Did 'Game Of Thrones' Writer George RR Martin Help Create Chewbacca? [Trivia]

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Is it possible Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin helped to unknowingly create Star Wars' Chewbacca? Hit the jump and we'll take a journey through the creation of the famous Wookiee from a galaxy far, far away. We'll discover the George RR Martin Chewbacca connection and examine what it might mean.

 first concept art created for the chewbacca by Ralph McQuarrie in March/April 1975

The Creation of Chewbacca

George Lucas went through many iterations with different artists to create the Chewbacca we saw on screen and fell in love with. Above are some of the first pieces of concept art created for the creature by Ralph McQuarrie in March and April 1975. The below painting showing the main characters of Star Wars was famously created by McQuarrie on April 1st 1975 when Luke Skywalker was still a female character:star wars concept art by ralph mcquarrie

Around the same time, McQuarrie also created the following Chewbacca designs for the production:

chewbacca mcquarriechewbacca mcquarrie

McQuarrie revealed that "George liked this Chewbacca but I suppose he thought it could be a little more weird, and he decided to take off the flak jacket."

joe johnston chewbacca storyboard

Storyboard artist Joe Johnston (later director of The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park 3, and Captain America: The First Avenger) incorporated McQuarrie's early Chewbacca concept designs (alongside an earlier design for Princess Leia based on artist Alex Tavoulari's interpretations of the character).

The George RR Martin Chewbacca Connection


Then comes the image above, which has been making the rounds (via Reddit, etc) but first appeared online in 2010. The image shows a creature created by artist John Shoenherr for George R.R. Martin's short story 'And Seven Times Never Kill Man!' which was published in Analog in July 1975. That art is side-by-side with a November 1976 piece of concept art of Chewbacca created by Ralph McQuarrie for George Lucas' Star Wars.

As the story now goes, Ralph McQuarrie was handed a copy of this drawing by George Lucas (who claimed it was from the 1930s) as part of a pack of art to help inspire the look of his Wookie creatures. Here is the quote from McQuarrie:

"George said he wanted Chewbacca to look like a lemur, so he had great big limpid eyes in some of my early sketches. 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."

The quote seems to originate from this posting which was compiled around the time of McQuarrie's death.

Was the design stolen? We have more concept art images and information to share as this journey continues.

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


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:


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."


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.