You may have heard the phrase “Wookiee-American” thrown around the news over the last week. That’s because Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy and, more recently, “Revenge of the Sith,” has officially become an American citizen. Those two words are what all the other news outlets reported on the story. But I’m a geek, and I’m going to give you more than you ever wanted to know about why Mayhew is an American citizen.
Mayhew probably spends more time in the United States than he does in his native England. Why? Money, of course! Mayhew is a regular on the convention circuit, typically alongside Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).
For those of you who haven’t been to one of these conventions before, let me explain from the point of view of someone who has been to entirely too many.
These guests sit at a table full of different 8-by-11 photos of the character they played in Star Wars. Not one or two different pictures, but at least 10, sometimes as many as 15. They are ready with several different pens that work with different backgrounds (silver or gold for darker backgrounds, blue or black for lighter backgrounds). And, for $20, you get to take home Chewbacca’s autograph.
That’s right. For $20, Mayhew will take out a pen, sign a picture, maybe you’ll get your picture with him, and then he repeats the process several times every day he’s at the convention. And the people who put together these conventions will usually pay the costs for these “celebrities” to come to their shows in the first place! Add this to the fact that there are millions of Star Wars fans worldwide, and that they have a lot of disposable income, and you have a lucrative career. Not bad, considering that “Return of the Jedi” is now 22 years old, and that by doing this, Mayhew makes hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a day, just by signing his name on a photograph of a character that required him to dress up in a Bigfoot costume and roar.
But from the perspective of someone who has met Mayhew (and seen him at least a dozen times in person), he is a very gracious guest. He’s more than willing to answer your questions. He won’t just sign photos. He’ll sign posters, action figures, dolls, T-shirts … whatever you have, he’ll sign it. And he’s got a lot of fun stories about the movies, of course. He can’t roar. His impression of Chewbacca’s roar sounds more like Teddy Ruxpin than the mighty Wookiee that he played.
If you’re intrigued by what a convention has to offer, there are several that occur around the country (and many in the tri-state area) that have a lot more than autographs to offer. And I will wager money that Mayhew will be at them for many years to come.