What You Need to Know: Peter Mayhew

Peter Mayhew ready to give Dragon Con a Chewbacca hug

Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original 1977 movie and later sequels, spoke to the AJC in 2015 when he appeared at Dragon Con, the annual the sci-fi, fantasy, pop culture and gaming convention in Atlanta. Mayhew died April 30 according to a statement from his family. He was 74

Here is the original story from 2015:

“Let the Wookiee win.”

So goes a line from 1977’s original “Star Wars” flick, referring to the towering fuzzball Chewbacca. Call it prophetic, but nearly 40 years after the fact, actor Peter Mayhew, Chewie’s alter ego, continues the streak.

Not only does Mayhew don the Wookiee costume once again in the year’s most anticipated film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” coming in December, expect plenty of Chewbacca love arriving at light speed. This means merchandise galore, from Chewie’s own Marvel comic to a stuffed Wookiee at Build-a-Bear Workshop. And fans may roar with delight as Mayhew lands at Dragon Con — the sci-fi, fantasy, pop culture and gaming convention whose presence in downtown Atlanta will be hard to miss Sept. 4-7.

During a recent phone conversation, Mayhew made his own noise about the mammoth convention, one of his favorite stops of its kind.

“It’s gotten so big now,” said Mayhew, who stands more than 7 feet tall himself. “All of the costumes are wonderful. You see things that you don’t know what you’re looking at, and you have to take a second look.”

When asked if he has a favorite Dragon Con moment from years past, Mayhew blasted a quip worthy of Chewie’s wisecracking pal, Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford.

“Yeah, I have one,” he said with a laugh, “but I better not say anything about it.”

Yet dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the real reason Mayhew and wife Angie have a soft spot for the event. During one of his earlier Dragon Con visits more than a decade ago, Mayhew rubbed armor with members of the 501st Legion, a group of “Star Wars” fans specializing in screen-accurate costumes.

Peter Mayhew, who’s been portraying the “Star Wars” character Chewbacca since 1977, returns to Dragon Con this year. CONTRIBUTED BY W. RYAN ZIEGLER

Upon learning of the 501st’s charitable contributions to organizations such as Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Starlight Children’s Foundation, the Mayhews eventually created their own nonprofit.

Today the Peter Mayhew Foundation assists other charity groups, from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program to the Wounded Warrior Project, in bolstering their efforts. For example, if Make-a-Wish sends a terminally ill child and his or her family to a Disney theme park, Mayhew’s foundation may step in and provide additional funds for noncovered expenses like food and souvenirs to make the experience even more magical.

So while attending Dragon Con, Mayhew typically hangs with the inspirational members of the 501st, having dinner and catching up on galactic activity. However, he spends a majority of the rest of his convention time on the Dragon Con floor signing Chewbacca photographs and more “Star Wars” memorabilia than you can shake an Ewok at.

These fans aren’t the only ones amassing “Star Wars” merchandise. Mayhew admits he falls in line with the rest of them. He even has his own personal Chewbacca shrine on private property, a museum of sorts where he not only displays “Star Wars” wares, but fan-made artwork.

“There are some surprisingly wonderful Wookiees that have been made by the fans,” he said. “They say, ‘Thank you for what you’ve given me. Here’s what I want to give you.’ So we put it in the collection as a way to appreciate their fandom.”

At Dragon Con, Mayhew will likely be on the receiving end of more than Wookiee goodies. He’ll surely have to dodge some of the fan questions about the upcoming film.

Although the filmmakers continue shrouding the details of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in secrecy, we do know Mayhew will be reuniting on screen with the core stars of the original trilogy: Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

Back in May, Mayhew witnessed a crowd of 5,000 at “Star Wars” Celebration, an official fan convention in Anaheim, Calif., fill a room with tears and deafening cheers as they watched the premiere of the latest “Force Awakens” trailer. Chewbacca and Han Solo’s appearance at the end wound up being the money shot.

“Chewie, we’re home,” Ford says in the trailer. And last summer, Mayhew did in fact go home again as he filmed scenes aboard a tangible Millennium Falcon, Han and Chewie’s fabled starship.

Chewbacca has always had a presence at Dragon Con, such as when this costumed version paraded down Peachtree Street for the 10th anniversary Dragon Con parade in 2011. The convention has announced that the real Chewbacca -- actor Peter Mayhew -- will appear over Labor Day weekend. CONTRIBUTED BY MIKKI K. HARRIS
Photo: hpousner/Atlanta Life and Culture Blog

“It felt wonderful,” Mayhew said of the experience. “I walked onto the stage, and there was Harrison in the Han Solo costume. And the whole ship was reconstructed. It was amazing. Everything was perfect. The cockpit we were using was beautiful, and even the seats were absolutely fabulous. Everything was there and all of the instruments worked. Phenomenal is the only word I can think of to describe it.”

The glow on set certainly owed a share to Mayhew, who wore full Wookiee garb. Even seasoned crew members couldn’t suppress their inner fan.

“I gave a lot of Wookiee hugs on the set,” Mayhew said. “I couldn’t move without giving hugs.”

Yep, the Wookiee’s still winning.


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