Peter Mayhew A Wookiee’s Legacy Tribute

Chewie head shotPeter Mayhew died at the end of last month on April 30, 2019. His 75th birthday would’ve been on May 19, the same day The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith came out.   I never met the man but all the reports I’ve heard are that he was a very nice man and a hit at conventions.  His foundation continues to help people and what is that if not an act of love? He poured his personality into making Chewbacca a lovable, believable character. I am still baffled and confused that there wasn’t the outpouring that there was at Carrie Fisher’s funeral.  Sure there were memorials in Star Wars The Old Republic but nothing nearly as huge. Actors behind masks make just as big an impact.  It takes a lot to act in a costume where the character doesn’t speak ‘Basic’ (or English). Everything depends on that body language.

I was too young when I first ‘met’ Chewbacca to analyze his singular situation. Big furry and animalistic, he also helps fly a sophisticated spaceship. He gives every impression that he’ll rip the arms off the droids for beating him in Dejarik (IE holochess as some think of it as).  But he is in mortal terror of the dianoga in the trash compactor! Brave but timid. Intelligent but a beast.  And who wouldn’t want a friend as loyal as Chewbacca on their side?

Some of my fav moments in the movies are Chewie going nuts in defense of his allies.  Fiercely loyal he showed that barring the occasional dianoga, he would let nothing stop him. And watching him go into battle alongside the ewoks was brilliant. They were, as the novelization said,  like little country cousins.

Han Solo's Revenge with Chewbacca

Han Solo’s Revenge with Chewbacca

The expanded universe also has its heroic Chewbacca moments, and it’s Peter Mayhew’s wookiee I imagine on reading. Most of Chewbacca’s stories come alongside Han’s, as is to be expected. My first encounter was Han Solo’s Revenge. Han and he deal handily with the slavers, but separated from Han, Chewbacca must deal with a damaged Millenium Falcon, a not quite crash landing. He has a family of his own as well, a wife Mallotobuck who he proposed to in the tradional wookiee manner. They have one son. He valiantly defends Leia while Han is frozen while they hunt for Boba Fett. He also helps her in the Thrawn trilogy deal with noghri assassins, and in other stories he takes Leia’s kids to the holo zoo, as well as freeing his fellow wookiees from slavery. In the end, Chewbacca sacrificed himself to save Han’s youngest son.  If a wookiee like Chewbacca is gonna go out, it can only be as he lived, protecting his extended family and going out in a blaze of glory. There was a Chewbacca tribute by Dark Horse comics released for the ‘memorial’ of him in the storyline, where the characters remembered him and past events. This included meeting Han Solo, saving Jaina Solo, and saving a group of wookiee younglings from slavery.

One other thing we know is that Chewbacca with Peter Mayhew playing him literally invented wookiees. While the Holiday Special is much maligned, Chewie’s family are the first other wookiees we ever saw. A wife and a son who clearly adored him (in spite of his absentee due to a life debt status). There was a wookiee storybook ,wookiee plush toys and when the Expanded Universe was truly established we got more. We got Lowbacca, his nephew, in the Young Jedi Knights who wielded a bronze/yellow bladed lightsaber. He was close friends with the Solo kids. Zaalbaar in the Knights of the Old Republic introduced us to Chewie’s home planet and found out the ‘Bacca’ was a great warrior and leader in wookiee history. It surely was meant as an honor to Chewbacca. In Star Wars the Old Republic, a wookiee named Bowdaar runs around with the smuggler class character.  And at long last we saw Chewbacca, once more with Peter Mayhew in the suit, help Yoda escape Clone troopers in Revenge of the Sith. See all those wookiees around him? It all started with him!

wookiee army

Wookiee army

While Peter Mayhew may not have gotten the same tribute online as Carrie Fisher, his role had an impact on many generations. He even trained his successor in the Disney movies when he could no longer handle the role. While I for one don’t watch them, the fact that he did that is a sign to me of a great hearted man. If he couldn’t do it himself he could at least help make sure it was done right. He was well loved. Even the International Space station held tribute. The convention he was to attend in May set up his booth in a memorial for him. There were Star Wars tributes in the Old Republic, lacking Kashyyyk in the game, fans gathered on the spur of the moment on Nar Shaddaa and Alderaan on the Star Forge server.  The Expanded Alliance Guild had a party on Nar Shaddaa where people were coming and going for hours. Swtorista had one on Rishi that was streamed on Twitch. Both parties included players using a wookiee disguise terminal and getting group shots. The podcast Rebel Force Radio pulled out all their previous interviews with him and did a special tribute to him as well.

