With the passing of beloved actor Peter Mayhew, Star Wars fans of all generations and around the world celebrate the actor’s life. Mayhew was best known to fans as the unforgettable Wookie warrior and smuggler, Chewbacca.
The character was extremely popular from the start with his introduction as Han Solo’s co-pilot and grew to become a cultural staple. The character, like the actor, both became an intrinsic part of that galaxy far, far away.
Below we will examine the origins and design of Chewbacca and how Peter Mayhew came to play the brave and furry character.
A Big Alaskan Malamute
Chewbacca was an integral part of the first Star Wars film, A New Hope and has had a pivotal role in all the subsequent films in the Original Trilogy. The wookie would then appear again in the third Star Wars prequel film, Revenge of the Sith.
Fans would not see Mayhew in costume again until 2015 with The Force Awakens. The character was designed early on in the writing process for Star Wars.
During the 1970s, George Lucas owned an Alaskan malamute dog named Indiana. The dog would serve as the basis for Chewbacca’s iconic design. There would be many redesigns over the early writing stages.
Some of these early designs would go on to become other characters. One of the original illustrations was one made by John Schoenherr. In this illustration, Chewbacca carried a weapon that would later become Chewbacca’s famous bowcaster weapon.
Casting Peter Mayhew
Peter Mayhew was a British actor who had done work previous to Star Wars. In the film, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), Mayhew was cast in the role of a Minotaur. His portrayal of the creature impressed many in the film industry.
The producers of Star Wars searched for a tall actor who could portray the wookie Chewbacca. They discovered Peter Mayhew in the most unlikely of ways.
Mayhew had been photographed in a newspaper for an article about men with large feet. The producers at 20th Century Fox saw the photograph and contacted Peter Mayhew and asked him to audition for a new film called Star Wars.
The audition would go on to become legendary among Star Wars fans. Mayhew decided on auditioning for Chewbacca after seeing several design illustrations. One of these illustrations contained a note that read, “eight foot plus, blue eyes”. Having blue eyes, Mayhew chose to audition for the character.
When George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz entered the room, Mayhew stood up out of instinct and politeness. He attributed this to being raised in England. Upon standing, Lucas, who was shocked at Mayhew’s height, turned to Kurtz and reportedly said, “I think we found him”.
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