Star Wars fans everywhere last week mourned the passing of Peter Mayhew, the actor responsible for bringing the mighty wookiee Chewbacca to life in the original Star Wars trilogy, in addition to appearing in the third Prequel film Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the first film in the Sequel trilogy Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
He passed the baton to Joonas Suotamo for the role in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and the upcoming Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.
His family revealing that it was a heart attack that resulted in his passing. Peter Mayhew was scheduled to be at The FAN Expo in Dallas the weekend just gone. With his booth being turned into a memorial for the actor.
Many of his co-stars and close collaborators shared fond memories of the performer, including Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams and Harrison Ford. Harrison who portrayed the character of Han Solo who was best friends with Chewbacca had his to say about Peter Mayhew:
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character. These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca. We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience.”
“Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together. He knew how important the fans of the franchise were to it’s continued success and he was devoted to them. I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all. My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children. Rest easy, my dear friend…”
– Harrison Ford
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars recently shared an extended statement to express his admiration for the performer.
“I needed somebody very, very tall to be the Wookiee, but we were having a hard time finding anybody in England, where I did most of my films. I said, ‘This is crazy. Where are all the basketball players?’ But then, after months of trying, the casting director said, ‘I found one!’ He was a hospital attendant in this small English town. So I met with him. And as soon as Peter stood up, I said, ‘You’ve got the job.'”
“We call it mime casting because it’s really about people controlling their bodies. You’re not really looking for the voice — you put that in later; it’s a little like dubbing a French movie. You’re looking for the stature and the way they move. Darth Vader had to strut. 3PO had to be malleable, because the suit constricted his movements. And Chewie needed to lumber, which Peter did perfectly. He wasn’t quite tall enough — he was seven-foot-three and I wanted seven-foot-five — but we put high-heeled shoes on him. He even learned to do the Wookiee roar but we took it out and used real animal sounds to give it authenticity.”
“Peter was a wonderful, wonderful man,” the filmmaker explained. “He kept his job in the hospital through the first three movies. But he fell in love with the character. And then as Star Wars grew in fame, and he started doing more festivals and public appearances, he realized he could actually make a living just off the personal appearances. He was very gentle, very sweet, very easy to get along with. He was more like a Wookiee than I originally imagined a Wookiee to be. Originally, I envisioned Chewie as some big ferocious beast, but Peter’s Chewie wasn’t really ferocious. No matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t ferocious. He would be your best friend until he got angry, then stand back. He was a gentle giant. He was like my dogs. They’re great, they’re fluffy, they’re wonderful — until you get near their food.”
– George Lucas to the Hollywood Reporter
Written by: Connor Heggie