Wookiees are one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars saga. It is hard to imagine a game as expansive as The Old Republic without including them. By the same token, it is impossible to visualize characters as iconic as Smugglers without including a towering, hairy companion to back them up when the inevitable firefight arises. BioWare is sure to pull from classic characters that already exist in the galaxy and use the known history to shape these archetypes into the perfect companion.
Most citizens of the Republic have reservations when it comes to socializing with Wookiees. This isn't a surprise considering their resemblance to many ferocious animals. Their massive size, retractable claws and sharp teeth combine to form an intimidating visage. Adding to their untamed look is a language, known as Shyriiwook, that most resembles the roar a great beast. It is possible to learn how to understand this language, but very few non-Wookiees are able to speak it.
Understanding Wookiee culture is the key to their acceptance into the Galactic community. Examining two of the most well known aspects of Wookiee culture gives us insight on this great civilization. The first happens early in a Wookiee pup's life, and the other can span the whole of a 600-year life. One centers on survival, while the other is the result of surviving.
When a Wookiee pup is around the age of 12, he endures a rite of passage known as the Hrrtayyk Ceremony. During this ceremony a Wookiee descends to Kashyyyk's dangerous surface far below the Wookiee tree villages. These Shadowlands are filled with creatures and beasts that would have devoured the Wookiees eons ago if the long-haired beings had not evolved into superior climbers and escaped their predators' jaws. While on the planet surface, Wookiees learn survival skills such as how to avoid these predators and how to use their environment to survive. Once the rite of passage is complete and the Wookiee returns to join his village, he becomes an adult in the eyes of his elders.
Long ago, a young Wookiee named Urothko ventured out into the Shadowlands after successfully completing the Hrrtayyk Ceremony. He was nearly killed by the dangers therein, but was saved by a Wookiee named Stalpaac. Urothko was so thankful that he pledged his life to protecting Stalpaac, beginning the tradition of the life debt. To this day, Wookiees follow the example of young Hrrtayyk. If another being saves the life of a Wookiee, the Wookiee is immediately bound to that individual until death and will fight ferociously to defend their savior.
Anyone lucky enough to become a close companion with a Wookiee, whether through a life debt or simple friendship, will eventually see past the fangs and temper. There is a great sense of loyalty beneath all that hair and muscle. In an otherwise impossible situation, having a Wookiee by your side will likely swing the odds in your favor.
Despite their ferocious tempers and intimidating appearances, Wookiees have been victimized for much of their species' past. Their history is teeming with stories of oppression and slavery by off-world visitors. Early records indicate that these injustices date all the way back to the Rakata and their Infinite Empire. The Rakatan conquerors used machines to terraform Kashyyyk's surface to further their agricultural needs. In addition to permanently altering the Wookiee home world, the Rakata recognized the usefulness of the giant Wookiees and transported many of them off-planet to become slaves throughout their empire.
Over 20,000 years after the fall of the Infinite Empire, a new threat came to the trees of Kashyyyk. This time it was not a conquering government, but the greed of the Czerka Corporation. When the company first stumbled upon the planet, it had a contract with the Republic to aid in the galaxy's rebuilding efforts after the Great Sith War left many planets in ruin. Part of the contract negotiation granted Czerka the right to occupy Kashyyyk. This occupational force quickly discovered the mighty Wookiees and, like the Rakata before them, realized a financial opportunity rested in their massive, muscular bodies.
Czerka weren't the only ones to see a chance to earn a profit; they quickly gained the support of the Wookiee Chieftain's son. Chuundar sold out his people and assisted Czerka in their enslavement. Zaalbar, The Chieftain's other son, discovered his brother's deceit and attacked him with unsheathed claws. This act was in direct violation of the Wookiees' honor code, and Zaalbar was exiled from Kashyyyk as a result. With his brother out of the way Chuundar began spreading viscous lies about his father's stability, which eventually allowed the son to replace the father as Chieftain. The Czerka Corporation now had the influence it needed and Wookiees became an enslaved species once again.
Through a strange twist of fate, Zaalbar's destiny would bring him back to Kashyyyk a few years later. Aided by his new friends Mission Vao and a reformed Revan, Zaalbar was able to clear his father's name and join him as he led his people in a revolution. Chuundar did not back down and was killed during the confrontation. Czerka began to withdraw from Kashyyyk shortly after the revolt, claiming that they were scaling back their efforts in the Mytaranor sector. Unfortunately, the Wookiees' plight did not end there. Their Trandoshan neighbors cut a deal with the Czerka Corporation, allowing them to continue the sell Wookiees, such as the mighty Bowdaar, into slavery on their own, which started a feud between the two species that will last for generations.