No one is every truly gone…
Twenty years ago, Star Wars fans were in uproar. The first book in the New Jedi Order series, Vector Prime, was released, and with it came the death of a beloved character, Chewbacca. Fans were not happy that Han Solo’s co-pilot had met his end. Through Han, we all tried to come terms with this enormous loss to the Star Wars universe. There was even a Dark Horse mini-series, with the characters sharing their favourite Chewbacca moments.
Chewbacca was always one of the most loved characters. He helped to pilot one of the greatest ships in the galaxy. He was honorable, so honorable that he stuck by Han through thick and thin because of a life debt. We laughed at him for being scared of a silly noise. Shed a tear when he mourned not being able to help Han. He gave us small, loved character moments, showing us just how emotional this ‘walking carpet’ could be. In the audio drama, it was him who convinced Han to go back and help the Rebels in A New Hope. All of us, at some point, imagined what it would be like to have Chewie at our side, sitting next to us in our cars, growling his low rumblings. The idea of losing him was inconceivable. Even in my own classroom, I have a cardboard life sized stand of Chewie to inspire my pupils (and to act as my copilot as I teach).
But why talk about a character? Because our belief in this character, this emotional, honorable creature that we could all imagine so perfectly, was only possible because of one man. What should have been so alien to us, felt so familiar because of the work of Peter Mayhew? Mayhew was able to embody the costume and bring it to life. Hamill, Ford and Fisher get a lot of credit for the work they did (and rightfully so) but too often, the actors who brought pieces of materials to life, get forgotten.
Chewie had a way about him, a look, a swagger, a tilt of the head that told us that this ‘thing’ was real. Joonas Suotamo does an incredible job of being Chewbacca now, but, for me, it is very easy to tell when Mayhew is in the suit. There is something there that just can’t be replicated. Mayhew is Chewie. The performances he gave allowed us to see deep into this character, so much so, that we cried out in anguish when Chewie was killed off.
Mayhew was also a great ambassador to us fans. He was always readily available at conventions and could spout stories that would enthrall all in earshot. It was something like a dream when I got to meet him at Celebration Europe, wide eyed, surveying the scene with a small smile on his face. He always seemed to be happy when he was with the fans. And I’m sure it was for the fans that he pushed himself to be able to star in The Force Awakens. As I’ve said, you can tell when it is him and I for one would not have been happy if he hadn’t have been there. He’s also taken the time to train Suotamo up in how to be Chewbacca, ensuring that Mayhew’s legacy of this extraordinary character can live on. And live on he can. If we ever need to see Mayhew again, all we need is to reach for the films, the books and the memories to remember this beloved man.
Mayhew may have started this world as just a man, but he leaves us this week as everyone’s hairy co-pilot. A loss like that is never easy. Wherever you are Peter, there are millions of fans who have a chair next to them, wishing you were right there with them….
Mark Alders, Literature Reviewer
They say never meet your heroes and, in this case, I hadn’t. With the sad news I woke to this morning, I do regret never meeting Peter Mayhew. It’s not that I didn’t have the chance, foolishly all I ever managed was a fleeting ‘hello’ in passing at the NEC, Birmingham, UK about 20 years ago and that is as close as I ever got to meeting the big man.
That big old Wookiee made a lasting impression on me as a child. I think we all envied Han Solo and wished we could have a friend as loyal, faithful and fearless as Chewbacca. But the man in the costume was an even bigger character and was probably loved as much out of the Chewbacca costume as in it.
We have lost a friend from our childhood, someone who has always been there for us whether that be on the big screen, on TV, in books, in comics or on the shelves of our collections. More importantly we have lost one of the nicest people on the Star Wars circuit.
Rest in peace Peter, you will be missed. May the Force be with you!
Steve Galloway, Literature Editor
Today was a sad day seeing the news that Peter Mayhew had passed away. Since my daughter first saw Star Wars Chewie was her favourite. A character that appears fearsome and yet has become loved by millions.
All of this was down to Peter Mayhew’s portrayal and the character he created. Many have said how much of a gentle giant he was in reality and I am sorry I never got the opportunity to take my daughter to meet him, although she does say “Chewie was a really nice man”. Luckily his legacy will live on in the films and everything that he has created.
Jason Ling, Animation Expert & Photographer
I had the pleasure of meeting Peter on several occasions and always made a point of talking to him. It was during Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2015 that I got the opportunity to sit and talk to him for a meaningful period of time, and one of the things we discussed was our respective notes on pain. Being in pain is very draining and Peter always tried his best to hide his, wanting to give back as much as possible to his fans.
Peter was the embodiment of a large cuddly toy, a true gentle giant, always knowing the right thing to do and say. His performance as the mighty Chewbacca was inspirational, bringing life to the suit in a unique and imaginative way. Peter was hugely popular on the convention circuit, attending shows all over the world, and he will be sorely missed by all. A few years ago Peter and his wife Angie set up the Peter Mayhew Foundation as a way to help others in need, to do good through the power of the force. What better way of remembering our favourite Wookiee than to give to the foundation to ensure his legacy goes on forever more. Peter may not be with us any more, but as someone once said ‘no one’s ever really gone’.
James Burns, Editor-in-Chief
We had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Mayhew at the Autograph Hall during Star Wars Celebration IV in 2007. When we arrived at his booth, he was extremely cordial and went above & beyond simply lending his signature to the assortment of 8×10 photos we had ready for him to sign. Even with a line of fans behind us waiting for their turn to meet him, Peter spent a few minutes chatting with us, snapping a photo of the three of us together, and asking us how the convention has been so far. Peter could have just as easily signed our photos and ushered us along, as is sometimes the case with celebrities at large conventions. But not Peter. He seemed genuinely pleased that we took the time to wait on line to meet him and created a lasting memory for the both of us that lives well beyond a signed photo.
The Star Wars community lost one of the “good guys” all too soon. Peter’s departure from this earth leave us with a hole in our hearts that cannot be easily filled. A big portion (both literally and figuratively) of our childhoods has moved on. The man behind the best co-pilot in the galaxy will forever be missed.
Thank you Mr. Mayhew for your ever-lasting impression on our lives.
Dianna Bates & Justin LaSalata, Editors & Reporters