It’s Sunday, February 26, 1984, and you’re watching “Star Wars” (aka “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”) on CBS like millions of other kids around the country.
When Chewbacca comes onscreen, your father says, “Is that Bigfoot?”
You manage to say, “No, Dad.”
You’ve even told your father about Chewbacca. The action figure has been shown to him.
In reality, your father has seen real-life Bigfoot representations on shows like “In Search of” and “The Six Million Dollar Guy,” so he should know better.
“He looks like a Bigfoot,” Dad says as he exits the room.
And what you can do now is sigh.
It has been more than 36 years by then. You ponder on your father’s perplexity today, with eight more films in the series announced, and you can’t help but wonder: What IS the link between these two towering beastmen?
Of course, “Bigfoot” is another term for Sasquatch, a mythical North American creature described as a hairy, upright ape.
The beastman, a type neither entirely human nor entirely animal that inhabits the wild, untamed, and sacred parts of the Earth, has origins in the folk traditions of numerous native North American tribespeople and is part of a common trope of global folklore: the beastman, a form neither entirely human nor entirely animal that inhabits the wild, untamed, and sacred aspects of the world.
Bigfoot has since come to represent a desire for the unknown in modern days and an embodiment of environmental concern. It’s also a common topic for pseudoscientific research and unverified sightings.
A Bigfoot’s Anatomy
Bigfoots, yetis, and other related beings are described as large primates that look like a cross between a gorilla and a human. Many cultures have stories of these creatures that date back hundreds of years. They were referred to as “windego,” “yeahoh,” “omah,” “rugaru,” and “boqs” by numerous Native American tribes.
The yeti, also known as the abominable snowman, is believed to live in Asia’s mountainous Himalayan mountains. For the sake of convenience, we’ll refer to this type of creature as a sasquatch in this essay. This name is derived from SESAC, which means “wild men” in Native American Salish. It is used to denote a creature that can be found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and southern Canada.
The specifics of reported sightings of these species vary greatly, but there are a few details that keep cropping up. Many eyewitnesses identify a very tall primate (between 7 and 15 feet / 2 and 4.5 metres) walking on two legs. It sits erect like a human but walks with a distinctive loping gait. The species has dark, reddish-brown hair and a face that is a cross between that of a gorilla and that of a human. Many eyewitnesses claim the beast has a heavy, nasty odour, although others say it doesn’t.
Wookiees (like Chewbacca) have no link to Earth, at least according to “Star Wars” mythology.
Remember, it’s a world far, far away? The Wookiees are from the forest planet Kashyyyk, as we remember from 1978’s “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and subsequent adaptations. While many people underestimate the Wookiees for a barbaric race, they have a rich civilization as well as the ability to use sophisticated space technologies. During the Clone Wars, they participated in one of the final, pivotal campaigns, and Chewbacca rose to prominence as a guerrilla hero during the Galactic Civil War that followed.
It’s fair to speculate that the Wookiee we see in the 1977 film “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” was influenced by the idea of Bigfoot, which had firmly established itself in mainstream culture by that time.
Let’s see if the proof supports my theory.
Michael Heilemann’s Kitbashed.com post on the Wookiee’s history is unbeatable for a comprehensive overview. The author points out that George Lucas, the founder of “Star Wars,” has always referenced his dog Indiana as an influence. Chewbacca has been identified as “an upright dog” or “the dog who is permitted to have a rifle” on many occasions.
But, of course, Lucas enlisted the help of other artists to bring his vision to life, including illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, who designed the poster art for the 1972 Arkansas Bigfoot film “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and its 1984 sequel. However, when it came to modelling Chewbacca, Lucas requested something akin to “a lemur with fur all over his body and a large massive apelike figure,” according to McQuarrie.
The lemur characteristics are undeniable when you look back at these early character ideas. Though this idea was never realized in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, it did affect the creation of the Last alien race, which first appeared in the 2014 animated series “Star Wars Rebels.”
Instead, Lucas returned to McQuarrie with a picture that served as inspiration: a John Schoenherr illustration of a “jaenshi” for a George R.R. Martin short storey in the July 1975 issue of “Analog.” Yes, the eventual author of “A Game of Thrones” is a minor figure in Chewbacca’s life. McQuarrie modified the illustration and fused it with preexisting elements of Chewbacca character design, as Heilemann describes.
Though the end product isn’t just as polished as the cinematic Wookiees we’re all familiar with; the architecture is effectively complete.
Heilemann goes into more depth about the production process and each of the competing accounts but claims that the revisions resulted in a “softening” of the graphic design to accommodate script changes made throughout several rewrites. Chewbacca’s transformation from jungle barbarian to Han Solo’s smuggling partner was witnessed.
While none of this proves a clear connection to Bigfoot and Chewbacca, the 1970s Bigfoot craze is undeniably part of the pop culture stew from which these different theories arose. They’re both depicted as beings that exist somewhere between human and beast, embodying both the natural serenity we seek and the bestial cruelty that is innate in our species.
Chewbacca is a huge sweetheart, but we all know if you beat him at Dejarik, he’ll tear your arms off. Similarly, reports of Bigfoot sightings range from natural curiosity to outright threat.
Even then, Dad was obviously mistaken. Chewbacca isn’t the same as Bigfoot.