The People Who Protect Chewbacca

Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, isn’t real. It’s a legend — a man-ape roaming the forests of the Pacific Northwest, splitting time between the United States and Canada. Its origins date way back, but the only “evidence” of its existence stems from a moment in a 1967 film, seen below. For a number of years thereafter, many hunters took on the mission of capturing Bigfoot, dead or alive.

And this posed a problem for George Lucas.

Yes, that George Lucas — the man behind the magic known as Star Wars. Principal filming for Return of the Jedi took place in early 1982, lasting a few months. The scenes which take place on the forest moon of Endor were filmed at Redwood National Park in California, not too far from Oregon — and in the same general area that Bigfoot is believed to be living in.

The entire ensemble had a part to play on Endor — Luke, Leia, Artoo, Threepio, Han Solo, and of particular importance to us, Chewbacca. Peter Mayhew — the performer who plays Chewie — was, basically, a man in an ape-like suit walking around the forests of the Pacific Northwest. As a result, he was the target of would-be Bigfoot hunters.

In hopes of preventing a really bad result, the producers took two precautions. First, according to io9, Mayhew “was warned not to walk off set in costume.” And second, per Vanity Fair, Mayhew was “accompanied by a couple guys in brightly colored vests so that he wouldn’t accidentally get shot by somebody mistaking him for Bigfoot.” (The second source notes that the story may be apocryphal, but Mayhew himself confirmed it a few years back.) The precautions helped the Wookiee navigate his surroundings; Chewbacca managed to make it through Return of the Jedi without getting shot by either an Imperial Scout Trooper or a Northern Californian hunter.

The absurd situation didn’t just result in a safely-shot end to the original trilogy. It also inspired an odd, non-canon (but official) Star Wars comic in 2004. Titled “Into the Great Unknown” and available here, the story begins with the Millenium Falcon crash-landing on Earth, in the Pacific Northwest before the area was colonized. Han Solo dies at the hands of Native Americans, but Chewbacca survives, becoming the mythical Bigfoot. A century-plus later, an archeologist tracking Bigfoot/Chewbacca comes across Han Solo’s skeletal remains. That archeologist? Indiana Jones, who in the movies, played by Harrison Ford, the same actor who plays Han Solo.

Bonus fact: If Bigfoot were real and living in Washington State, you probably couldn’t legally shoot it. A spokesperson from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife told The Atlantic Wire why: state officials “have to call something a game animal before you can hunt it, [so] you can’t shoot a sasquatch unless we put him on the list.” That’s the general rule in the United States — but there’s at least one state that is an exception. If Sasquatch were to relocate to Texas, and hunters shot it, they’d probably be in the clear: “If Bigfoot did exist, and wasn’t human, then it would [be legal]. Bigfoot would be a non-protected wild animal,” a state official told the NPR — and you can hunt it, as long as you have a hunting license and the landlord’s permission to use the grounds.

From the Archives: Unseen Animal: Bigfoot isn’t real, but the Asian unicorn? It is, even though it’s only been seen once since its discovery thirty years ago.