The 70s and 80s were a different time, when children were preparing themselves for surviving the quicksand they would definitely encounter at one point in their lives, the Bermuda Triangle was to be avoided at all costs, and sightings of the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot were commonplace. And there’s one particularly tall and hairy fan favorite Star Wars character who had to be careful while filming Return of the Jedi, in case he encountered trigger-happy hunters.
The Star Wars universe is packed full of wonderful creatures, but the Wookiee Chewbacca is one of the most beloved and best Star Wars characters of all time. And fans are still outraged to this day that he didn’t get a medal at the end of A New Hope. When watching the Star Wars movies in order, we were all overjoyed to see our favorite giant teddy bear crop up again the the sequel trilogy and in Solo: A Star Wars Story – played by new actor Joonas Suotamo.
But the largest member of the Star Wars cast (an astonishing 7 feet 3 inches), Peter Mayhew, had to take his life into his own hands while filming in the redwood forests that stand in for Endor, the forest moon.
The stunning science fiction movie location was Del Norte County in Northern California, near to the border with Oregon. It’s home to several large animals such as elk, deer, cougars, and of course – bears that are much larger than Ewoks. And these animals attract hunters.
In J. W. Rinzler’s 2013 book The Making of Return of the Jedi (via Culture Slate), Mayhew recalled; “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!'”
When Mayhew had to walk around the forest for any reason while in costume, he was accompanied by crewmembers in colorful vests so he wasn’t mistaken for another large, furry creature such as Bigfoot, or more likely a bear. Thankfully, Mayhew lived to tell the tale and secure his place as a legend of Star Wars history.
We don’t yet know if Joonas Suotamo will be reprising his role as Chewbacca in any new Star Wars movies, but they are definitely in a state of flux anyway.