Wookiee

The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! (An Imperial Talker Review)

Absolutely delightful. That is the easiest way I can describe my feelings about author Tom Angleberger’s junior novel The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! From start to finish, I could not help but enjoy myself as I read about Chewbacca’s mission to the planet Ushruu. Accompanied by a young woman named Mayv, the rebel droid K-2SO (masquerading as a cargo droid), and a cadre of adorable tooka cats, Chewbacca and his companions set out on a perilous adventure to retrieve a Dark Side artifact from the depths of Ushruu’s terrifying forest.

At first believing his job is to deliver the mischievous tooka cats to one of Coruscant’s moons, Chewbacca quickly discovers that he has been set up by Alinka Aloo, the daughter of Sim Aloo, a high ranking Imperial official – an official who hopes to gift the artifact in question to the Emperor. With his friend Han Solo held captive by Alinka, our favorite Wookiee must face the deadly forest on Ushruu and find the artifact in order to save Han’s life. But he is not the only one who has been forced into this mission. Young Mayvlin Trillick must also confront the danger’s lurking on Ushruu so that, upon her return, Alinka will return to her a book containing the cultural history of the planet Oktaro, May’s home world. Quickly becoming friends, Chewbacca and Mayv find ways to work together – along with the help of K-2 and one very friendly tooka named “Goldie” – so that they will achieve success.

While I dare not spoil the book, and will keep some of the major moments for you to discover if you choose to read it, I will note that I particularly enjoyed the way the book is narrated. It is rare, in Star Wars books, to find a narrator who speaks so directly, and at times informally, to the audience. In a book with an older target audience this narrative style would probably be hard to stomach. But in The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! the playful narration helps create a more vivid and humorous story, a story which young Star Wars fans will undoubtedly enjoy thanks to this more casual narrative style.

Offering a number of asides and tangential statements throughout the novel, the narrator clarifies aspects of Star Wars lore, ensuring they and the reader are literally on the same page. Likewise, the narrator swings back-and-forth between telling the story and offering their own thoughts about situations and moments. For example, the entirety of Chapter 5 is an aside in which the narrator lets the reader in on a secret they just HAVE to get off their chest right then (lest we find out later and are upset). More often though, the narrator injects him/herself into the story with a line or two here and there, offering a little quip or thought about something in the moment.

This is especially the case whenever Chewbacca speaks since the narrator must provide the reader with some insight into what Chewie is saying. Given that none of us know what Chewbacca is saying anyway when we watch Star Wars, the narrator does their best to ensure we have some basic understanding of what Chewbacca is talking about. The thing is, the narrator doesn’t offer a word-for-word translation. Instead s/he primarily offers the basics, a general sense of what Chewie is getting at and even presumes a handful of times that no translation is required. 

Actually, there are quite a few times throughout the novel when the narrator just skips any translation at all, especially when Mayv, who begins to “understand” Chewie as the book progresses, is speaking with the Wookiee. That the narrator chooses not to translate every garbled statement Chewbacca makes in his native Shyriiwook is important. Just as Mayv begins to “understand” the basics of Chewbacca’s thoughts, we start doing the same (well, I did at least). While the reader cannot hear the inflection in the Wookiee’s voice, nor perfectly translate the difficult Shyriiwook language, like Mayv we are – thanks to context – capable of gleaning what Chewbacca is trying to get across. Plus, it helps that we can understand Mayv when she is talking to Chewie.

Speaking of Mayv, she is another big reason I found this novel so delightful. Resourceful, capable and funny, Mayvillin Trillick provides young readers with a role-model choosing to put herself in harm’s way as she seeks to return the Mola Oktaro – the aforementioned book containing the cultural history of her planet – to her people. Forced to make the deadly journey to Ushruu by Alinka Aloo (who is in possession of the Mola Oktaro), young Trillick quickly befriends the Mighty Chewbacca early in the journey, the two sharing in the pain of losing their worlds to the Imperial war machine. Further, Mayv’s pursuit of the Mola Oktaro is amplified by a curious cultural habit she engages in: painting symbols on her forehead which have different meanings. In one instance, for example, as Mayv and company are about to climb higher into the trees on Ushruu, Mayv paints the symbol for “gracefulness” on her forehead figuring that “it couldn’t hurt when I’m this far off the ground!” In response, the narrator offers younger readers an important lesson: “Whether this symbol – or any of them – worked, I can’t say. But Mayv believed, and maybe that was all that mattered.” Then again, that is a pretty good lesson for adults, too. 

Truthfully, I would really like it if Mayv Trillick was to pop-up again in another Star Wars story. While I won’t be holding my breath, knowing that the likelihood of her re-emergence is small, I’ll never-the-less be holding out hope because she really is a fascinating character. Besides, given her fearless determination and dislike of the Empire, Mayv would make a great Rebel were she to join the Alliance. Who knows, maybe Chewbacca will recruit her into the cause at some point. Fingers crossed.

