The death of Peter Mayhew last week at the age of 74 continues to reverberate throughout the Star Wars community. Those who knew Mayhew best are sharing their memories of the gentle giant who touched so many. Among them is the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas. In a recent interview, Lucas revealed how Mayhew's portrayal of Chewbacca changed the way he conceived of the Wookie.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Lucas shared his earliest memories and how Mayhew's kindness helped to transform the now iconic Chewie. Lucas recalled the difficulty in finding a suitable actor for the role, "But then, after months of trying, the casting director said, 'I found one!' He was a hospital attendant in this small English town. So I met with him. And as soon as Peter stood up, I said, 'You've got the job.'"
However, what Lucas did not anticipate was how Mayhew's generosity of spirit would influence the creator's conception of Chewbacca and the Wookie itself.
"He was very gentle, very sweet, very easy to get along with. He was more like a Wookie than I originally imagined a Wookie to be," said Lucas. "Originally, I envisioned Chewie as some big ferocious beast, but Peter's Chewie wasn't really ferocious. No matter how hard he tried, he wasn't ferocious."
Touching on Mayhew's fierce loyalty, Lucas added, "He would be your best friend until he got angry, then stand back. He was a gentle giant. He was like my dogs. They're great, they're fluffy, they're wonderful — until you get near their food."
What perhaps comes through most in the countless tributes shared on social media is the soul of the man who portrayed our favorite co-pilot. Even after all the success of Star Wars, he remained true to who he was. "Peter was a wonderful, wonderful man. He kept his job in the hospital through the first three movies," said Lucas. "But he fell in love with the character."
So did we.
Not much in this world is certain but we are confident Mayhew's legacy of kindness and generosity will live on. In lieu of gifts, the family has asked that people donate to his nonprofit foundation. The Peter Mayhew Foundation is dedicated to bringing the 'Wookie way of life' to those in need. The foundation's goal is to help alleviate pain, suffering, and disease, a noble goal if there ever was one.