CHEWBACCA ACTOR PETER MAYHEW HAS PASSED AWAY
To my fellow Star Wars fans, it is with sadness that I am writing this. The original Chewbacca actor, Peter Mayhew, has passed away on April 30th, 2019. Today, on Stars Day all around the world, I am paying my respects to this much loved actor who played one of the most iconic Star Wars characters and lighting a candle for him, Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker, who played Princess Leia and R2D2 respectively.
Peter Mayhew was 74 when he died, and at his peak, he stood 7 feet and 3 inches tall as a result of a genetic disorder called Marfan Syndrome, which affects connective tissue and may lead to complications such as scoliosis. Apparently his unusual height meant that he experienced many related health problems. He allegedly suffered a heart attack at home which lead to his death. He had a wife, Angie (Mary Angelique) and 3 children, and was also the author of two books for children about anti bullying and being different. Peter often appeared in public as Chewbacca for events, commercials and even sometimes as the ‘man who played Chewbacca’.
Mayhew was cast as Chewbacca while working as an orderly in the radiology department at a hospital in London. Being a part time actor at the time, he ended up at a casting meeting with George Lucas. When Lucas came into the room and Peter stood up to greet him, apparently Lucas claimed “We have found ‘him’, referring to their search for someone to portray the character of Chewbacca. This was the beginning of Mayhew’s rise to infamy as the comedic, tough, loyal sidekick to Han Solo in the Star Wars sagas.
A Game Of Holochess Between a Furry Alien and a Droid Turns Terrifying for C3PO
Larger than life character Chewbacca has graced our screens through generations and Peter Mayhew was the reason he has become such a beloved character. In the beginning, Mayhew appeared in all three of the original Star Wars movies, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of The Jedi from 1977 through to 1983. He also appeared in the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978 where Chewie went to his home planet Kashyyk to spend the holidays with his Wookiee family. He also did an appearance on The Muppets in 1980.
He later reprised his role as Chewie in the third movie of the prequels, The Revenge Of The Sith, in 2005, which was just a small part but Chewbacca was one of the Wookiees responsible for getting Yoda safely away from Kashyyk when Order 66 was given. Most recently he co-shared his role as the ageless Wookiee in the Force Awakens, with Joonas Suotamo, who continued full time as Chewbacca in The Last Jedi and subsequent movies, such as Solo. Peter was a consultant for the role of Chewbacca in the Last Jedi, I’m not sure if this was the case for Solo.
A Fond Farewell Between Friends
Peter Mayhew brought to life the character of Chewbacca in the most realistic way. For a man in a suit, who had to literally mime his role without the extra support of being able to use his voice and even facial expression, he did the role justice. His voice was not required as the movie would be dubbed with the famous Wookiee roars, and his face was behind the mask with very little ability to express thoughts and emotions, therefore limiting his ability to perform the role with everything in the toolbox that other actors would be able to use when playing the part of a person.
Still, it was an amazing performance and a testament to his acting ability, that he was able to get across the many emotions and body language required to portray a huge hairy alien being with human-like qualities. It would not be surprising if most people forget there is an actor playing the role, because the character so smoothly blends into the film as if he were a real creature. I know I never think of Chewie as a man in a suit whenever I’m watching any of the Star Wars movies.
The Chewbacca I Love
I really love the character Chewbacca, and this is all due to Peter, so by extension, even though I didn’t know him, you could say I loved Peter too. I can only hope that Joonas Suotamo will be able to do Mayhew’s legacy justice now that he has fully taken the helm of Chewbacca’s character. My way of paying tribute to Peter Mayhew is to show you how I saw our hero Chewbacca, because he was Chewie, if not for him, there would be no Chewbacca quite like him.
Suotamo has learned from a master and so far, from what I’ve seen, has been mentored well by Mayhew, having seamlessly transitioned into the role so that it is difficult to tell which Chewbacca is him and which is Mayhew. Here are a few of my favourite Chewbacca moments, to immortalise a great man behind a mask from within a gigantic hairy yak fur suit and his ability to bring joy the Star Wars experience.
Let the Wookiee Win! (A New Hope)
When playing Dejarik Holochess, R2D2 appears to be winning. Chewie lets out a few roars and warbles after a particular move. Threepio tells Chewbacca that Artoo made a fair move, complaining about it won’t help. Han implies to C3PO that Wookiees are inclined to pull people’s arms out of their sockets when they lose and suddenly C3PO turns to Artoo saying he suggests a new strategy, “Let the Wookiee win”. Chewbacca puts his arms up behind his head in a gesture of victory. I just love it!
The Dianoga Trash Monster (A New Hope)
Another of my favourite Chewie memories is just after our heroes escape from the Trash Compactor in A New Hope. Luke Skywalker had just been release from strangulation by the Dianoga, the monster in the trash. Artoo Detoo had just managed to open one of the seals to let the foursome, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and Luke out to continue making their escape.
When drying themselves off, the Dianoga roared from inside the compactor while the door was still open. Chewbacca ran away and stood in fear as Han Solo told him to “come over here you big coward”. Chewbacca stood as far away as he could get, in a half crouch and shook his head many times in fright. It was such a funny scene, this giant hairy walking carpet, who not long before had Threepio scared about getting his arms pulled off during the game of holochess, was suddenly terrified.
