Why Chewbacca Needed Protection from Hunters While Filming ‘Star Wars’

The Star Wars films have been around for over forty years, beginning in 1977. Although critics have panned many of the movies in the series, fans love them and often get deeply immersed in the mythology of the characters and locations.

One of the most beloved (and recognizable) characters in all the Star Wars films is undoubtedly the Wookiee best friend of Han Solo, known as Chewbacca. While the original actor who portrayed Chewbacca has sadly passed away, the legacy he created will live on. So will one of the most interesting stories about the filming of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Peter Mayhew was the original Chewbacca

When the first Star Wars movie hit theaters in 1977, viewers had never seen anything like it. The film was full of amazing locations and exotic creatures, from humanoid aliens to sassy robots.

One of the most striking characters was Chewbacca, a Wookie who resembled a mix between a large bear and a very shaggy dog, walking on two legs. Chewbacca, often called Chewie, spoke in a language composed of guttural howls and grunts – but in his eyes shone a very relatable, gentle light.

Chewbacca was played in that film by Peter Mayhew, a towering actor who was over seven feet tall. Mayhew went on to reprise the role of Chewbacca in four additional Star Wars films: The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

He also appeared as the Wookie in several other made-for-television films and lent his voice to animated versions of the character. Mayhew became closely associated with the character of Chewbacca over the years and was much beloved by fans. 

Was Chewbacca stalked by hunters?

For years, there was a rumor that during the filming of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Mayhew had to have special protection during certain scenes. Much of the second act of the movie takes place on the mythical planet of Endor.

Scenes for Endor were filmed in the forests of California, in and around Del Norte County. While the heavily-wooded area provided the perfect backdrop for the movie’s action-packed scenes, it presented some difficulties when it came to scenes involving Mayhew’s Chewbacca. 

Reportedly, Mayhew required special protection on the set while wearing his Chewbacca costume, for fear of being mistaken for Bigfoot by hunters in the area. This special protection came in the form of crew members who stayed close to Mayhew while wearing brightly-colored vests, and ensuring that the lanky actor didn’t wander too far off the film set.

For years, fans weren’t sure whether this story was a fact or just an amusing rumor. However, in 2015, Mayhew posted “can confirm” on Reddit in response to the rumor. While Mayhew didn’t specifically talk about the circumstances of the protection he received, it is clear that something definitely went down in California during the filming of Return of the Jedi, and it is fortunate that Mayhew was able to stay safe. 

Who plays Chewbacca now?

Chewbacca in Star Wars
Chewbacca | Lucasfilm

Sadly, 2015’s The Force Awakens was to be Mayhew’s final stint as Chewbacca. While he worked as a consultant on the 2017 movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he was suffering from poor health and allowed the young actor Joonas Suotamo to don the Chewbacca costume in his stead.

Mayhew passed away in April 2019 at the age of 74, and his death hit the Star Wars fan community quite hard. 

Although Joonas Suotamo has been accepted by the fans, there is no one who will ever be able to replace Peter Mayhew — or the inimitable way that he inhabited the role of Chewbacca.