This article can take its origins back to a thought I often had about everyone’s favorite Wookiee, Chewbacca. Specifically how often in the books, comics, and films, he was told to “stay with the ship”. Poor Chewbacca was constantly staying behind while the other characters, mostly humans, went about their adventures. I think much of this can be traced back to George Lucas’s inspiration for Chewy which was his dog, who would ride along with him in the passenger seat of his car. So Chewy became that trusty dog-like companion. Guard the ship and protect his master.
Let’s look at humans in the Star Wars universe a minute. Humans are in a very short list of species who have no known home planet. As Star Wars takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, it’s safe to assume that it’s not Earth. Humans are everywhere and often the one’s running the show for everyone else, at least in the Empire. For years before the prequels came out we were told that the Emperor, and by extension the Empire were anti-alien, at least in its military. However, when the prequels came out we saw that Palpatine had aliens like Mas Amedda and Sly Moore as his closest advisers. His former master, Darth Plaguesis was alien as well. I believe this is a perfect example of how the prequels have changed our view of the Star Wars galaxy as a whole.
Aliens have played roles of varying importance and personality throughout the franchise. The Tusken Raiders are shown to be savages, at the Mos Eisley cantina and Jabba’s palace they were thugs, the Ewoks were primitive, while most of the aliens throughout the prequels were just as developed as humans in regards to their civilizations. This is obvious from any scene that took place in the Senate, including the Wookiees.
Which brings me back to Chewbacca. I think more than almost any other character, there is an interesting dichotomy about him. In A New Hope, when Luke, Han, and Chewy enter the detention level, the imperial officer there refers to Chewy as a “thing”. We can excuse this as prejudice from the Imperials. They are the villains after all. However, not long after their escape from the detention cell, Princess Leia refers to Chewy as a “walking carpet”. She is dismissive of him and he is treated as less than an equal. When you realize that this likely comes from the dog inspired aspect of the character it makes some sense. However, when you take into consideration all the books, comics, and even the prequels, it sheds quite a different light on Leia’s attitude. Most Star Wars fans are aware that Han does not own Chewbacca. They are friends. Furthermore, Wookiees are shown to be intelligent and were even represented in the Senate. They may have no longer had a senate seat after the rise of the Empire, but you would think Leia would still know they had at one time and were an oppressed people. Her treatment of Chewy is not very princess-like. I guess we can chalk it up to her understandably bad mood at the time but if so, how do you explain Chewy not getting a medal at the end of the movie? I’m sure there is now an “in canon” reason, but I’m going by the portrayal in the film. This poor Wookiee can’t get a break!
The real world explanation for that is we are supposed to identify with the protagonists. The aliens are supposed to be what fascinates us. When Luke first walked into that cantina, we were supposed to be just as amazed at the strange creatures there as he was. Aliens are what help transport us to another galaxy. It will be interesting to see what role aliens will have in the future of Star Wars.