Chewbacca is Based on a Dog

He therefore deserves the esteemed co-pilot status
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2017, Updated June 2021
Many dogs resemble Chewbacca

Many dogs resemble Chewbacca

I’m fully on board as a Star Wars fan after many years of being less into the films than just about everyone I know. My new interest is a result of learning that the inspiration for Chewbacca was a dog. Specifically, this lovable wookiee is based on George Lucas’ Alaskan Malamute, Indiana.

According to Lucas, Indiana would sit in the front seat of his car like a co-pilot and was regularly mistaken for a person. (On a side note, his dog is responsible for the name of one of Lucas’ other famous characters—Indiana Jones.)

When I first found out that the character is based on a real dog, I assumed that his name, as well as his nickname (Chewie) was a reference to the chewing behavior that we all know so well in our own dogs. However, the name Chewbacca is actually a derivation of “sobaka”—the Russian word for dog. The character was visualized by creators as a mix between a monkey, a dog and a cat, and his voice comes from bear vocalizations mixed in with sounds from other species, including lions, badgers, camels, rabbits and walruses.

Still, there is no doubt that his behavior is extremely doglike, in the sense that he is Han Solo’s best and most loyal friend. It’s no surprise that he is considered one of the top 10 movie sidekicks of all time.

Though Chewbacca is not actually a dog, it’s easy to get pulled into a game of guessing which breeds would lead to a Chewbacca-like individual. My picks are a Briard crossed with a Brussels Griffon. With apologies to George Lucas, I see no signs of an Alaskan Malamute, though perhaps the resemblance to his own beloved dog is more behavioral than morphological.

Photo: iStock

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life