Here is what the Shoenherr design looked like when published in Analog:

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Was The Design Stolen?

So did George R.R. Martin unknowingly help inspire the design for Chewbacca? McQuarrie’s quote seems to suggest such, although the juxtaposition of Shoenherr’s artwork and McQuarrie’s seems to originate from a Binary Bonsai essay that has mysteriously gone missing from the internet. (update: the author contacted me and informed me that previous blog post has been moved to kitbashed.com)

Did George Lucas steal Chewbacca’s design from the George R.R. Martin short story? I don’t think so. You must understand that it is not unusual for filmmakers to hand concept artists artwork they’ve seen in books and movies to help focus and inspire the creation of their vision. This happens all the time.  I’ve visited many sets and have seen screengrabs from other movies and screenshots from video games hanging in the make-up, prop, and costume departments.

Filmmakers now go to studios with “look books” created entirely of other peoples work, which when presented together combine to give a vision of the filmmaker’s specific vision. We’ve also written extensively about how filmmakers “frankenedit” together trailers consisting of clips from movies, television shows and commercials, to help pitch their vision to Hollywood studios.

It’s easy to look at this side-by-side sketch pairing and think that Lucas and McQuarrie stole the design of Chewbacca from the George R.R. Martin short story. But the truth of the matter is that the design above was just one of many things that likely inspired the character. Take a look at the final products, side by side:

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If the design looked identical to that of the design in the magazine, that would be one thing. But Chewbacca has his own look, which was created not by copying one sketch, but through the collaboration of a dozen artists under the direction of George Lucas. Also remember all of the early iterations seen above, showing a very large furry creature with a bandolier and weaponry.

Although, I would imagine that the prop department saw the original Shoenherr sketch in their curated folder of designs and design inspiration, which may be how Chewbacca ended up with a bowcaster, the wookiee version of a crossbow.

sketch by Ralph McQuarrie which was used by Star Wars make-up supervisor Stuart Freeborn to create Chewbacca's mask

The final Chewbacca design was really based on a sketch (seen above) by Star Wars make-up supervisor Stuart Freeborn. He used that sketch to create Chewbacca’s mask. Freeborn had based his design on McQuarrie’s concept art. He describes the creation of Chewbacca’s mask:

“Chewbacca was a fascinating one because he has to look nice, though he could be very ferocious when he wanted to be. It was fun making a monster that looked friendly and nice for a change, instead of being menacing. I had seen a sketch [by Ralph McQuarrie] and I based it on that because it was very good, and it looked just right to me.”

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Chewbacca cats

George Lucas would check in on Freeborn’s progress:

“I kept pulling the nose out and pushing it back. It was difficult, because we were trying to do a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. I really wanted it to be cat-like more than anything else, but we were trying to conform to that combination.”

McQuarrie has pointed out that Freeborn’s Wookiee design is a bit leaner and features a more defined face than his concept versions:

“Well, to me it seemed he added a jawbone from one of the ape creatures he did for 2001: A Space Odyssey in the creation of Chewbacca’s chin. Mine doesn’t have a chin and his does, which is very important to the way it ultimately appears.”

As for Ralph McQuarrie’s original Chewbacca design, it has not gone to waste.  Lucasfilm and Disney have repurposed Ralph McQuarrie’s old concept art design for the character Zeb Orrelios in the new Disney television series Star Wars Rebels. See below:

zeb star wars rebels chewbacca

 

If the story behind the creative process of Star Wars is something you’re interested in learning more about, I highly recommend checking out The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film by J.W. Rinzler, which was a source of some of the information in this post. I own all three hardcover books as well as digital versions.

 

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