In addition to being in the movies he was a frequenter of the convention circuit, he also showed up as Chewbacca on the Muppet show, and the infamous Holiday Special. He showed up on MTV to finally received the medal Chewbacca had been denied in A New Hope, with Carrie Fisher doing the honors. When the new movies came out, its understandable that he was happy to be in them, but he wasn’t up to doing it all anymore. So he generously trained his successor. While a lot of us are unhappy they rebooted instead of honoring the Expanded Universe. It’s understandable he was glad his character lived (and its understandable fans wanted to see him too.)

In honor of his birthday, the Peter Mayhew foundation  has done a challenge coin with 100% of donations going to his charity. It’s selling very fast! The big lovable man who played Chewbacca will be very much missed by all who knew him, and deserves to be honored for his role even by those of us who never met him.






Lead Up to the 20th Phantom Menace Anniversary

STAR WARs the phantom menace jr novel, visual guide, Amidla and jar jar figs, watto wind up and republic gunship micromachineOnce upon a time and what seems like yesterday for some of us the Phantom Menace premiered on May 19, 1999.  The internet was still wild but relatively young. Dial up was still at thing. And word went out the Prequels were finally being filmed.  I poured over every picture presented in the Star Wars Insider,  made sure to stay up to date on the original Star Wars website where they showed sneak peeks of behind the scenes activity, especially to subscribers.  They never let story slip and speculation was rampant on the forums. I remember recording the first TV trailer with a VHS on a show I never watched.  I remember downloading it over Dial Up. When the toys hit before it came out I dove in headlong to get my share. I was an adult now, with a job. Old enough and making enough money to at least have fun with it.

obi-wan charging maulI charged into the first showing at the nearest theater after taking a very rare day off from work. I loved most of it.  The entire planet of Naboo blew me away as did the Jedi in action. I loved Jar Jar and am not ashamed to admit it. I did find some of the podracer drivers (or is that pilots?) a bit corny and still feel Jabba doesn’t match his size in the New Hope Special Edition or Return of the Jedi. (Did he go on a diet?)  and Bib Fortuna looked a bit off too. But those were minor quibbles.  I was very impressed overall and did not hesitate to see it again while it was out. I saw it again on a re-release and yet again on it 3D release! The moment Anakin meets Obi-Wan gave me chills. I felt for young Anakin having to choose between staying with his Mother and chasing his dreams of freedom and heroism. Shmi’s kindness and incredible courage and generosity in letting her son help the Jedi and go with him amazed me. And to this day, Padmé’ making peace with the Gungans is one of my favorite moments. It’s not easy to admit to needing help.

gungan city

gungan city

The Phantom Menace also broke new ground in technology.  Not so many years before an underwater city, a character like Jar Jar, battle droids, all the gungan technology and the amazing battles probably wouldn’t even have been possible. As usual Lucas was pushing the envelope. The only thing as amazing was how the artists and authors of the Expanded Universe fleshed them out. The Phantom Menace gave us Aurra Sing the Jedi killer, Quinlan Vos (blink and you’ll miss him, he had no name.) For the first time ever we saw the Jedi temple and met the Jedi Council.


Exar Kun and his double bladed sword , from Tales of the Jedi, The Sith War

For those of us into the Expanded Universe, there was that extra thrill at finding the Expanded Universe  was confirmed in the movie. There was the thrill of hearing the name Coruscant on screen for the first time, confirming it was the galaxy’s capital. Darth Maul’s double bladed lightsaber had comic book fans recognizing it from Tales of the Jedi’s Exar Kun.

Back then, Star Wars was out constantly even before that in the form of books and video games. Lucas had kept the prequel era as off limits (he knew he was going to make the movies.) But Dark Horse comics had created stories set millennia before.  There was plenty of room to explain away any discrepancies therefore with the natural changes of time. But now, finally the lead in books, comics and games could lead into the prequels themselves.

