Peter Mayhew first appeared onscreen as Chewbacca in Star Wars alongside Ford's Han Solo, and would go on to play the lovable Wookiee in multiple films

By Jen Juneau
May 24, 2019 10:17 AM

Harrison Ford is paying tribute to his late Star Wars costar Peter Mayhew.

The actor visited The Tonight Show on Thursday and discussed his fondness for Mayhew, who first appeared onscreen as Chewbacca in 1977 alongside Ford’s Han Solo, and would go on to play the lovable Wookiee in multiple films throughout the fantasy series.

“He was a really sweet man, nice man, and he had a hard time physically,”  Ford, 76, told Jimmy Fallon. “It was really hard for him to do what he did for us — what he did for all of us.”

Mayhew died on April 30 in Texas at the age of 74. His family released a statement announcing his death, writing he had “fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more” for 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.

“And he did it with real dignity and class,” Ford continued on Thursday of his friend’s work on their film sets through his physical hardships. “He was a really neat guy. I miss him.”

Peter Mayhew (L) and Harrison Ford
Karwai Tang/WireImage
Chewbacca and Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Mayhew also “consulted” on The Last Jedi, his family said in their statement, putting “his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films from his knock-kneed running, firing his bowcaster from the hip, his bright blue eyes, down to each subtle movement of his head and mouth.”

“But to him, the Star Wars family meant so much more to him than a role in a film,” the statement continued.

Shortly after news of his death broke, costar Mark Hamill paid tribute to the 7 ft., 3 inches-tall Mayhew, whom he described as “the gentlest of giants.”

“A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend who I loved dearly — I’m grateful for the memories we shared & I’m a better man for just having known him. Thanks Pete,” the Luke Skywalker actor tweeted.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

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After Mayhew’s death, Ford said in a statement to PEOPLE, “Peter Mayhew was a kind [gentleman], possessed of great dignity and noble character.”

“These aspects of his own personality, plus his wit and grace, he brought to Chewbacca,” the Raiders of the Lost Ark star added. “We were partners in film and friends in life for over 30 years, and I loved him. He invested his soul in the character and brought great pleasure to the Star Wars audience.”

“Chewbacca was an important part of the success of the films we made together,” he continued. “He knew how important the fans of the franchise were to its continued success and he was devoted to them. I and millions of others will never forget Peter and what he gave us all. My thoughts are with his dear wife Angie and his children.”

Ford finished his statement by writing, “Rest easy, my dear friend … “