SALT LAKE CITY — Star Wars fans at Salt Lake Comic Con met two of the films' most iconic figures — Darth Vader and Chewbacca.
David Prowse and Peter Mayhew, two actors who starred in the George Lucas trilogy, took to the convention’s main stage Thursday afternoon to standing ovations from the crowd.
While James Earl Jones supplied the voice for Darth Vader, Prowse was the actor inside the Vader suit. Mayhew, similarly, was the actor behind the furry face of Chewbacca.
During the hour-long question-and-answer session, the two actors answered questions about their involvement in the films, including how they got their roles.
Mayhew and Prowse were each considered for both Darth Vader and Chewbacca. Luckily, the actors both quickly knew which role they wanted.
When Prowse was first contacted by Lucas about the roles, he was told there were two parts available: a large hairy character named Chewbacca, or the villain. Prowse said he immediately replied, “I’ll take the villain,” because “you always remember the villain."
According to Prowse, Lucas responded, “I think you’ve made the right choice because no one is going to forget this villain.”
When Mayhew arrived for his audition, he saw the costumes for both Vader and Chewbacca.
“I looked around and saw Chewie, 8-foot-plus and blue-eyed, and I thought that’s mine. That’s mine,” he said.
Mayhew (who stands 7-foot-3) said that during an interview portion of the audition, “I did the natural thing — I stood up, and that was basically the end of the interview.”
Within a few weeks, Chewbacca was born. Mayhew said it was a transformative experience to put on the costume.
“As soon as that mask comes on, I become Chewie,” Mayhew said. “You take the head off and you can go back to being a normal person again. Sure, you're sweaty and nasty, but you’re a normal person again.”
Prowse said the only problem he encountered with his costume was the Darth Vader helmet and mask were made too big. The helmet was lined with padding to make it fit. The eye lenses were also darkened so Prowse’s eyes could not be seen.
Between the padding, lenses and out-of-order filing of scenes, Prowse said he was in for several surprises during the films’ premieres.
“I was gob-smacked,” he said. “The one thing that gob-smacked me most of all was that I didn’t know that I was Luke Skywalker’s father. They kept it very secret from me.”
Prowse also didn’t know prominent actor Jones was to do Darth Vader’s voice. Throughout the filming, Prowse had preformed the character’s lines, though his voice was muffled by the mask and helmet.
“All of the sudden, I hear this voice coming out of Darth Vader, and I think, 'Oh my goodness, that’s not me,’” he recalled.
Mayhew said, at first, it was jarring to see the film
“The first time that you see your face on a big screen, it can be frightening,” Mayhew told the crowd. “It’s one of those things. You’re looking out and the camera is looking out. So it’s reversed.”
Both actors spoke of their amazement at the fans and the poplular following the Star Wars franchise continues to have.
“I think the dedication of the fans is simply fantastic. I mean look at all of you. We’re talking about 30,000 people coming out this weekend to see us,” Prowse told the crowd. “It’s simply incredible. You are a great part of our lives. You really are.”
Mayhew said the massive size of the fan base could be seen in the fact that no matter what city he visits, at least a few locals recognize him.
“I think it’s just the mere fact that we have so many fans, not just in the States but all over the world,” Mayhew said. “We’re now into the third generation.”
Sometimes, though, Prowse said the recognition can be a distraction.
Shortly after accepting the role of Vader, Prowse became the face of the Green Cross Code, a U.K. initiative for reducing the amount children injured and killed while crossing a street. For 14 years, Prowse starred in public service announcements and visited children in schools.
At the end of each school visit, where Prowse had discussed pedestrian safety, he would ask if the children had any questions.
“I never, ever got one question about road safety,” Prowse said. “Every question was about Star Wars.”
However, by 1990, the number of children killed had been cut in half. Prowse said that in those 14 years, it is estimated that nearly a quarter of a million children were saved by the program’s efforts.
Currently, Mayhew is starring in a Kickstarter documentary. In the next few weeks, he will be undergoing double-knee replacement surgery. For years, it has become increasingly difficult for the 7-foot-3 Mayhew to stand on his own, requiring him to rely on a wheelchair or cane for assistance. The documentary “Standing in the Stars” will follow Mayhew from his last Comic Con before the surgery and through his recovery. As this is Mayhew's final Comic Con before the surgery, the first part of the documentary will be filmed in Salt Lake.
Before closing the session, Prowse proposed a sing-a-long to the audience.
“We’ve now got words to the Star Wars theme song,” Prowse said before singing “Star Wars made me a fortune, paid off the mortgage, bought me a car.”
Salt Lake Comic Con continues Friday and Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. More information can be found on the event’s website.
Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: harmerk
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