When Peter Mayhew died in April 2019, the “Star Wars” family lost their beloved Chewbacca, and costars mourned alongside fans and friends. It’s a fandom that’s still hurting from the 2016 loss of Carrie Fisher, the actress, writer, and activist they first came to know as the unforgettable Princess Leia. These icons, like their “Star Wars” comrades, have been woven into the cultural fabric of our lives since 1977, as familiar to us as any childhood fairy tale. Join us as we take a look back at some of the brilliant stars, gone too soon, whose talents were responsible for bringing us to a galaxy far, far away.
Peter Mayhew (1944-2019)
Peter Mayhew brought life and warmth (and height, too) to his character, even though he never spoke and audiences could only see his eyes. The 7’3″ British actor played Chewbacca, the lovable Wookiee who was Han Solo’s copilot and best pal, in the original trilogy as well as in “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Force Awakens” before retiring from acting and serving as “Chewbacca Consultant” in “The Last Jedi” and “Solo.”
Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)
Carrie Fisher was the iconic Princess Leia, a new breed of princess for a generation of feminists. Leia was a leader of the rebel alliance in the original three “Star Wars” installments, a princess whose grace and beauty were secondary to her bravery and resourcefulness. She wielded a blaster with ease as she fought the evil Empire alongside brother Luke Skywalker and love interest Han Solo. When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opened in 2015, a new generation met Leia, now General of the Resistance and a powerful inspiration for the film’s young freedom fighters.
Kenny Baker (1934-2016)
Kenny Baker brought lovable droid R2-D2 to life in the first six films of the Star Wars saga. The 3-foot-8-inch actor stood inside the costume, turning the dome during dialogue scenes and walking the robot through doors and around other tricky obstacles. Other notable film credits included “Time Bandits” and “The Elephant Man.”
Jason Wingreen (1920-2015)
Jason Wingreen was a respected character actor with a lengthy career, including regular appearances on “All in the Family” and “Archie Bunker’s Place.” However, when he died on December 25, 2015 at the age of 95, he was primarily celebrated as the original film voice of Boba Fett. Although he only had a handful of lines in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Wingreen’s deep and gruff voice added to the mystery of the coolest-looking bounty hunter in the galaxy.
Christopher Lee (1922-2015)
One of cinema’s all-time great villains, Christopher Lee played Dracula in the British Hammer horror films, James Bond’s nemesis Scaramanga and the wizard Saruman in “The Lord of the Rings.” He joined Star Wars as the villainous Count Dooku in “Attack of the Clones.” Although some of his lightsaber fighting was done by a stunt double, it was thrilling to watch the movies’ most prolific swordsman square off against Jedi master Yoda.
Ralph McQuarrie (1929 – 2012)
Ralph McQuarrie appeared onscreen in the uncredited role of rebel General Pharl McQuarrie in “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it was his work as a concept artist that shaped Star Wars. He worked closely with director George Lucas to design the look of the main characters, droids, aliens, planets and spaceships. “When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this’,” said Lucas.
Irvin Kershner (1923-2010)
Irvin Kershner wasn’t an obvious choice to direct the sequel to the highest grossing movie of all time. In hindsight, though, it was an inspired decision. The veteran director excelled at working with actors and the result was the moody and nuanced “The Empire Strikes Back.” About his decision to linger on close-ups of actors while shooting a space opera he said, “There’s nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face.”
Shelagh Fraser (1920 – 2000) and Phil Brown (1916 – 2006)
English actress Shelagh Fraser (1920-2000) and American actor Phil Brown (1916-2006) played Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen. During the 1950s, Brown was blacklisted after he was accused of being a Communist. He moved to the UK with his family, where he re-built his career as an actor and director. He brought weight to the role of the Tatooine moisture farmer who knew what was at stake in opposing the Empire.
William Hootkins (1948-2005)
Character actor William Hootkins (1948 – 2005) appeared in “Batman” as the corrupt police Lieutenant Eckhardt and as military investigator Major Eaton in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but fans most fondly remember him as the hefty X-Wing pilot Jek Porkins. He went down in Star Wars history as the first rebel pilot lost in the assault on the Death Star.
John Hollis (1931-2005)
John Hollis played Lobot in “The Empire Strikes Back.” He served as Lando Calrissian’s mute right-hand man in the Cloud City. Hollis had a memorable appearance in “For Your Eyes Only,” playing James Bond’s enemy in the opening sequence.
Alec Guinness (1914-2000)
Perhaps the most acclaimed actor to ever appear in a Star Wars movie was Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000). His performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi set the tone for all future Jedi knights as he introduced audiences to The Force. He was also the only actor to ever be nominated for an Academy Award in a Star Wars movie.
Jack Purvis (1937-1997)
Jack Purvis (1937 – 1997) has the distinction of being the only actor to appear in all three of the original trilogy films as different characters. He played the Chief Jawa in “A New Hope,” the Chief Ugnaught in “The Empire Strikes Back” and Teebo the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi.” Purvis also had substantial roles in the films of Terry Gilliam, including “Time Bandits” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” pictured here.
Sebastian Shaw (1905-1994)
When Darth Vader’s mask was removed at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” it was Sebastian Shaw who played the dying Anakin Skywalker. To maximize the dramatic impact of this reveal, the Shakespearian actor had to keep his participation in the film a secret and was forbidden from telling even his family and friends that he was in the new Star Wars movie until after it premiered.
Peter Cushing (1913-1994)
Peter Cushing (1913 – 1994) was a popular figure in British film. As the pitiless Grand Moff Tarkin in “A New Hope” he was the only person to command respect from Darth Vader. He also appeared in the horror films of Hammer Studios alongside his friend and eventual “Star Wars” actor Christopher Lee.
Alex McCrindle (1911-1990)
With a bushy white beard, Scottish actor Alex McCrindle commanded the ragged Rebel forces as General Jan Dodanna. His briefing room speech detailing the plan of attack against the Death Star was a highlight in an acting career that stretched back to the earliest days of television in Britain in the late 1930s.
Richard Marquand (1937-1987)
British director Richard Marquand was tapped for the final installment of the original trilogy, “Return of the Jedi.” Marquand had a background in directing documentaries for television and was hired by producer George Lucas on the strength of his World War II suspense film, “Eye of the Needle.” Marquand would also direct the courtroom thriller “Jagged Edge” before he died of a heart attack at the age of 49.