Search This Blog

Friday, May 03, 2019

Today Is... International Star Wars Day and...Vale Peter Mayhew!

Today is Star Wars Day. I’m not going to wish you, “May the Fourth Be With you!” because since my last May 4 post I have discovered where that line came from, and it was from the Murdoch press, congratulating Maggie Thatcher on her election win. Not something that charms me. But it is International Star Wars Day anyway, as good a day as any to celebrate the wonderful cultural phenomenon that is the Star Wars universe. I’ll come back to that.

Unfortunately we have now lost three of the actors whose performances gave us so much joy over the years. Carrie Fisher, our wondrous Princess Leia. Kenny Baker, R2D2 - who, in his lifetime, got a lot of work as an actor, small as he was. Only yesterday I read of the passing of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, Han Solo’s furry friend and co-pilot, whom I won’t describe as a sidekick because he wasn’t. He never let Han get away with anything silly. “That’s right, laugh it up, fuzzball!” snapped Han when embarrassed.

Peter Mayhew was actually playing Chewbacca right up to The Force Awakens, and then he was advising his successor in The Last Jedi.

According to his Wikipedia entry, he was chosen basically for his height - but then so was David Prowse, who played Darth Vader. Apparently, David Prowse was also considered for the role of Chewbacca, but ended up as Vader. Peter Mayhew wanted to be a hero. In some ways, he was better off, because David Prowse ended up as only the body of Darth Vader, whereas Peter Mayhew got to act his role. Poor Dave! He got the script and said the lines (in his Bristol accent) and then they replaced his voice with James Earl Earl Jones’s, without bothering to tell him - and then, when Vader removed his helmet it wasn’t even his face!

Yes, Peter did better in Star Wars, although Chewbacca was most of his acting career(I think he did a couple of minor films), while I’ve seen Dave Prowse in A Clockwork Orange, Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Still, Peter Mayhew was a hospital porter when he auditioned for Chewbacca and if he hadn’t done that, we might never have heard of him, so... I think he was happy to have that chance to be a part of such a huge cultural phenomenon.

Yesterday on Twitter I read a post by some idiot who has clearly refused to watch these movies, so missed the entire point of the cultural phenomenon and dismissed the late Mayhew as just some man in an animal suit years ago, big deal, why are we filling our news with this rubbish. And he got a response agreeing with him, comparing the news of his death with that of a racehorse, from someone I have been following, but have now unfollowed and muted. Quite apart from the significance, they owed a little respect and courtesy to the man’s family, and he was on Twitter and possibly they had seen that. Not nice.

Vale Peter Mayhew! We will miss you.

So, let me just finish with a few of my own memories of Star Wars. I saw what is now called A New Hope but then was just Star Wars, at a cinema on Bourke St in Melbourne that has long gone, though it was still around when The Phantom Menace came out. I was in my first year of teaching at the time, and we ended up taking the kids on an excursion to see it; one of my girls, who had been writing the name of the Fonze all over her books and pencil cases all year forgot him when she beheld Luke Skywalker. Another, who had played tough girl all year, fell in love with R2D2.

But my first viewing was on my own, in my own time. I hadn’t yet entered fandom(that was a year later) or I might have gone with a large bunch of friends from my Star Trek club, but I was happy to discover it on my own.

There were mile long queues outside the cinemas, but the 5.00 pm session was quiet, so I just turned up one day after work, bought a ticket and sat near the front. And then it began, swooping spaceships, rebels and Imperial Stormtroopers and John Williams’s magnificent score, and I was utterly lost, swept away. There was a young hero, a wise mentor, a couple of funny robots and a sassy, tough princess who needed to take over her own rescue when the rescuers turned out to be too klutzy for her taste.

Who knew then, though, how big it would become? It could have been just another blockbuster, popular for a season, then forgotten when the next one came along. But it wasn’t - and one of the cast, Harrison Ford, would go on to do other great things. And I should add that if it wasn’t for the success of this film and those that followed, we might never have got back Star Trek. Star Wars proved that science fiction could do brilliantly. It’s not that no one was even thinking of it - they must have been planning it, as the first Trek movie came out in 1979, not that long after Star Wars. But I’d be willing to bet that they would have retired it quietly if Star Wars had been a flop. Maybe it would have just been a telemovie. And for several years afterwards, there was a new SF or fantasy film released every year.
And there are classic lines quoted by people who probably don’t even know where they came from, or who at least aren’t fans. My favourite is, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for...” which is replaced by whatever the person is joking about. Hands up if no one has ever used that line to you...?

Anyway, happy Star Wars Day and I hope you discover it if you’ve never seen it. 


Brian Joseph said...

Happy Star Wars day! I also saw the original film in a theatre when it was first released. I have also seen all the films. It really is sad that we have lost so many of the original actors. Too bad about Peter Mayhew. Among many other things, I thought that the original meeting between Chewbacca and Han Solo was very well done in the Solo movie.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Brian! I’m so glad to know I wasn’t the only one to have enjoyed Solo. A pity it flopped, as it means no more Star Wars for a while... 😥