Actor Peter Mayhew is the kind of guy who you’d probably think twice about sitting across from in a bar. Towering over seven-and-a-half feet tall, Mayhew is a shaggy, wild-eyed giant in the civilian world, and in his professional life, an even wilder, shaggier giant by the name of Chewbacca who has been known to rip people’s arms out of their sockets in the Star Wars movies for beating him at a game of holo-chess.
Yet beneath the shag, both Mayhew himself and his famous Wookiee counterpart are famous sweethearts. As if to prove it, Mayhew has recently taken himself to Twitter to post a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos from his personal archives, showing the world of Star Wars as it existed between 1976 and 1983. The collection, compiled in the slide show above, offers followers a unique view of Tatooine, Bespin, Endor, and Dagobah from behind the camera.
The story about how Mayhew became involved with Star Wars is interesting. Born with a case of gigantism, Mayhew originally auditioned for the role of Darth Vader, only to be passed up for the role in favor of David Prowse, a surly English bodybuilder who was ultimately the man chosen to be inside the costume. (Much to Prowse’s dismay, American actor James Earl Jones dubbed in Darth Vader’s lines).
Although Mayhew was disappointed to be passed over for the role of Vader at first, it’s hard to imagine him as anyone other than Chewbacca when looking at the photographs of him interacting with George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Irvin Kershner (director of The Empire Strikes Back), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Anthony Daniels (C-3P0), and an 11-year old Warwick Davis (the Ewok Wicket from Return of the Jedi). He’s just too sweet and at-ease with his fellow stars to play Star Wars‘s big heavy.
In Mayhew’s photos, we get a look at how the most iconic sci-fi trilogy of the last 40 years was actually made. We see how elephants were dressed up in furs to transform them into Banthas, Frank Oz and Jim Henson consulting on an early Yoda puppet, Princess Leia and her stunt double sun-bathing in their gold bikinis, Chewbacca copping a feel, Luke and Vader practicing their dueling, and many more small snatches of life from the Star Wars set.
To me, perhaps what stands out most about Mayhew’s photos is how young and full of life everyone seems, as if they all know that they are not only taking part in the most significant roles of their careers, but are reveling in it. At this point, the making of the original Star Wars films seems like it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but looking at these pictures, it’s hard to believe that Carrie Fisher didn’t put her hair up in cinnamon rolls for the first time yesterday.
You can follow Peter Mayhew on Twitter here.