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SYFY WIRE Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford gives a moving tribute to Star Wars co-star Peter Mayhew on The Tonight Show

By Matthew Jackson
Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford

Last month, the world lost Peter Mayhew, the actor best known for playing Chewbacca in the Star Wars saga and for remaining one of the brightest lights in Star Wars fandom all the way up until his death at the age of 74. This week, we were reminded of Mayhew's heart, dedication, and devotion to Star Wars by his friend of more than 40 years, Harrison Ford.

Ford visited The Tonight Show Thursday night to promote his voice role in The Secret Life of Pets 2, but host Jimmy Fallon also didn't want to let the evening pass without talking about Star Wars just a little bit. First, Fallon played a clip of Ford's co-star Mark Hamill impersonating him on Late Night With Seth Meyers a few weeks ago, to which Ford responded, "He can have the job." Then Fallon brought up Mayhew.

Ford released a statement the day Mayhew's passing was made public, but when given the opportunity to speak in front of an audience about his friend, he was visibly a bit shaken, even looking away from Fallon to compose himself before speaking.

"He was a really sweet man, nice man, and he had a hard time physically," Ford said. "It was really hard for him to do what he did for us, what he did for all of us, and he did it with real dignity and class. He was a really neat guy. I miss him."

Mayhew's gigantic height of 7 feet, 3 inches was the product of Marfan syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder. Ford's mention of Mayhew's "hard time" was a reference to the mobility issues he dealt with throughout his life, and particularly in his later years. In 2013 he underwent double knee replacement surgery, and in 2018 he underwent spinal surgery, all in an effort to improve his mobility.

These difficulties led Mayhew to split the Chewbacca role with Finnish basketball player-turned-actor Joonas Suotamo for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Suotamo ultimately became an apprentice to Mayhew, who mentored him in the mannerisms and behavior he brought to the Chewbacca role, so that Suotamo could take over as Chewie full time.

Ford is not known for public displays of emotion, so watching his eyes well with tears and hearing his voice break when discussing Mayhew is striking. It's a testament to the kindness and warmth Mayhew's friends often spoke of in the wake of his passing, and to the impact he made on so many lives.