Why Chewbacca's Actor Had To Be Protected From Bigfoot Hunters
Have You Heard About This?
Back in 2004, Dark Horse Comics released a story called “Into The Great Unknown” as part of their Star Wars Tales series. In it, Han Solo and Chewbacca mysteriously crash land on planet Earth. While Han is shot by local natives and dies onboard the Millennium Falcon (where he is found by Indiana Jones more than a hundred years later), Chewbacca in his grief escapes into the forest, establishing the myth of Bigfoot.
The story was, of course, even at the time of its publication, considered non-canon. However, there were Bigfoot-related concerns in real life pertaining to Star Wars production.
When a completely overtaxed Richard Marquand and George Lucas were shooting Return of the Jedi in the spring of 1982, Star Wars was already a big phenomenon, and the fans’ expectations for the (then believed) last chapter of the saga were enormous. And although the internet was still decades away, Lucasfilm had to take a lot of measures (like inventing the fake production name Blue Harvest) to not only avoid spoilers from leaking out, but also to keep the preying eyes of the public away from the shooting locations.
But when creating the Endor scenes, additional protective measures had to be taken, in this case not be safe from shooting cameras, but from actual shotguns.
As it is widely known, Redwood Forest is the real world location where the epic ground battle between the Rebels and the Empire at the end of Episode VI took place. The actual filming location was Del Norte County in Northern California, close to the border to Oregon, a truly beautiful place with a lot of giant trees, natural wildlife and animals of all sizes.
When Peter Mayhew, the 7'3" British actor who played the Wookiee Chewbacca in all three films of the original trilogy (and would reprise his role in Revenge of the Sith and contribute to and consult on The Force Awakens) arrived in Del Norte County, he got strict instructions not to walk around in the forest alone while being in costume, for his own protection.
In J. W. Rinzler’s 2013 book The Making of Return of the Jedi, Mayhew (who died in April of 2019 at the age of 74) recalls the following:
“It was known as ‘Bigfoot County’. So I got strict instructions not to wander off in costume. Can you imagine it? I‘m in full costume, going through the undergrowth, and some guy jumps up with a shotgun and – BANG! – ‘I got Bigfoot!’”
And not only that, but when Mayhew actually had to walk around in the forest, he was always accompanied by several crew members, who wore colorful vests, just to make sure that people didn’t confuse the Wookiee for the Sasquatch, as Bigfoot is called in Canada.
This may sound somewhat ridiculous today, as most of the Bigfoot sightings of the past have been debunked as fake in recent years, but this was different at the beginning of the 1980s, and California and Oregon are among the states where most of the sightings of the big hairy creature were reported.
But even without the Bigfoot legend, there was (and probably would still be today) an actual danger, that a big actor wearing a furry brown costume could have been mistaken for a bear and shot by a trigger-happy hunter.
These special safety measures for Peter Mayhew are another example of the complexity of movie making, which goes far beyond the actual shooting and production work, but involves careful planning, getting in touch with the local folks and the customs of the area in which you are shooting, in order to not only avoid upsetting or endangering local fauna and flora, but also to protect your own crew from resident people, who might be a little too fond of ancient legends.
Written By Gerald Petschk
Source(s): CBR, J.W. Rinzler: The Making of Return of the Jedi
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