|Peter Mayhew during filming of Star Wars|
Peter Mayhew, actor who brought Chewbacca to life, has passed.
I was just over two years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and - like everyone - I loved Chewbacca. How could you not? A giant with a heart of gold, a loyal best pal, a co-pilot and a strong right hand - Chewie was the ideal buddy in a galaxy where you needed someone you could trust at your side, watching your back.
The scene I probably remember best from Star Wars as a kid was realizing how *tall* Chewbacca was when he was in shackles beside Han and Luke in the Death Star, and realizing the man inside that yak-hair suit was pretty much that tall, too. I recall being about seven and measuring out how tall he would be with a ruler against my friend's bedroom wall while we stood on chairs (I have no idea how or where we got the figure for Chewbacca's height).
The other scene I recalled was Chewbacca and pretty much everything about the trash compactor. Even as a wee kid, I found that bit terrific. Ford and Mayhew had their schtick down pat.
In 2000 I saw Peter Mayhew for the first time in person - he was signing autographs in a longline at a Disney theme park where Jamie and I were honeymooning. I didn't stand in line then, and I regretted it later. Flash forward to about four years ago, and the same happened at a comic convention in San Antonio - and as I walked out, regretted I hadn't jumped in line.
That I didn't wait is odd, in retrospect - when The Force Awakens was announced, I was possibly more excited to see Chewbacca and R2 back on the screen than General Leia or Han Solo - they would be the aged versions of themselves, but Chewie could be ageless, walking through these movies, one after another, no silver showing up in that fur.
But, of course, the man who brought Chewbacca to life was now not a kid himself, and I was aware his large frame had aged hard - I'd seen him in a wheelchair, and gravity is a bear for us over-six-foot-humans. I was not surprised when I heard he had a stand-in for all the walking scenes and was mostly the one playing the seated bits. But I still figured Peter Mayhew would be online, a pleasantly upbeat and chirpy presence - that he'd put on a tux jacket for a premier somewhere in LA. and maybe I'd see him at some other con and get his signature this time.
I'm genuinely sorry he's gone, but I am grateful that he spent the last few decades as a genuine celebrity, knowing his face and name meant (almost) as much to Star Wars fans as the fellow he brought to life, and that he got to be a part of it all over again in both the Prequels and the latest trilogy.
My understanding is that Peter Mayhew was an orderly in a hospital before being cast as Chewbacca in Star Wars. It's funny how a single casting call and some luck can change everything.