Darth Vader may have the most famous voice in the Star Wars movies—"Luuuuke, I am your faaaather"—but the most interesting character voice belongs to Chewbacca, Han Solo's furry friend.
The voice is the creation of Ben Burtt, the sound designer of the film series. Chewie's vocalizations were created from actual field recordings of bears, lions, badgers, and other animals.
When Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz came calling, Burtt was a sound-obsessed student at USC's film school. Burtt read the script, saw some of the preliminary art, and embarked on a year-long quest to record sounds in the field that he could cut together into the movie's audio design.
Chewbacca—and the imaginary species to which he belonged, the Wookiee—presented particular challenges. "He didn't have articulated lips," Burtt recalled. "He could basically open and close his mouth. So you also needed to create a sound which would be believable coming from a mouth that was operated like his."
Bears were an obvious candidate. They, too, vocalize from the backs of their throats, so it works with the limitations of the Chewbacca mouth. So, Burtt went around recording bears with a mono Nagra tape recorder. "I'd call somebody up and say, 'I hear you have a trained bear that makes a funny noise,'" he told one interviewer. A four-month-old Cinnamon bear provided much of the material, according to one account. But there are also mentions—throughout the many articles about Star Wars sound design—of three other bears, a badger, a lion, a seal, and a walrus from Long Beach.