Finally, I will acknowledge that I was slightly skeptical about K-2SO being in the book, primarily because I thought the irreverent droid from Rogue One would be out of place. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Without K-2SO this book would have been wonderful. With K-2SO, it is absolutely fantastic. Angleberger brilliantly captures the voice of K-2SO, the droids sarcasm and dry-humor bleeding off the page whenever he speaks (especially in those moments when he forgets that he is pretending to be a cargo droid). And why is K-2 present you might ask? Well, he is on a mission for the Rebellion of course! But if you want to know more about that – and if you want to discover who makes a special, surprise appearance late in the story – you’ll just have to pick up The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! Trust me, you won’t be sorry. In fact, I guarantee you will be delighted. 

Continuity Crisis on Kashyyyk

Having recently finished reading Chuck Wendig’s novel Life Debt, the latest addition in his Aftermath trilogy which chronicles events taking place after the Battle of Endor, I felt compelled to write a reaction to the novel. Or rather, I felt compelled to write a reaction to a particular element in the novel, namely, the way(s) in which Wendig masterfully describes the suffering of the Wookiees and their home-world of Kashyyyk. Momentarily, I will share some of these details with you, and in doing so, I hope I am able to paint an equally worthy picture of devastation and enslavement.

But before I begin, I want to note two things. First, if you have not yet read Life Debt and do not want it to be spoiled, I would encourage you to stop reading and check it out. While I do not intend to provide a great deal of spoilers, they will never-the-less be present in the post.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, what I am presenting about the imagery in Life Debt is also going to lead to a rather embarrassing continuity issue (hence the name of the post). While I recognize it is slightly annoying for me to say this and not tell you what that issue is right here and now, I promise that the reason I am making you wait is worthwhile. Read on and you will see what I mean.

A Vibrant World, Enslaved

To begin, it’s worth noting that Wendig goes to great lengths in Life Debt to provide an image of life on Kashyyyk before the Empire, often doing so in subtle ways to help the reader recognize that the world was once a lush and thriving place. As a reminder, we see the vibrant Mid-Rim world for ourselves in Revenge of the Sith when the Separatists invade and Master Yoda leads the Republic’s 41st Elite Corps in defense of the Wookiees. Wendig wonderfully captures the same imagery we see in the film, expanding and adding new dimensions to it. When, for example, Han Solo and his allies approach Kashyyyk, it is described as “a green, verdant planet” with “snowcapped mountains and snaking rivers leading to oceans of dark water.” Most notably though, the forests of Kashyyyk particularly  stand out to the characters in the book, “the clouds swirling above the atmosphere” having “to swirl around and through the [giant wroshyr] trees.”

Of course, the planet is not only described from a distance, but also when the characters arrive there and start working towards freeing prisoners and liberating the world. Added to the imagery, then, is a world that was once teeming with life, specifically Wookiee life Incredible Wookiee cities, such as the city of Awrathakka, are depicted as being built in and around the “skytower-like wroshyr trees – trees whose trunks are of an unimaginable circumference.” Further, the symbiotic relationship the Wookiees had with these trees is noted, a “sacred and biological” bond grounded in care. The trees provided nourishment and shelter, enabling the arboreal lifestyle of the Wookiees. In return, the creatures tended to the life of the trees, building their cities in a way that followed “the bends and turns of the trunk,” a clear sign of the respect the  Wookiees showed the magnificent lifeforms.

Sadly, Life Debt describes in even greater detail the devastation Kashyyyk and its Wookiee inhabitants have endured under Imperial rule. Under the protection of an Imperial blockade, Kashyyyk – classified G5-623 by the Empire – is “an occupied world,” “a prison planet.” The Wookiees, we learn, were corralled into labor camps and used as slaves, their impressive size and strength a valuable resource for the Imperial war machine. In fact, in the first Aftermath novel, we learn from Han Solo that the Wookiees were utilized in the construction of both Death Stars. A sad but unsurprising discovery. While Wookiees are shipped off-planet to work on military projects around the galaxy, the vast majority were kept in the camps on planet, forced to participate in the slow destruction of their native world.

One camp in particular is depicted in Life Debt, Camp Sardo. Home to 50,000 Wookiee slaves, the camp is built at the base of the wroshyr tree to which Awrathakka clings. There, like so many other camps that litter the planet, the prisoners toil under the harsh yoke of the Empire, digging into the roots of the tree for its wood and harvesting crystals from its fungal nodes. Additionally, Wookiees in this and other camps are also forced to grow food for the Empire, to fight for entertainment, are bred to keep up the labor population, and even subjected to chemical and medical experiments.

