Famous for playing Chewbacca in seven Star Wars films (and one Holiday Special) beloved actor Peter Mayhew has died at 71. His family reported the news on Thursday. In real life, Mayhew was a father of three and, as Harrison Ford said recently, was also a man of “great dignity and noble character.” Ford is right. Thanks to Mayhew, the nobility of Chewbacca was a gift to families everywhere, and gift parents will continue to benefit from, perhaps, forever.
Though Chewbacca is technically a partner-in-crime to space pirate Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the original Star Wars film, it’s pretty apparent early on that Chewie is Han’s moral compass; his 8-foot-tall Jiminy Cricket with a killer growl. Over the years, many have pointed out that George Lucas created Chewbacca as a tribute to his dog, but it’s been more obvious that in Star Wars, the reverse is true: Han Solo and his friends are the stray dogs, and Chewbacca is a surrogate parent.
In the same statement, he made about Mayhew’s death, Ford also made it clear that the “gentle” aspects of Mayhew’s personality are also what made Chewbacca gentle, too. “These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca,” Ford said. In all the Star Wars films, Chewbacca personifies perhaps what every parent wishes they were at all times: Strong and fierce, but also, unconditionally in love with members of our families. Chewbacca tends not to really care about the shifting loyalties in the Star Wars movies but remains devoted to his charges.
Leia, Han, Luke, Lando, and now, Rey, might feel like Chewbacca is their loyal companion, but in terms of his behavior, Chewie is more like a dad to these characters than anything else. In Solo: A Star Wars Story we learned why Chewbacca had a famous “life debt” to Han Solo; the scruffy smuggler saved Chewie from Imperial imprisonment. From that point on, Chewbacca is Han’s defacto dad, a responsibility he transfers to Luke (Han’s defacto kid brother) and Han’s girlfriend (and later, wife) Leia. The only person Chewie doesn’t seem protective of is Kylo Ren, but that kind of makes sense. In Chewie’s eyes, Rey is probably the closest thing to Han’s daughter, which is why he treats her as his grandchild.
In the larger nerdy Star Wars lore, Chewie has his own wife and family on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. But, keep in mind, Chewie is also like 800 years old, meaning, by the time we meet him in the regular Star Wars movies (his first chronological appearance is technically in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) Chewie is clearly someone who — after having been a good father — is ready to be a father again. The surrogate family Chewie protects throughout all the Star Wars films is better because of him, and perhaps, would have been better off if they all listened to him more often.
For our children, we often probably seem like Chewbaccas; growling lovingly, trying to protect them from a harsh universe. Thanks to Peter Mayhew, we all have a lot to live up to. He will be missed, but the soul of Chewie lives on in all of us if we look for it.