Mournful Chewbacca (The Empire Strikes Back)
In the Empire Strikes back you couldn’t help but feel Chewie’s pain. On the planet Hoth, after Han Solo went out in the freezing cold looking for the missing Luke Skywalker and they had to close the blast doors for the night, Chewbacca’s mournful howl could be heard as the doors shut. Mayhew did very well to produce the body language to display Chewbacca’s obvious distress just using visual cues.
Chewie The Rescuer! (The Empire Strikes Back)
In Cloud City, on the planet Bespin, Chewbacca was worried about C3PO whom had gone missing. He found him in a scrap heap and had to wrestle him away from the Ugnaughts, who were hell bent on melting him down. It seems Chewbacca really did care about See Threepio, even if he did close him back down for talking too much and complaining about his repair job when he was fixing him. Once again, it was obvious from Mayhew’s performance just exactly what Chewie was thinking.
You Have To Look After The Princess! (The Empire Strikes Back)
As much as it was hurting Chewbacca not to be able to help Han Solo as he was condemned to be frozen in Carbonite for transportation back to Jabba The Hutt, he still honored Han’s wishes to look after Princess Leia for him. We saw and heard his agonized roars as he threw Stormtroopers off the landing in anger and in an attempt to protect Han, but was stopped by Han’s pleas for him to calm down. It was better to be alive to fight another day. Poor Chewie, it must have been so hard for him. Oh that’s right, it is a man in a costume, I still don’t distinguish between them.
Unlikely Heroes! (The Return Of The Jedi)
Then there was that time on the moon of Endor, when the rebels teamed up with the Ewoks to defeat the stormtroopers guarding the shields so they could open up the pathway to the new Death Star in the planned attack. Chewbacca was able to bring an element of hilarity when swinging like Tarzan on a rope, carrying two ewoks, to land on an AT-ST. He then proceeded to pull one trooper out of the cockpit while the two ewoks attacked the one inside. Chewbacca hanging upside down while poking his head inside to take over the driving was a classic funny moment in the movie.
Here Is A Selection of Tweets from Family and Friends Paying Tribute
The Family of Peter Mayhew
Peter Mayhew’s family posted a loving message on his Twitter wall, letting fans know just how much they meant to him and how much energy he drew from them. They also spoke of his charity, the Peter Mayhew Foundation, so his kindness, generosity and care can live on beyond his life and into the future while his wife looks after things moving forward.
The family of Peter Mayhew, with deep love and sadness, regrets to share the news that Peter has passed away. He left us the evening of April 30, 2019 with his family by his side in his North Texas home. pic.twitter.com/YZ5VLyuK0u
— Peter Mayhew (@TheWookieeRoars) May 2, 2019
Harrison Ford (Han Solo, Chewbacca’s Partner in Adventure)
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character” Ford said to The Hollywood Reporter. “We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years and I loved him”. “He invested his soul into the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience”
"I loved him." Harrison Ford bids farewell to 'Star Wars' co-star Peter Mayhew https://t.co/aRdZ6cEu8I
— TIME (@TIME) May 3, 2019
Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker and Friend To Chewbacca)
Star Wars co-star Mark Hamill thought of Peter as the “gentlest of giants. A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile”, “A loyal friend who I loved dearly”, “I’m a better man for just having known him”. You could see in the interaction between them on screen that they were comfortable with each other.
He was the gentlest of giants-A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly-I'm grateful for the memories we shared & I'm a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete #RIPPeterMayhew #Heartbroken @TheWookieeRoars pic.twitter.com/8xbq9HEWF2
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) May 2, 2019
Star Wars Spokesperson -Kathleen Kennedy
“We are deeply saddened today by the news of Peters passing”. “Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the Star Wars saga itself”
"We are deeply saddened today by the news of Peter Mayhew’s passing. Since 1976, Peter’s iconic portrayal of the loyal, lovable Chewbacca has been absolutely integral to the character’s success, and to the Star Wars saga itself."-Kathleen Kennedy.
— Star Wars (@starwars) May 3, 2019
Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian)
“My heart hurts”
— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) May 3, 2019
“You Have To Take Care Of The Princess Now”
Thank you, Peter Mayhew.
Goodbye, Chewie ? pic.twitter.com/WfzTpUGvNH
— pictoline (@pictoline) May 3, 2019
Joonas Suotamo (Peter Mayhew’s Replacement For Chewbacca)
Joonas Suotamo, the new person to don the yak suit and play Chewbacca was mentored by Peter Mayhew in preparation for him to take over the role permanently. Soutamo talks of being “devastated to hear about the passing of a dear friend and mentor”. Joonas tells of Peter Mayhew’s warm welcome and how his “tutelage and kindness” made Suotamo’s transition into the role of Chewbacca much easier. “He was an absolutely one-of-a-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivaled class and I will miss him”. Well Joonas, so far it looks like you have learned the role very well so thank you for paying such close attention to the character and how Peter would portray him.
R.I.P ? pic.twitter.com/FWRgaOS0Tf
— Joonas Suotamo (@JoonasSuotamo) May 2, 2019
Farewell To The Best Co-Pilot In Star Wars History
RIP Peter Mayhew – You are our gentle giant and will always be remembered and loved by the Star Wars community. Rest easy my friend and give a huge Wookiee hug to Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker for all of us. We will miss you.
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