Inside How to Speak Wookiee

October 21, 2011

Words: Bonnie Burton
Art: JAKe

Ever wonder how to order a Bantha Burger or talk about Picasso with Wookiees? Now you can learn how to flirt AND conduct business meetings with Chewbacca’s friends. The new book How to Speak Wookiee from Chronicle Books shows you how to do this and more with chapters like “At the Restaurant” and “On Public Transportation!” Plus the book has handy sound files so you can sound like a Wookiee in no time!

Star Wars artist JAKe illustrates the book with his unique and whimsical style. Born in Hull, England, JAKe was raised by Wookiees from a young age. He speaks the Wookiee language fluently, but with a strong Northern accent. He now lives and works in London, and would never use a cheap Jedi mind-trick to make you visit his site chats with JAKe about his illustrations for the book, his favorite scenes and if his Wookiee roar has improved.

How did you decide what Wookiee scenes you wanted to draw?

The script for the book came in and some scenes like the restaurant and art gallery, where already in the text. Some of the others scenes just specified “Wookiee Scenario” so I could come up with my own scene. I thought it was important to have a holochess scene.

I love the restaurant scene… though shouldn’t a Wookiee chef wear a hair net?

He IS wearing a hair net. It’s just that it’s a barely visible full body hair net. That particular chef specializes in rural Wookiee cuisine. In some remote parts of Kashyyyk, it’s considered good luck for visitors to eat a dish containing Wookiee chef hair. Coughing up the furballs at the end of the meal is the Wookiee equivalent of the dessert trolley.

Wookiees in a Meeting is another one of my favorite scenes! What kind of things do you think Wookiees talk about in meetings?

Wookiees discuss many subjects in meetings, but mainly, discussions start with “Is the air-conditioning actually on in this building?” (”Arrrrrwrrrrrronnkkk raarrh”) and continue in this vein, until someone mentions the topic of lunch. Wookiees have a distinct low tolerance for management-speak like “Blue sky thinking,” “Going Forward” and “Singing from the same hymn sheet” and subsequently, the sound of arms being ripped from sockets is a common sound throughout the intergalactic business community.

What was your favorite scene to create and why?

I enjoyed drawing the cantina scene a lot. As a child in 1977 the cantina was one of my favorite scenes, and it was something I drew a lot back then, but it was a scene I had never had chance to tackle as a professional Star Wars artist. Even though I’ve been commissioned to draw my take on most characters from the original trilogy, Greedo was the one that, back in the late 90’s, never made it into the Lucas Licensing style guides, for one reason or another.

The cantina denizens, Greedo, Snaggletooth, Hammerhead, Ponda Baba (or Walrus Man as he was known back then) were the second wave ofStar Wars figures to hit the UK, so I wanted to focus on them interacting with the Wookiees, and it was great to finally get my version of Greedo into print. I liked the idea that perhaps a party of Wookiees arrive at the cantina, maybe a week after Obi-Wan had sliced off Walrus Man’s arm, and that he spills a Wookiees drink, and in badly-pronounced Wookiee speak is desperately trying to talk his way our of losing his remaining arm.

The museum scene was fun to work on too, especially coming up the various artwork hanging on the walls, which pastiche Lichenstein, Picasso and Mondrian.

What was the hardest scene to create and why?

The mall was the hardest. A mall is very earthbound, very American, so the challenge was to depict a recognizable mall, but combine it with a Star Wars aesthetic, so my starting point was that perhaps Tosche Station was a mall, a place where Luke and his friends might mingle with teenage Wookiees. So I imagined that Luke and Biggs are picking up power converters, and that Aunt Beru is running a blue milk snack bar. If you look closely at the display screens, you can see there’s a little icon for Bantha Burgers.

I had the idea that Jabba and his cronies are getting a whiff of that that irresistible flame-grilled Bantha smell from the top floor and are asking directions to the food court, and it’s fun to come up with little details like that and have them approved by Lucasfilm. But it was tricky artwork to do as the characters are so tiny.

Are there any scenes you wish you could have illustrated for the book but didn’t?

Not really, it was a great project to work on and my art director at Chronicle Books was very open to any ideas, or little details I added. When I submitted rough drawings at the initial approval stage, there was one proposed idea for the holochess page that I thought was funny, but which got a very definite “no.” I had a few roughs, a peeved Wookiee vs. a droid, an irate Wookiee vs. Bib Fortuna and an angry Wookiee throttling Jar Jar Binks. And so Bib Fortuna got to sweat uncomfortably next to a scowling Wookiee, and I think in the end that turned out as one of my favorite illustrations in the book.

Now that you know how to talk like a Wookiee have you tried any phrases on your friends? Did they understand you?

As some American Star Wars fans have found out, my northern English accent sometimes needs a little translation, so I’m used to puzzled looks. Whilst I worked on the book I did manage to perfect a reasonably passable Chewbacca style throaty growl. There are a couple of tricky consonants so maybe my pronunciation still needs a little work.

In addition to your illustrations in your book How to Speak Wookiee, what else are you working on? You new graphic novel bio Hellraisers?

Star Wars fans might be interested to know that in Hellraisers, I managed to sneak in a couple of Star Wars references. Peter O’ Toole is on a film set talking to a character called Martin, his career is in a bit of a nosedive in the late 70’s and he talks about it being the era of Star Wars and Taxi Driver. R2-D2 rolls past and gives Martin a lightsaber, which he uses to hack his way through the woods that they find themselves lost in.

As credited to the Star Wars Blog

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