On Saturday, May 4, Science News magazine’s Twitter handle replugged a report from 2016 with the words: “In a galaxy far, far away, Chewbacca is a 7.5-foot-tall Wookiee. On Earth, he’s a small furry beetle. #Maythe4th.”
The tweet had an immediate context in two ways — May 4 is celebrated as Star Wars Day by fans of the series, and the actor who played the role of Chewbacca in the series, Peter Mayhew, died at age 74 last week.
Chewbacca, a fictional character, has left a lasting legacy on popular culture as well as science, as the naming of the beetle shows.
As co-pilot with lead character Han Solo, Chewbacca was placed at number four in Entertainment Weekly’s 2013 list of 50 “greatest sidekicks” in film history. He has been the subject of comics, a TV series and books; and inspired scientists to name species after him.
The fictional Chewbacca belongs to a species called Wookiee, comes from the planet Kashyyyk, and is hairy, intelligent and 7.5 feet tall, as mentioned in the tweet. The real-life beetle, on the other hand, is one of four species that researchers had discovered on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Earlier, a furry moth was named after him, the Science News report said.
Among the four beetles, the one whose name he inspired, Trigonopterus chewbacca, is black, flightless and about 3 mm long.
“Although T chewbacca doesn’t resemble its namesake in size, the dense hairlike scales covering its head and legs reminded the researchers of Chewbacca’s fur,” the magazine explained.