In celebration its a great time to reread and revisit these stories that came out in the lead up to the movie premier of the Phantom Menace:

Jedi Apprentice young adult series however came out May the third according to the internet. I don’t know how accurate that is, but its safe to say the first book by Dave Wolverton was before the movie. It starred Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon as they began their journey as master and apprentice. Thirteen year old  Obi-Wan’s adventures included occasional clashes and reconciliation with his master, battling pirates, bounty hunters, diplomacy that was not a simple negotiation and more. They are still popular for both kids and adults in spite of being out of print.

star wars prelude to rebellion starring ki-adi-mundi and ephant monStar Wars Republic by Dark Horse Comics initially didn’t have the title Republic. But issue 0, Prelude to Rebellion came out in December 1988 with that first story arc concluding on the movie release date. These have since been rereleased as omnibuses, now under Marvel. We saw Ki-Adi Mundi and Aurra Sing in comics before in film hit theaters.

The Phantom Menace adult novelization of the movie by Terry Brooks came out the month before. The Junior Novelization by Patricia C. Wrede came out early in May. The comic adaptation started at the beginning of the month.

Other stories came out after the movie but were set chronologically before it:

jedi apprentice rising forceThe Jedi Apprentice series switched to author Jude Watson and continued a long run of 18 books and 2 special editions before changing to the Jedi Quest series which is about Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Have you ever heard the Tragedy of Darth Plaguies the Wise?  While the line wasn’t uttered until Revenge of the Sith, his story takes place leading into the prequels. Darth Plaguies was written by James Luceno with close contact with George Lucas monitoring, it’s an in depth look into Palpatine’s rise to power.

Cloak of Deception involves Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon chasing pirates who prey on the Trade federation, as Darth Sidious plots and maneuvers to weaken Chancellor Valorum prior to his being ousted in the movie.

Darth Maul Lockdown by Joe Schreiber infiltrates a prison to retrieve a bomb his Sith Master wishes to get in the hands of a terrorist group.

Darth Maul-ShadowHunter

The first adult novel with a Darth Maul adventure.

Darth Maul Shadowhunter by Michael Reaves stars the Sith Lord tracking down a neimodian out to sell the plans for the Naboo invasion to the highest bidder. He runs afoul of a down and out man and his droid, as well as a Jedi Padawan.

There is also a Darth Maul Journal and Amidala Journal by the same author (different psuedonym) as the Jedi Apprentice books. There was an Anakin Skywalker journal by Todd Strasser as well as a child’s book “The Queen’s Amulet”. These were released soon after the movie, in June. They reveal how the characters experienced the events in the film.

A set of comics was also released for each character (named for them), showing different points of view of the movie with side adventures not on screen.

There were also video games. The Gungan Frontier game for PC and Mac came out May 24,1999. The game basically is set uses Obi-Wan, Amidala and occasionally Jar Jar. But the primary objective is to create and maintain an ecosystem on one of Naboo’s moons. Disasters both natural and artificial make challenges.

Obi-Wan for XBox has the player as the Apprentice dealing with criminals and more leading right up to the end of The Phantom Menace and a battle with Darth Maul.

The Phantom Menace managed to be even better than I could imagine. Not so many years before an underwater city, a character like Jar Jar, battle droids, all the gungan technology and the amazing battles probably wouldn’t even have been possible. As usual Lucas was pushing the envelope. The only thing as amazing was how the artists and authors of the Expanded Universe fleshed them out. The Phantom Menace gave us Aurra Sing the Jedi killer, Quinlan Vos (blink and you’ll miss him, he had no name.) For the first time ever we saw the Jedi temple and met the Jedi Council. Perhaps most important of all, The Phantom Menace instantly gave and hinted at more depth to the Anakin’s redemption in Return of the Jedi. He was, as he told Padme, a person and not just a suit of armor or one dimensional villain. If you saw Return of the Jedi first one suddenly get a hint why he was redeemable. And for those who saw the prequels first, well, there is reason to root for him to return to the generous boy he started as. His ability to be redeemed is hinted at in why he fell. That all began here.