Star Wars creator George Lucas pays tribute to “gentle giant” Peter Mayhew

The director recalled meeting the towering Chewbacca actor and hiring him on the spot

Peter Mayhew and George Lucas, Getty

After Star Wars fans across the galaxy mourned the loss of Peter Mayhew, who died aged 72, George Lucas himself has paid tribute to the Chewbacca actor.

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Praising the star who brought the Wookiee to life in the original trilogy, Lucas revealed the story behind Mayhew’s swift casting.

“I needed somebody very, very tall to be the Wookiee,” Lucas wrote in The Hollywood Reporter.

“But we were having a hard time finding anybody in England, where I did most of my films. I said, ‘This is crazy. Where are all the basketball players?’ 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, it turns out that Mayhew, who measured 7ft 2in (2.18m) in height, was still too short for Lucas. “He wasn’t quite tall enough — he was seven-foot-three and I wanted seven-foot-five — but we put high-heeled shoes on him,” Lucas recalled.

The director also paid credit to the “wonderful, wonderful man” Mayhew was. “He kept his job in the hospital through the first three movies,” Lucas wrote. “But he fell in love with the character. And then as Star Wars grew in fame, and he started doing more festivals and public appearances, he realised he could actually make a living just off the personal appearances.

“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. Originally, I envisioned Chewie as some big ferocious beast, but Peter’s Chewie wasn’t really ferocious.

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“No matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t ferocious. He would be your best friend until he got angry, then stand back. He was a gentle giant.”