Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sad 'Star Wars' Day

It's May the Fourth, so that means it's Star Wars Day. This year, there's a melancholy vibe to the proceedings because of the recent death of actor Peter Mayhew, a 7'3" hospital orderly who answered the casting call to play the iconic Chewbacca. The 'Star Wars' movies are so ubiquitous now, but I imagine that the pitch for the role must have been pretty outré back in the mid-70s:


Yeah, about this character... he's kinda like an ape, he's kinda like a dog... he's two hundred years old and he's got the genius level IQ necessary for navigating a starship and repairing cybernetic systems...


Peter Mayhew's particular genius lay in his ability to convey emotion without words, and with his face covered by a hairy mask. With merely a tilt of his head, his posture, or a sudden start, he could get across the disposition of this alien character. The audience could sense this hairy 'monster's' decency, his loyalty, the fact that he acted as the 'conscience' of his amoral partner. This particular scene from the first movie is a nice, understated example- Peter Mayhew's interaction with Harrison Ford, accompanied by merely a dubbed growl, tells you everything you need to know about the moral compasses of the two characters:





One comment that I read noted how Peter Mayhew's warmth and gravitas transformed what could have been a schlocky B-movie character into a beloved icon. While the character was tasked with providing some of the comic relief of the movie, Peter Mayhew was able to convey genuine moments of pathos, such as this scene in which Chewbacca voices his anguish as his heterosexual life partner rides off into danger to save their imperiled friend:





By all accounts, Peter Mayhew was just as kind and loyal as the iconic character he portrayed. The tributes from his co-stars all portray a lovely man, as did his director. The stories of fans and convention workers all say the same- he was the star who would give a kind ear to a fan, the guest of honor who would have dinner with 'the help' after the event. The pictures of him horsing around with the other cast members are heartwarming, and he was genuinely devastated by Carrie Fisher's death:





Again, we lost one of the Good Guys, who was one of the good guys. I can think of no better tribute to Peter Mayhew's acting ability than this bit by Rian Johnson:



But beyond his acting ability, there was the real man, and the tributes to him that have been coming in from all over the galaxy also testify to his True Legend status. Luminous beings are we, and Peter Mayhew shone brightly.

5 comments:

donnah said...

I can't explain why, but I'm always happy to know that the actors who create my favorite characters are good people. And I don't mean that they were perfect, because nobody is. I mean, did people respect them, were they kind, did they help others, and were they just good people? It makes me feel better if they are.

I was a year out of high school when Star Wars came out. My husband and I were dating, and we went to the theater six times to see it. This, of course, was before movies were downloadable or even before we had VCRs. God, I'm old! But the characters made the movie, and Mayhew was a key character through it all. And truly, a wonderful actor who conveyed his emotions through a mask of fur.

RIP, good sir!

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Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I agree, Donnah, it's nice to know that a celebrity you like is a good person.

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