Chewie, is that you? In this case, the answer is a resounding “Rrrrrrrowwwwr,” which we’re fairly certain means “yes.” Chewbacca, the wild and wooly Wookiee who fought at Han Solo’s side through the three original “Star Wars” movies, will appear in the two-part season finale of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the Cartoon Network animated series, with some assistance from Peter Mayhew, the actor who has portrayed the character in George Lucas’s live-action films.
“The powers that be needed Wookiees,” Mr. Mayhew said in a recent telephone interview from California, “and they found, right, ‘There’s a Wookiee waiting. We’ll see if he’s available.’ We were available.”
Though Lucasfilm Animation is keeping specific plot details under wraps, the “Clone Wars” finale, scheduled for April 1, will see Chewbacca cross paths with Ahsoka Tano, the Jedi apprentice to Anakin Skywalker (a k a the future Darth Vader). To prepare for these episodes, titled “Padawan Lost” and “Wookiee Hunt,” the “Clone Wars” supervising director Dave Filoni and his team of animators and artists delved into the Lucasfilm archives for original Chewbacca reference materials and costumes, and invited Mr. Mayhew to their studios in Marin County, north of San Francisco, to advise them on the process of bringing Chewie to digital life.
“They had maquettes and drawings,” said Mr. Mayhew, who stands 7-foot-3 and speaks in a voice that is much more melodic than his character’s. “But remember that Chewie has a peculiar walk which is unique to me. The whole body language is there, even the head movements and eye movements especially. When he’s mad, the eyes come open and the jaw starts working, and consequently you can’t do this unless you’ve actually got it on tape, to watch it, slow it down and animate it.”
Mr. Mayhew, who spent most of his life in Britain and now resides in Texas, developed the physical vocabulary of Chewbacca over the course of “Star Wars” (released in 1977) and its sequels “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” all while wearing a costume made originally from knitted mohair and yak hair.
As Mr. Mayhew recalled, his Chewbacca regalia was “not awkward, but it’s energy-consumption-ing.” He added: “It takes a lot of energy to get that costume. Stormtroopers, right, it’s a piece of plastic. Chewie is slightly different.”
For the 2005 prequel film “Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” in which Mr. Mayhew reprised the character, a new Chewbacca costume was created. “It was a lot better because we had a coolant suit,” Mr. Mayhew said. “So within 30 seconds of finishing filming, we get the cool suit on, and it would make cooling very, very much quicker than it had been in the past.”
To portray Chewbacca for “The Clone Wars,” Mr. Mayhew was not required to don the outfit at all. (“I was doing it in my own clothing,” he said.) However, he did record dialogue for the character, having learned over the years to emulate the blend of bear growls and other animal noises used to create Chewie’s voice.
Lucasfilm hasn’t said yet if Chewbacca will return for future episodes of “The Clone Wars,” but Mr. Mayhew said he was happy to have been so closely associated with the character for nearly 35 years.
“I always reckon that I’ve got the best job in the world,” he said, “purely because I know what I’m talking about, it’s a pleasure to talk and you get paid for doing it. So that can’t be bad, can it?”
At this point, nobody can reasonably argue with Mr. Mayhew about how Chewbacca should be played. And, he added, “Nobody wants their arms pulled out, either.”
Watch a trailer for Chewbacca’s appearance in the season finale of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/...lone-wars.html