Before Chewbacca can make another Kessel Run, he first needs to walk.
Peter Mayhew, the 7-foot-3 English actor who portrayed Han Solo's furry friend in four "Star Wars" movies, will undergo surgery to repair his crumbling knees just three days after appearing at next week's Salt Lake Comic Con.
The 69-year-old has been mostly confined to a wheelchair since he fell and tore his ACL about two years ago. Due also to the condition of giantism that helped land him in a galaxy far, far away, both of his knees are a far, far cry from healthy.
"Getting up in the morning can be nasty," Mayhew said. "The pain, even with painkillers sometimes you can't even get out of the chair."
Mayhew lives with his wife, Angie, on a small farm in Fort Worth, Texas, where they care for their ailing parents, as well as goats, macaws, chickens, guineas, three kittens and two dogs. The Mayhews have attended fan conventions worldwide for about 15 years it's how they pay the bills but it's a struggle for Peter just to stand next to fans for a photo. These days, Mayhew only gets upright for those wearing Wookiee costumes.
"This is the most emotional thing that we've ever been through," said Angie. "He struggles desperately to walk."
In June, Peter made international headlines when Transportation Security Administration agents in Denver stopped him to inspect his giant, lightsaber-inspired cane, and he sat helpless in a wheelchair while they mulled the hefty staff.
On Sept. 9, he'll go under the knife four separate times for a double knee replacement and dual tendon lengthening. It took doctors nine months to engineer the necessary Chewbacca-size prostheses and a specialized saw to cut through his bones.
"They've got a huge adjustment that they're going to make to get him to stand upright," Angie said. "I couldn't be more terrified, to be perfectly honest. "
Although they have insurance, the couple have launched a Kickstarter-funded documentary project to help offset additional costs. On a shoestring budget of $42,000, "Standing in the Stars The Peter Mayhew Story" will begin filming at the Salt Palace, then follow Mayhew to Fort Worth for the surgery.
Peter frequently tweets with his fans, whom he calls his "Chewbackers." He knows the "Star Wars" universe as well as most die-hards, and even recently took to Reddit to explain the difference between Chewie's bowcaster and a normal blaster. Angie, meanwhile, is the brains behind the Kickstarter project and booking his appearances, not to mention an important source of moral support.
"I appreciate her so much," Peter said. "She will never know. I couldn't function without her."
"Standing in the Stars" director W. Ryan Ziegler, who lives with Mayhew's stepdaughter in New York, says they hope that after two months of rehabilitation, Mayhew will triumphantly walk again. Casting for "Star Wars: Episode VII" is not yet complete, and they quietly harbor visions of Mayhew joining fellow original trilogy co-stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the series' second restart.
"I want him to have options," Ziegler said. "I don't think I've ever met anyone who fit the term 'gentle giant' more."
Comic Con updates • The inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con has announced a few big-name additions to its lineup in recent days, including "Lois & Clark " Superman Dean Cain and Henry Winkler best known as either The Fonz or Barry Zuckerkorn, depending on your age.
The convention has sold more than 20,000 tickets, and all booths and sponsorships are sold out.
Early registration for the three-day, Sept. 5-7 festival begins Wednesday at the Salt Palace between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.