A long time ago in a town so-so far from where I am now (New Orleans)….
Chewbacca himself, Peter Mayhew came to New Orleans with a Mission: act as Grand Marshall for the Chewbacchus Parade during the Mardi Gras 2013 Season. He came into a Comic Shop one evening to sign Autographs and take Photos. The local News got to him first. They asked some typical questions about his height and things you know he just really didn’t care to go into. I even ended up in a small group chat with some others and Mr. Mayhew’s Wife where she addressed this. It was finally over and the time came for all of us to meet him. I got in line, met him, he signed my 1977 Star Wars Vinyl and we took a picture. I told him, “Everyone can have their Jedi Knights and their Lightsabers, but for me you and Harrison Ford made Star Wars.” He said thank you and we went about our separate business.
Then a strange thing happened. The line cleared and everyone either left or wandered through the shop and made purchases. And would you believe that Peter Mayhew was just sitting there with his Assistant. I guess everyone got what they needed out of him and moved on. To hell with that. I went back up and now purchased a Photo of Chewbacca and Han Solo from the famous Cantina scene. I figured maybe we could talk. I began with, “You ever get tired of…”
“Hearing the same questions?” the assistant cut it.
“Well yeah, that and being asked about a Movie that will come out a couple of years from now that you’re not writing and have no creative control over?”
Mr. Mayhew laughed and said yes, but it comes with the territory. Then an even stranger thing happened. We started talking about how cool of a Movie it was going to be. We even went as far as to talk about how cool it would be if they got J.J. Abrams to Direct it. Before I knew it, a half hour had gone by. We said our goodbyes and I let this awesome guy be. Another person pointed out to me, “Hey man, you just talked for a half hour with Chewbacca.” Yeah, I guess I did. It was such a tremendous feeling.
Later that night, I watched the Interview and wouldn’t you know it, there I was standing not very far from behind Mr. Mayhew. The next night, I went out into the French Quarter for the Chewbacchus Parade and had a great time seeing The Mayhew’s throw beads into an excited crowd. What a blast.
Now here we are in 2019, waiting for the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, and I’m back to being Star Wars hungry. I haven’t been able to find that News footage anywhere, so I sent an E-Mail two weeks ago to see about getting a copy. Of course, they no longer have it. I was pretty bummed.
And now this. Peter William Mayhew, born May 19th, 1944 in Barnes, London, United Kingdom, has died on April 30th in Boyd, Texas. Another Star Wars Legend gone. We lost two of his Co-stars, R2-D2 Actor Kenny Baker and Princess Leia Actress Carrie Fisher, in 2016. “Brutal couple of years,” as Han Solo actor Harrison Ford once said in Character as Indiana Jones. It’s weird when you know that all at once, you and many people you’ve grown up watching and love are all feeling the same sorrow. Brutal couple of years.
The Hollywood giant, in more ways than one, stood at 7 feet and 3 inches. He first hit the big screen as the Minotaur in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger in 1976. Working as an Orderly at a London Hospital, Mayhew was discovered once again and cast a large hairy creature, and that’s all he was told. George Lucas wanted Chewbacca, who was modeled after his own dog, Indiana, to be the essential “Man’s best friend.” Lucas always loved the idea of driving around with his large dog in the passenger seat. As soon as Lucas met Mayhew, who stood to greet him, he looked up and knew he had his Wookiee. Mayhew played Chewbacca from 1977 to 2015 (Star Wars: A New Hope to The Force Awakens) and then retired and passed on the role to Joonas Suotamo.
Peter Mayhew will always be remembered as the guy big enough to fill Hollywood’s largest role. He truly loved this responsibility, often sporting Chewbacca tee shirts in almost every photo you see of him. There’s no way he’ll be forgotten and that makes this geek, who once got the privilege of sharing a conversation with this Legend, feel quite relieved. May the Force be with you, Mr. Mayhew. And eat all the Porgs you want. Just stay away from the booby traps and keep those seats on the Millennium Falcon warm. You truly roared for all of us.