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John Scalzi – Three Cheers for Chewbacca, SciFi’s Ultimate Sidekick

Hey folks, before we get to this week’s column, let me take a moment to announce the winner of last week’s “writing assignment” contest. We received nearly 100 entries, which is pretty awesome, and the entire comment thread is chock full of amusing science fictional goodness, which made it exceptionally hard to choose just one. But in the end, I was most impressed with this entry by Louise — who not only made her “sidekick meeting” entry highly amusing, but also in the course of the entry managed to reference every other writing assignment option as well. Well done, Louise, well done indeed. That coveted DVD set of the original series of The Prisoner is yours. And thanks to everyone else for playing along.

Louise‘s choice of the “sidekick meeting” assignment was also prescient, because as it happens I’ve spent the last few days thinking about sidekicks in movies — particularly in science fiction — and what qualities make for a perfect scifi sidekick. After careful consideration, I have, in fact, determined the perfect science fictional sidekick.

It is — of course! — Chewbacca.

Why? Oh, let us count the ways.

1. He’s alien
Dude’s a seven foot pile of shag who walks around naked, save for a bandolier. He communicates by howling. He’ll rip the arms off a droid just to make a point about sportsmanship. Face it, you’re not going to run across anyone like that on a day-to-day basis. His very presence in the Star Wars series reminds you that there is more to life in the Empire than all those humans running about; Chewbacca is science fiction, in hairy, two-meter form.

2. He’s not too alien
At the same time, he’s not a gelatinous mass or a cold-blooded reptile — he’s furry and (almost) kind of cuddly, has sympathetic blue eyes and a Scooby Doo-like streak of neurosis in him, allowing Han to berate him from time to time in an amusing fashion. The doglike aspect of Chewbacca is no coincidence, as George Lucas originally modeled Chewie after his own canine pal, a Bouvier des Flandres Alaskan Malamute named “Indiana.” (Yes, indeed!) So while he’s definitely not human, he’s also still relatable. Just don’t ask him to fetch. Wookiees hate that.

3. He can act
Chewbacca is funny. He does a great second take. He does sad (see: Empire Strikes Back, when the base doors are closed). And really, no one else in science fiction quite does angry like he does. That he does them all as sidekick reaction shots makes his skill even greater; it’s like what dancers say of Ginger Rogers: She danced every step Fred Astaire did, backwards and in heels. When a sidekick makes you feel, he’s doing his job and then some.

4. He’s competent
There’s something to be said for a sidekick who only works as comic relief — see C-3PO in this category — but even better is the sort of laconic pal who can do pretty much anything you ask of him. And, really, that’s Chewie: He can pilot a starship, he can repair a droid shot apart by Imperial stormtroopers, he can strangle a traitorous former friend, and he can act the part of a hapless prisoner to get rescuers into guarded areas — not just once but twice! Is there anything he can’t do? Besides speak human? Which brings us to the next part:

5. He’s comfortable in his role
Never once in the movies do you get the sense that Chewbacca is looking enviously at Han Solo’s captain’s chair and thinking to himself, man, how long do I have to hang around with this wahoo until I get to sit there? Why? Because Chewie is comfortable with himself as a person and a sidekick. He’s so comfortable, in fact, that he actually lets other people talk for him. I strongly believe Chewbacca could speak human if he so chose — but he prefers to let the other characters shine. That’s the sort of selfless assist to others that makes him perfect in the sidekick role.

The downside to this subtle expertise in the sidekick role is that Chewbacca is not always given his due. Everyone remembers the slight given Chewbacca at the end of Star Wars: Luke and Han get big shiny medals for blowing up the Death Star, and what does Chewbacca get? His fur brushed out for the medal ceremony. Did Chewie complain? No. But I’m sure cheering during the 1997 MTV Movie Awards when Chewie finally got that medal he was owed, slung about his neck by none other than Carrie Fisher herself.

Yes, maybe I teared up a bit. I won’t deny it. But I will say that it’s nice when the sidekick gets his moment in the spotlight. Especially a sidekick as complete as Chewbacca: The sidekick’s sidekick; the sidekick all other sidekicks can only hope to be, only to settle for plucky comic relief. Just ask 3PO about that.

Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man’s War and Zoe’s Tale. He’s also Creative Consultant for the upcoming Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.

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