Ever since the character was introduced I struggled to understand how Chewbacca communicates with everyone. His grunts sound more or less the same every time but somehow everyone seems to "know" what he is trying say?

As per this wikipedia article,

Wookiees are capable of understanding Galactic Basic, but generally none are able to speak it because of the structure of Wookiee vocal cords


His human partner, Han Solo, also shows knowledge of Shyriiwook, or can at least understand Chewbacca

If Chewbacca is a wookie and can't speak Shyriiwook, how is Han able to understand him?

  • 10
    Chewbacca does speak Shyriiwook, that's the point...
    – KutuluMike
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:21
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    Shyriiwook is the Wookiee language, many are also able to understand Galactic Basic.
    – phantom42
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:22
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    Do you have a dog? Same concept (albeit Chewie is a much higher life form than your typical dog). Dogs understands your verbalized commands, but can't speak them himself. You, in return, likely 'understand' some of your dogs grunts and looks and such. Two different languages, but you both understand each other.
    – DA.
    Dec 22, 2015 at 19:55

1 Answer 1


So if Chewbacca is a wookie and can't speak Shyriiwook, how is Han able to understand him?

I'm not sure where this misunderstanding of that article came from, but this statement isn't correct.

As a Wookie, Chewbacca understands Galactic Basic, but he's incapable of speaking it. Instead, he speaks the native Wookie language, Shyriiwook. Those grunts that sound the same to us are the Wookie language -- that's just what it sounds like.

As a human, Han Solo understands Shyriiwook (mostly), but he's incapable of speaking it. Instead, he typically speaks Galactic Basic.

Since they both understand each other's language, they can communicate just fine.

  • 1
    This has been a fairly common theme throughout most of Star Wars, and I'd venture to say it simply makes things easier. You can just throw up subtitles if the audience really needs to know what's being said, or just have fun with it like Han always replying back to Chewie. C-3P0 was the perfect translator to have as well, because no one will question a robot that looks incredibly advanced from being able to hear and speak millions of languages in a technologically advanced galaxy.
    – MattD
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:30
  • true; though not everyone understands everyone else. there seems to be a pretty broad level of understanding of human languages, fewer people appear to understand Shyriiwook or droid binary...
    – KutuluMike
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:32
  • @MattD It's actually a theme so inherent to Star Wars that it was part of the millions of Star Wars reminiscences in Guardians of the Galaxy, which drove the weirdness of the Chewie-Han communication ad absurdum.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:33
  • Right, Galactic Basic is the lingua franca of their galaxy, much the way English is becoming the lingua franca of our planet, but there are still plenty of people who won't understand, and no way for them to learn the apparently 6 million languages that exist, if C-3PO is to be fully believed (and why would he lie?).
    – MattD
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:34
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    @MattD Of course, that aspect was always very interesting to me, too. And it just feels very natural. R2 is the other great example.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 22, 2015 at 13:37

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