Moreover, we also discover that the Wookiees are kept in check with the use of inhibitor chips placed on the  back of their necks, devices which keep them docile. These chips give a powerful shock to any Wookiee attempting to escape a camp, a shock that could prove to be fatal. Plus, since the Wookiees are family-oriented, any disobedience may harm not just the individual, but members of their family as well. In these ways, the Empire keeps their slaves from revolting.

Still, we know that at least one Wookiee revolt took place about four years prior to events in A New Hope. This is not mentioned in the novel, but rather is an incident detailed in a short HoloNet News report. In it, the reporter explains that a Wookiee revolt was quelled by the 212th Attack Battalion, with tighter restrictions on travel to the planet being put into place by the Imperial overlords. Of course, the report is an obvious form of propaganda, making it difficult to say if the newscaster is telling the entire truth. Still, we can presume that whatever happened would have forced the Empire to use even harsher measures against their slaves (perhaps this is when the use of inhibitor chips began) and Life Debt makes it clear that eight years later, any chance of another Wookiee revolt has been ended.

A Crisis of Continuity

As I said at the outset, Wendig paints a fantastic, albeit incredibly bleak picture of the Wookiees and their beloved Kashyyyk. A world that was once vibrant – vibrancy we can actually see in Revenge of the Sith – is all but devastated. The barest glimmer of life still clinging to the branches of the splintering wroshyr trees; the native Wookies, “slowly being ground to dust” as Princess Leia declares in the novel. As I read Life Debt, I was profoundly moved by this imagery, saddened by the Empire’s flagrant destruction of Kashyyyk, disturbed by the harsh and murderous treatment the Wookiees must endure. In this way, Life Debt did what good storytelling should do, forcing one to dig deeper and mine the depths of their own being, thinking about ways that in our own world we might alleviate the suffering of others. The Wookiees and their world might be fictitious, but their plight should motivate us to want to help those who are also in need.

And yet, all of the devastation and plight in Life Debt, the detailed imagery of destruction and enslavement, doesn’t line up with what is depicted in Issue #005 of Marvel Comics Chewbacca series. In fact, to be entirely blunt, not only does the description of Kashyyyk and the Wookiees in Life Debt not line up with what we see in Chewbacca #005, the two canonical sources are just flat-out contradictory.

I won’t provide an overview of the entire plot of the Five-Part Chewbacca series, but I will note that the premise revolves around a personal mission Chewbacca undertakes sometime after the destruction of the First Death Star. In short, Chewie is heading to Kashyyyk so he can deliver an item to a young Wookiee. And, after an adventure on another world, Chewbacca does just that, flying an A-Wing Starfighter right up to his home-world, a world that is clearly NOT under Imperial blockade. Landing safely in a thriving city among healthy looking wroshyr trees, Chewbacca interacts with many Wookiees, all of whom are quite obvious NOT enslaved, no inhibitor chips stuck to their heads. Plus, to top it off, in the very final panel of Chewbacca #005, the Millennium Falcon descends to the planet with quite ease, no Imperial ships in pursuit.

MarvelChewbacca1
Chewbacca travels to Kashyyyk, landing safely on the planet.
Photo Credit – MARVEL Comics: Chewbacca #005
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Landing safely, Chewbacca makes his way through a Wookiee city.
Photo Credit – MARVEL Comics: Chewbacca #005

Since finishing Life Debt, I have struggled to reconcile these two disparate versions of Kashyyyk/the Wookiees which have crept into the Star Wars canon. When  I have wrestled with continuity issues in the past, I’ve attempted to smooth over the differences in some logical way while staying true to the source material. However, in this case, the powerful depictions of suffering in Life Debt differ so starkly from the warm and colorful panels in Chewbacca #005 that I am at a complete loss. I honestly cannot figure how to make the two versions work together. Then again, coming up with a fix is purely a thought experiment on my part, one that would not carry any weight unless the Lucasfilm Story Group were to adopt my idea(s). And speaking of the Story Group, the body tasked overseeing the content of the Star Wars canon, I have to ask:

How did they miss this continuity issue?

Frankly, I think Star Wars fans deserve an explanation about why two contradictory versions of Kashyyyk and the Wookiees were allowed to enter the Star Wars canon. While I understand that small errors can and will be show up, an inevitable side-effect of having numerous story-tellers adding to a fictional universe, when far more obvious errors like this one appear, then someone on the Story Group (or at Lucasfilm in general) needs to come forward and at least acknowledge the mistake. Plus, as a fan, I want reassurance that the cohesive and unified story being told will not have these problems in the future, particularly since I spend a lot of money on books, novels, games, movie tickets, etc. Otherwise, I have to be honest: if more and more major continuity issues start showing up, my enjoyment of the canon won’t just diminish, but I will seriously consider closing the door on my Star Wars fandom.


Addition: Having conversed with a number of people about this piece, including a member of the Story Group, I am working on a follow-up which will be posted here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!