It's clear that director J.J. Abrams wanted to deliver fans of the Star Wars saga moments they had been waiting decades to see with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, with some of those moments being exciting emotional revelations while others were much more subtle. With more than 40 years of history to draw from, Abrams had his work cut out for him when it came to determining how to unite the entire Skywalker Saga, though there was no way to honor everything that had come before it. Despite having a limited amount of time for the narrative, Abrams made sure that Chewbacca and his fans got something that they had been waiting for since Star Wars: A New Hope.
WARNING: Spoilers below for The Rise of Skywalker
After achieving victory against the Final Order, Chewbacca reunited with the rest of the Resistance, with Maz Kanata calling him aside. She noted that Leia had left him something, revealing the medal that Han Solo was given on Yavin 4 in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Not only does this serve as a symbol for his fallen friends, but in that sequence at the end of A New Hope, only Luke and and Han are given medals, while Chewie has to stand alongside them in front of the Rebellion with no medal. Fans have been disappointed with this sequence since we first saw it, as Chewbacca was just as important in destroying the Death Star as Luke and Han.
As far as why Chewbacca didn't earn the medal, actor Peter Mayhew claimed it was merely a practical reason.
“I think it was one of two reasons,” Mayhew shared in a since-deleted interview [H/T CinemaBlend]. “One, they didn’t have enough money to buy me a medal. Or two, Carrie [Fisher] couldn’t reach my neck, and it was probably too expensive to build a little step so that I could step down or she could step up and give me the medal.”
According to 2015's Star Wars: Chewbacca comic, the Wookiee actually did get a medal, though he never wore it because it would "clash" with his "whole warrior vibe." It's unclear if Abrams was aware of this fact or if he knew not everyone had read the comic, but he knew that fans had been wanting to see Chewbacca's reaction to getting a medal for all these years.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in theaters now.
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