Companionship in the world of fiction, especially science fiction, is a ubiquitous element of good story-telling. Just think about all of the wonderful stories born from companionship: Sherlock’s Watson, Gimli and Legolas, Kirk’s Spock and McCoy, Dr. Who’s many companions, Harry Potter’s Ron and Hermione…
True companionship is not the same as a hero and his sidekick. While no doubt Robin shared friendship with Batman, there’s a reason why Batman is always viewed as the lead component and mentor in that partnership. No, companionship is about comrades in egalitarian stance. Each adventure is met as a united front, each partner brings their unique skills and perspective, and no one stands in another’s shadow. Sure, one might be more dashing or faster on the draw, but the other complements with brains or brawn or courage or loyalty or fierceness in battle.
Companionship serves a couple of special purposes in our beloved Star Wars stories as well. They remind us of ourselves, and they remind us of the preciousness of the people around us. When we say the word “companion” to a Star Wars fan, I wonder which image rushes to the average fan’s mind faster, that of Artoo and Threepio, or Han and Chewie? For me, it’s always been Han and Chewie. Not to take away from the importance of our metallic friends, I’ve always felt like Han and Chewie formed the more perfect companionship. Why? Because they remind me more of any true friendship gifted to me, which makes the story all the more relatable.
Chewie and Han were equal partners in nearly every respect, mundane to mayhem. Chewbacca, oddly enough the more stoic of the two, was no less street smart, no less courageous, and I bet you’d have a hard time picking between Han Solo and Chewbacca if you could only have one person watch your back. (Try making that choice between Artoo and Threepio. That’s right, you’d pick Artoo in a half-second.) Han was daring and swashbuckling, no doubt – he was written that way. But Chewbacca always found the soft spot in our hearts. Although he didn’t seem like the type to get the girl in the end, he was always going to come through for his friends.
And maybe that’s what I’ve always liked about our favorite Wookiee. As much as we might think Han is cool, he also showed early on he was a flawed and occasionally selfish character, especially when we first met him. Granted, he has steadily redeemed himself ever since, but I personally can’t think of a single time Chewbacca waivered.
Chewbacca is the epitome of the stalwart companion. What’s best about Chewbacca is that we can see our best friendships in him. You know, our real friends: The people that are there day or night. Those are the people we’re indebted to for advice, laughter and an unflinching dose of reality when we might get too full of ourselves.
You don’t find many friends like that in life, and that brings me to the second purpose companionship serves in any story we love: companions can be lost. This is why it’s so important in each story. It’s not that Han and Chewie just happen to be fighting for the same thing. It’s that they’re fighting for each other, whether they’re inches or light years apart. The precious nature of companionship in our lives means that it is not easily replaced, and we find ourselves naturally worried about the fate of our favorite characters not just because we fear their loss, but we also fear the loss for the remaining friend.
I remember feeling anxious, along with every other Star Wars fan, as Han was lowered into the carbonite. But it wasn’t just fear of losing Han. It was that plaintive howl from Chewbacca, powerless to save his best friend. Only seconds before he was hurling stormies left and right, desperate to save Han. In the end he was forced to accept that sometimes, no matter how strong you are, no matter how much courage you have, there comes a day when these things aren’t enough and you have to let someone go.
Years later, in the book Vector Prime, Han would face the same agony.
The best thing about companionships, real or imagined, is that they remind us every day how lucky we are to have had them, how singular they are in our lives, and that even if some fateful day we may lose them, they live on in our hearts. Our companionships in life carry us to a certain point from which we have to carry on without, but just think about where we would have been without them.
(This article is dedicated to our friend “Mad Wook”, 1975-2014)