Let’s be honest: no matter how you feel about the film as a whole, a lot of The Rise of Skywalker is weird. Some of that weirdness comes from its gleeful embrace of Star Wars’ silliest indulgences, some of it is from the fact that it is, at all times, Quite A Lot. But one of its weirdest moments does a huge disservice to one of the saga’s stalwarts.
I’m talking about Chewbacca, the Wookiee that J.J. Abrams can’t get over wronging, of course.
Back when The Force Awakens was in theaters, one of the most bizarre “controversies” that came out of the film wasn’t things like its minimal usage of Mark Hamill, the shocking parentage of Kylo Ren, or, I dunno, mass hysteria that a woman got a lightsaber. It was that when Rey, Chewbacca, and the wounded Finn returned to D’Qar aboard the Millennium Falcon in the wake of Starkiller Base’s destruction, to both celebrate and mourn the loss of Han Solo, Leia Organa did not comfort her walking carpet friend, but instead hugged a distraught Rey. No, really. Remember when this was the sort of thing we got upset about with Star Wars? Ah, such innocent times.
Anyway, criticism of that perceived slight in particular seems to have been one of the things that stuck with Abrams the most, because in among the kitchen-sink approach to callbacks, so-called course corrections, and references within The Rise of Skywalker, one of its clumsiest moments comes likewise with the tragic death of another familiar face. This time it’s Leia herself, passing on into the Force after reaching out to her son one final time, a nudge that pushes him on the path to redemption. When our scattered heroes return to the news that Leia has left them and as they mourn, they all find they have inherited some things left behind by her. For Poe, for example, it’s a rather large inheritance, the position of leadership in the Resistance. For Rey, it’s her lightsaber, bequeathed by the spirit of Luke Skywalker himself when she flees to Ahch-To in the wake of revelations about her lineage.
But back on Ajan Kloss, Maz Kanata gives Chewbacca a peculiar gift: a Medal of Bravery, more specifically, Han’s. The same one afforded to Luke after the Battle of Yavin IV, and, perhaps more pointedly here, one that Chewbacca himself was never gifted, a long-running joke among Star Wars fans. It’s a sweet moment, sure—a gift that recognizes the bond between Chewbacca and Leia through Han. But it’s also, like many (many) elements of The Rise of Skywalker, a moment that feels like an indulgence for indulgence’s sake rather than because it works for the film’s narrative. “Hey look, he finally got a medal,” J.J. Abrams cries from his directorial rooftop. “Will you please stop complaining about that hug!?”
But aside from its weirdness as just one of many needless moments of fanservice in Rise, what makes it weird is that, well...Star Wars canon already gave us the story of Chewbacca’s medal. And told us how, really, he didn’t care for it.
Way back in 2015, Gerry Duggan, Phil Noto, and Joe Caramagna’s Marvel Comics miniseries Chewbacca told us a post-A New Hope tale that saw the Wookiee warrior, cut off from his friends, help liberate a small mining colony from the yoke of Imperial control while trying to make his way back to the Rebellion. Over the course of his adventure, Chewie befriends a young girl named Zarro—and after she laments that no one will remember what she and Chewbacca did to save her home from the Empire, the Wookiee pauses for a moment, embraces Zarro, and she realizes that he’s slung a big, gold medal around her neck.
His Medal of Bravery. He did, in fact, receive one, sometime offscreen, ticking off that canonical checkmark left unchecked for so long. But, the Chewbacca comic argued, the whole point was that Chewie himself didn’t care for or need it in the first place. He did what needed to be done—flying into danger to save his recently-met friend, alongside his best friend in the galaxy—because it was the right thing to do, not because he wanted a medal. The medal didn’t matter to him, but he used it to cheer Zarro up in this one moment instead, making it far more important at that moment to her than it ever could be to him.
In the comic, Zarro interprets Chewie’s reasoning for giving it over that it wouldn’t vibe with his tough persona. But really, it speaks to Chewie’s selflessness, his unflinching attitude to put the people around him first, whether he barely knows them or has his life indebted to them. It’s what makes us discovering that he actually got one all along and why it would never appear again in the grand old story of Star Wars so lovely: It says so much more about his character than just giving him a medal would actually do.
And yet, that’s what The Rise of Skywalker does. Yes, it’s Han’s medal, and not just a new one Leia happened to have lying around for a few decades. But regardless, it feels so weird in the moment—both perplexingly ignorant of the canon that Rise is otherwise so slavishly dedicated to as it draws up on reference after reference after reference, and also hollow because it feels like it’s there to right that perceived wrong of The Force Awakens more than it is because it would make sense.
There’s a lot of weird stuff The Rise of Skywalker does with Chewie—like seemingly killing him off for all of about five minutes—yet it’s this moment of sentimentality that feels weirdest. In trying to do right by him, it only serves to make you realize that the wider media before it had already done so long ago.
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