By Tiffany Unscripted
Born in the Barnes district of London, Peter Mayhew spent his early adulthood working at a hospital, where he changed bedpans and cared for patients. The 7-foot-3-inch man had no intention of going into the entertainment industry. Mayhew got into the limelight once a local newspaper published an article about him and his extraordinarily big feet and tall height (a product of Marfan syndrome). The producer of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) tracked him down and cast him in his movie in the role of the minotaur. He was exactly the guy the filmmaker was looking for.
That same year, Mayhew was offered the role of Chewbacca in the Star Wars series after standing up to greet George Lucas at a casting call. When the movie hit theaters in 1977, the world had never seen anything that impressive. Chewbacca was the 200-year-old faithful Wookiee friend of Han Solo as well as the co-pilot of the ship, the Millennium Falcon. Once Mayhew was cast, he started reading more about monkeys, gorillas, bears, and visited the zoo to observe and study the movements of large animals. He acknowledged that his role was more like a teddy bear. It was a mime character to which voices were added later on, which was not an easy job. The distinct growl was created by sound designer Ben Burtt. Chewbacca became quite popular in the first Star Wars trilogy. His role as Chewbacca is still remembered and praised.
Everyone who has watched the Star Wars series loves Chewie. The character got the attention without uttering a single understandable word. The secret ingredient of Chewbacca’s personality was certainly the calmness of his nature. He was humble and brave at the same time. The viewers loved him because they could feel that warmth of his attitude. Peter’s character was not a major driving force in propagation of the plot, but he is still an unforgettable individual.
The major reason that Chewbacca was eye-catching was that one would normally not presume a Wookiee to be intelligent and humble, upon first glance. Normally people might be frightened of such a character and would expect violence just by appearances, but with Chewbacca, people started dealing with him as just another normal person. The character is basically “a teddy bear,” Mayhew said. The character connects himself with the audience through an augmented emotional appeal. Chewbacca developed his own fan base and he was a boon to product marketing. Every kid needed a friend like Chewbacca. Kids purchased Chewbacca toys. Moreover, he was found on school bags, T-shirts, and caps. There was a nationwide appreciation of the character for a substantial span of time.
When Mayhew was cast as Chewbacca, he was struggling to make ends meet in his regular life. His job at the hospital didn’t pay much. Surprisingly, he didn’t leave his job as an orderly for the role of Chewbacca, but got a twelve-week leave. Once the film was wrapped, he came back to his normal job. Mayhew didn’t get his own place to live until Return of the Jedi was released.
Even then, Mayhew made furniture in his spare time. People loved to get their furniture personally made by Chewbacca. It would be fair to state that the character of Chewbacca got him a substantial level of fame, but it didn’t contribute much to his financial stability. Once Chewbacca’s popularity waned, Mayhew struggled with odd jobs to pay his bills. He was in a wheelchair for the last two years of his life. Mayhew retired from his role of Chewbacca because of severe health issues in his last few years.
Once Mayhew’s family shared the sad new of his death on social media, the entire cult following of the Star Wars series honored him with appreciation for his role and how Chewbacca made their childhoods great. In The Last Jedi (2017), he was credited as a Chewbacca Consultant. Former basketball player Joonas Suotamo played the new Chewbacca, but fans felt that the role of Chewbacca was irreplaceable. Fans never wanted anyone else to play Chewbacca but Mayhew himself. Currently, he is being honored by the kind words of many filmmakers and individuals from show business.
His contribution to the movies earned him a lifetime achievement award at the 1997 MTV awards. He also wrote two books, entitled Growing Up Giant and My Favourite Giant. He left three children with a timeless legacy of his work that will stay alive among Star Wars fans.
Tiffany Unscripted is the Managing Editor of Your Film Review at Occhi Magazine. She manages a small team of writers that cover all genres of movies, including writing featured articles on trending topics. In addition to writing, they cover live events, such as film premieres and screenings all across the country.
She especially enjoys the opportunity to meet emerging talent who enjoy sharing their passion, journey, challenges, and success with our readers. You can learn more about Your Film Review at OcchiMagazine.com.