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Star Wars Fans Hail Return of the Wookiee

SKYWALKER RANCH, Calif. (SP) — Millions of Star Wars fans are celebrating the announcement that Peter Mayhew will be reprising the role of Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the third and final episode of the popular space saga, scheduled for release in May of 2005.

Mayhew’s co-stars all had high praise for his poignant performance in the original Star Wars trilogy. The late Sir Alec Guinness, who received an Oscar nomination for his role as Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi in Episode IV, described Mayhew in his memoirs as “one of those rare thespians who can communicate more with a bark or a roar than most actors could convey with a page full of dialogue.”

Mark Hamill, who starred as Luke Skywalker in Episodes IV-VI, also had great respect for Mayhew’s acting ability. “There was something very genuine about his performance as Chewbacca, such that I sometimes forgot that he wasn’t a real Wookiee, but merely a man in a Wookiee costume,” he said.

In fact, Mayhew comes from the method school of acting, and therefore insisted on staying in character for the duration of principal photography, even eating and sleeping in full Wookiee attire. AI have to admit, it was a challenge attempting to communicate with Peter on the set, given that he would only respond in the Wookiee language, my knowledge of which is extremely limited,” said Irving Kershner, the director of Epi­sode V. “Fortunately, Harrison Ford speaks a bit of Wookiee, and he was able to translate for me.”

Mayhew's Chewbacca proved to be so popular after the release of Episode IV in 1977 that CBS aired a television special the following year which revolved around the character. On the show, Chewbacca endeavors to return to his home planet of Kashyyyk in order to spend a Christmas-like holiday known as “Life Day” with his family, which includes his wife Molla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy.

Despite the fact that the Star Wars Holiday Special has never been rebroadcast, and George Lucas has attempted to deny its very existence, it’s generally acknowledged that the Wookiee way of life, as depicted in the Holiday Special, served as the inspiration for the Ewoks in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”.

Episode III will actually be Mayhew’s first film role since “Return of the Jedi”, 20 years ago. “I definitely felt as though I was being cast-typed in Hollywood because I had become so closely identified with Chewbacca,” he said.

He attempted to distance himself from the character by turning down leading roles in such films as “Cujo” and “Scooby Doo”, as well as a non-speaking part in Tim Burton's remake of “Planet of the Apes”. “I now appreciate how rare it is that a role like Chewbacca comes along to challenge an actor’s range and show­case his abilities,” Mayhew said. “It really was the role of a lifetime, one that I now look forward to reprising”

Now that Mayhew’s participation in Episode III has been confirmed, all eyes have turned to the man in the iron mask, David Prowse. While actor James Earl Jones provided Darth Vader’s distinctive voice, it was Prowse, the former British weightlifting champion, who wore the Dark Lord of the Sith’s sinister costume.

Prowse's participation in the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga may be complicated by recent health problems which have severely restricted his mobility. “David Prowse is Darth Vader, it’s that simple,” said Star Wars fanatic Jay Beecher, who professes to have seen each of the first five films over 100 times, and who lined up to see “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” three weeks before it opened, despite the fact that advance tickets had been available at the box office.

“I think I speak for all Star Wars fans when I say that we'd rather see Darth Vader in a wheelchair than have him played by someone other than David Prowse,” said Beecher. “It wouldn’t even be that hard to explain, since according to Ben Kenobi in “Return of the Jedi”, Vader is more machine than man. Why couldn’t that machine include a motorized wheelchair?”

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