said...

I was going to say what's the point of arguing about a medal they would have revoked for doing that Holiday Special.

Bea Arthur for chrissakes...

Bilwick said...

It was racism: the kind of anti-Woodkie prejudice that Michelle Obama would have to overcome.

funsize said...

Chewbacca is royalty on his homeworld. He probably has plenty of medals.

D said...

Soviet collusion? Watergate burglar? Had unfair hair privilege? Stepped on the Disco Duck?

D said...

Free fire zone ya'll! My last inane comment made it through without a hint of moderation. Where'd everybody go?

Kevin said...

LOL!! It took me a few seconds to remember from where you lifted that dialogue!

You don't roll out Top Gun every decade or so just to recite the lines from memory?

MB said...

"They have different kinds of ceremonies"
Separate ceremonies, that is?