It’s one of the great sleights in movie history. At the end of the original Star Wars film, the Death Star has been destroyed. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca attend a ceremony in front of the entire Rebel Alliance, where medals are presented to Skywalker and Solo and Chewbacca gets...nothing. He doesn’t get a medal, a kiss on the cheek from the princess or even a firm handshake. What gives? Was it wookie racism on the part of Princess Leia? According to Peter Mayhew, it was likely nothing so divisive. The movie was likely out of money.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when a Star Wars movie couldn’t afford something, but in 1977, the property, and really the entire genre, was untested. In an interview with Australia’s Bmag, Mayhew says there would have been additional cost in giving Chewbacca a medal and it was likely just too expensive.
I think it was one of two reasons. One, they didn’t have enough money to buy me a medal. Or two, Carrie 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.
As silly as it seems, that second idea, that Carrie Fisher would not have been able to reach the actor’s neck, has a ring of reality to it. Whether they knew it was going to be an issue beforehand, or realized it when they were getting ready to shoot the scene, it wouldn’t be that surprising to learn that they didn’t have the money, or the time to construct whatever mechanism they would have needed to make the scene work.
While Chewbacca getting the shaft is an oft-repeated refrain among fans, it apparently has never been an issue for the actor. While these are his thoughts as to why his character wasn’t honored, it’s clear that he doesn’t know the reason for a fact. This means it never actually came up during the filming of the scene or in any conversations since. Part of the reason Mayhew may not actually care is that the oversight was eventually fixed. When MTV gave Chewbacca their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, Carrie Fisher was on hand to put the medal around his neck. He does have to stand several steps down for her to do it, too.
Has this wrong been properly righted or does Chewbacca need to be properly honored on screen? Will there be a ceremony at the end of The Force Awakens that will finally do right by Chewie?