Chewbacca has largely been seen as Han Solo’s sidekick ever since the first “Star Wars” film, but he graduates into his own series as the lead character in “Chewbacca” #1 by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto. Seeing how Chewie’s vocabulary remains unintelligible to most, Duggan’s challenge is to make the Wookiee’s thoughts known to readers, which he does mostly through dialogue with a new protagonist who takes on the role of sidekick herself. Zarro is a young girl who, along with her father, finds herself an indentured servant on her backwater world, where Chewbacca finds himself stranded with no recourse but to gamble his way off.
Realizing Chewbacca’s personality is largely unexplored, Duggan cleverly establishes one by way of the trademark scrolling text intro on the comic’s first page. As it turns out, Chewie is a bit of a teller of tall tales, a characteristic he just might have picked up from his scoundrel of a partner. This bragging nature isn’t really necessary to the context of Duggan’s story, but establishing any kind of trait for a lead character with no spoken lines is a smart move, as it gives Chewie a bit of substance going into the series. Duggan’s challenge is to attach some humanity to a character largely seen as animalistic, and he somewhat succeeds, although his ability to do so is limited by eschewing any kind of direct attempt at first person narrative.
Noto is likewise limited; he makes some attempt to give Chewie a degree of facial expression, but his faithful rendering of the character — while beautifully done — limits his ability to use exaggerated caricature or expression to convey the Wookiee’s state of mind. He faces the same kind of constraint that actor Peter Mayhew did playing the character onscreen; the emotions make it through the hairy exterior but come across as muted. The comic medium affords Noto the opportunity to work around these limitations, but he doesn’t really take advantage of it. Most of Chewbacca’s emotions are mostly communicated through the size of letterer Joe Caramagna’s type fonts.
Overall, though, Noto’s art is beautiful; Chewie is first seen napping in a serene flowery field, one that’s both finely detailed and gorgeously colored. The full page image, in fact, could have made for a rather unusual and eye-catching cover, though the actual cover featuring Chewie and Zarro foreshadows her importance to the story. Noto’s grasp of the more familiar alien races and droids — as well as the less familiar ones — is spot-on, and the wordless sequences featuring an equally wordless Chewbacca flow cleanly and move Duggan’s story along easily.
When Zarro starts tagging along with Chewie, Noto uses her as the sole means of drawing out his thoughts, at least somewhat. Their one-way exchange establishes Zarro’s spunky nature and personality just fine, but Chewbacca’s thoughts are mostly related though Zarro’s response to his grunts and growls; the final exchange between Zarro and Chewie, in fact, pretty much relies on the Timmy-fell-down-the-well trope.
“Chewbacca” #1 is enjoyable enough; Zarro is a likeable character, and Noto’s picturesque illustrations go a long way towards making up for where the storytelling falls a little bit short.