Peter Mayhew, actor who played Chewbacca in ‘Star Wars’ movies, dies

British actor Peter Mayhew attends the opening of the European Premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in central London. (File/AFP/Leon Neal)
Updated 03 May 2019
0

Peter Mayhew, actor who played Chewbacca in ‘Star Wars’ movies, dies

  • The lanky performer made his first appearance as the beloved, bleating Chewbacca character in the landmark 1977 sci-fi action-thriller “Star Wars”
  • Chewbacca, tall, shaggy and clothed only in a bandoleer, was introduced to movie audiences in the original “Star Wars” film as co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon

LOS ANGELES: British-born actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca the Wookiee, the loyal, furry companion of space buccaneer Han Solo in five of the “Star Wars” movies, has died at age 74, his family said on Thursday.
Mayhew, whose face was never seen in the “Star Wars” films — his entire body was always clothed in his Wookiee costume — died at his north Texas home on Tuesday, according to the family’s statement on Twitter. No cause of death was given.
The lanky performer made his first appearance as the beloved, bleating Chewbacca character in the landmark 1977 sci-fi action-thriller “Star Wars,” and went on to co-star in four more films in the blockbuster series — “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Force Awakens.”
He retired from playing Chewbacca for health reasons, although his family recalled that for Mayhew’s final turn as the heroic Wookiee in “The Force Awakens,” he “fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall” once more as the woolly character in the 2015 film.
He also served as an off-camera consultant on the final 2017 film in the series, “The Last Jedi,” helping to tutor his successor in the Chewbacca role, Joonas Suotamo, on the ways of convincingly playing a Wookiee.
Co-stars saluted Mayhew as a performer whose own inner poise and grace shone through in his character.
“Peter Mayhew was a kind and gentle man, possessed of great dignity and noble character,” said Harrison Ford, who as Han Solo shared many scenes with Mayhew. “Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together.”
Mark Hamill, who starred as Luke Skywalker in the franchise, called Mayhew “the gentlest of giants.”
“A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly,” Hamill wrote on Twitter. Suotamo remembered Mayhew as “an absolutely one-of-kind gentleman and a legend of unrivaled class.”
Walking carpet and bandoleer
Chewbacca, tall, shaggy and clothed only in a bandoleer, was introduced to movie audiences in the original “Star Wars” film as co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon, the spacecraft captained by his best friend, Solo, played by Harrison Ford. Solo affectionately referred to him as Chewie.
The character of Princess Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, was more dismissive of Chewbacca at first, memorably snapping: “Will someone get this big, walking carpet out of my way,” early in the first “Star Wars” picture.
A trusty sidekick who spoke in a language of dog-like growls and bellowing moans understood by his compatriots, Chewbacca was the most notable member of the fictional humanoid Wookiee species of his heavily forested home planet. Another actor supplied the character’s vocalizations.
Deprived of recognizable speech and with facial expressions limited by the Wookiee mask he wore, Mayhew relied on body language to portray the emotional range of a character who could be both fearsome and sensitive.
“Chewie transformed me,” Mayhew once said of performing in the costume, according to a profile posted on the official StarWars.com website run by Lucasfilm studio.
“The attitude was different. The walk was different. Do the scenes, come back, take the mask off, Peter was back.”
Mayhew, who stood 7 feet, 4 inches (2.24 m) tall, was discovered while working as a hospital orderly in London.
A photograph of him published in a local paper caught the eye of film producers, and he was cast as a Minoton in the 1977 film “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,” co-starring Jane Seymour, according to his official Facebook page.
About a year later, after returning to his job at King’s College Hospital, Mayhew was called by filmmaker George Lucas to audition for the role of Chewbacca, a role he not only created for the original “Star Wars” film and reprised in four others but inhabited in various television and personal appearances over the years.
“Peter was a wonderful man. He was the closest any human being could be to a Wookiee — big heart, gentle nature ... and I learned to always let him win,” Lucas said in a statement late on Thursday. “He was a good friend and I’m saddened by his passing.”


Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

Updated 20 June 2019
0

Skin deep: Japan’s ‘washi’ paper torn by modern life

  • Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries
  • The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton

HIDAKA, Japan: Once an indispensable part of daily life in Japan, ultra-thin washi paper was used for everything from writing and painting to lampshades, umbrellas, and sliding doors, but demand has plunged as lifestyles have become more westernized.
Despite its 1,300-year history and UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, washi paper is struggling to attract consumers and the market value has dropped by more than 50 percent in the past two decades.
But at a small workshop in western Japan, Hiroyoshi Chinzei, a fourth-generation traditional paper maker, creates washi with a unique purpose that may help revive interest — both at home and abroad.
Chinzei’s product, the world’s thinnest paper, has helped save historical documents at major museums and libraries — including the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and Washington’s Library of Congress — from decay.
“Washi paper is more flexible and durable” than what Japanese refer to as “western paper,” which disintegrates into tiny pieces when it becomes very old, the 50-year-old told AFP.
The traditional hand-made paper is manufactured from plants called kozo, or mulberry, which has fibers that are much longer than materials used for paper in the west such as wood and cotton.
“Old Japanese books from the seventh or eighth century remain in good condition... thanks to the fibers of the kozo plants,” the washi maker told AFP at his small factory in Hidaka, a village 640 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
The papermaking process begins with steaming the kozo plants and peeling off the bark, which is then boiled until soft, while impurities are removed by hand in clear water.
The fibers are then beaten and mixed with glue and water, before being placed on a wooden screen.
This screen is then dipped repeatedly in water with the fibers and shaken to spread the liquid evenly to make a sheet of paper, a technique which requires years to master.
Because washi is hard to break, damaged, old documents can be reinforced by attaching a piece of washi or sandwiching them between two sheets of the paper, Chinzei explained.
For documents, transparency is key to be able to see the text, meaning the thinner the washi, the better.
Chinzei’s washi, a type called tengu-joshi paper also known as “the wings of a mayfly,” is 0.02 millimeters thick and weighs 1.6 grams per square meter.
This compared to a standard sheet of photocopy paper, which is about 0.09 millimeters thick and weighs 70 grams per square meter.
“It’s a mesh-like paper mainly made with fibers... It’s as thin as human skin,” Chinzei said.
Using both machines and hand-made techniques passed down for generations, the firm can create ultra-thin paper, which is also used by conservationists to restore and protect cultural objects.
One such conservationist, Takao Makino, carefully applies washi with a brush onto golden sticks representing the halo of a Buddhist statue estimated to be around 800 years old.
Makino said he used washi for the first time in 2007 to protect the surface of one of the two main statues at Tokyo’s historic Sensoji Temple.
“The surface was damaged and peeled off. So we covered all of it (with washi) to contain the damage,” the 68-year-old said.
“Washi naturally fits into intricately-shaped sculptures, but papers with chemical fibers or wrapping films don’t,” he said.
“The history proves washi is very durable... The material is pure, strong and lasting. It’s reliable.”
The production of the Japanese paper peaked in the Edo period between the 17th and late 19th centuries but declined as papermaking was mechanized.
Now, due to the westernization of Japan, the washi market is shrinking again, Chinzei said.
“We have no tatami rooms and almost no space to display a hanging scroll in the current lifestyle,” he said.
“Washi used for those things are now gone.”
According to the industry ministry, the total value of handmade washi dropped to 1.78 billion yen in 2016 from 4.15 billion yen in 1998, while that of washi for calligraphy and shoji sliding screens fell to 5.86 billion yen from 25.1 billion yen.
Chinzei didn’t plan on taking over his family trade and went to business school in Seattle to study finance.
“But I came back... because I felt responsible for passing the baton to the next generation,” he said, hoping to find ways to expand the market.
The volume of washi used for restoration is still small, but it’s been shipped to more than 40 countries and Chinzei is hopeful interest will grow.
He explained: “For restoring cultural assets and as a canvas for art... I think washi has the potential to be used more in the world of art.”