I’ll never understand why people are shocked when they find out one of their favorite things is just a slight rip off of something that came before. That’s how the world works, usually. And when that world is George Lucas’ Star Wars, it should surprise people even less. Stories have been circulating for years about how Chewbacca’s iconic design may have been inspired by a George R.R. Martin short story published in a July 1975 issue of Analog magazine. And it looks like those stories were right, at least in part.
When the brilliant artist Ralph McQuarrie first began designing Chewbacca, he looked like a bug-eyed alien that came from a planet populated by Salem’s Lot vampires, with a mouth perpetually open in shock. As McQuarrie put it, “George said he wanted Chewbacca to look like a lemur, so he had great big limpid eyes in some of my early sketches.”
And here is where the illustrations took a hairpin turn towards the big furry bastard we all know and love. McQuarrie said, “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 to 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.” But the picture that Lucas showed McQuarrie likely didn’t come form the 1930s at all, but was the Analogy sketch from artist John Shoenherr. First let’s look at how Chewbacca looked in his original state.
And now let’s look at a side-by-side comparison of Shoenherr’s work and McQuarrie’s updated version of the Wookiee badass.
Looks like there’s a case to be made here, right? Not for plagiarism or copyright infringement or anything. This is just an example of how conceptual design works in the entertainment industry. Artists constantly look to other talented people for inspiration. Whether Lucas was mistaken or mischievous in presenting Shoenherr’s work to McQuarrie is kind of beside the point, though it’s an interesting thing to consider. Here’s a finalized shot from the Analogy issue (via SlashFilm), which only really looks like Chewbacca because of the fur and the weapon.
Now, if Star Wars: Episode VII comes around and has dragons, even more rampant incest, and the most quotable imp in fiction, then we may have a case for Martin. Otherwise, keep on Wookieeing on.