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Star Wars script auction stopped after plea from Chewbacca actor’s widow

Peter Mayhew, left, and his wife, Angie, at Comicpalooza in 2018. (Joe Southern/501st Legion)
5 min

An English couple was cleaning their attic recently when they found a bag that had been there since before they bought the house 24 years ago. Inside, they discovered hallowed science fiction artifacts — an original script, shooting schedules and call sheets for one of the first three Star Wars movies that had once belonged to Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca — the towering, hairy Wookiee and co-pilot to Han Solo on the Millennium Falcon.

The couple approached an auctioneer who, thinking the items would interest Star Wars fans, decided to help sell them.

They were of interest to one in particular: Mayhew’s widow.

“It really breaks my heart to see our belongings auctioned off like this,” Angie Mayhew wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

Her tweet caused an uproar, leading Ryedale Auctioneers and owner Angus Ashworth to pull the items from the auction, which is scheduled to start Friday without the Star Wars memorabilia.

No one complained about the sale before the auction was announced, Ashworth said in a statement. If he’d known Mayhew’s widow objected, he would have worked with her, the Peter Mayhew Foundation and the homeowners to figure something out, he said. The couple, whom Ashworth described as “lovely,” are “quite happy to donate” the items to the foundation now that they know Angie Mayhew wants them.

“I can only apologise to all of the Star Wars fans who had already shown great interest in owning a bit of film history!” Ashworth said in the statement.

In 1999, Mayhew and his then-fiancée, Angie, didn’t know exactly what was up in the attic as they scrambled to sell Mayhew’s house in Keighley, a town in West Yorkshire in Northern England, and move to the United States, Matthew Egan, the foundation’s philanthropy director, said.

Then in his mid-50s, Mayhew — who was over 7 feet tall — was suffering from the effects of gigantism, a rare condition that causes people to grow extraordinarily tall and afflicts them with joint pain, muscle weakness and enlarged organs. Although Mayhew suspected there was an original “The Empire Strikes Back” script up there, he was using a wheelchair, couldn’t make it into the attic and refused to let Angie go up.

“When we moved out of this house Peter’s movement challenges made it impossible for him to get into the attic to get the rest of these memories,” Angie said in a tweet. “… It was one of Peter’s and my biggest regrets that we had to leave these items behind, but his knees and joints had gotten to be so painful that he was no longer able to go into the attic to get them.”

When a Twitter user asked why Mayhew and his wife didn’t ask anyone to help them retrieve the items, she elaborated:

“We had just come from a convention Peter had appeared at and there had been a water leak so Peter didn’t want me to go up there either and we ran out of time. Moving in general is stressful but moving between countries with a 7’4” disabled partner, it was a very difficult time.”

Mayhew reprised his role as Chewie in 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith,” and in 2015’s “The Force Awakens” before passing the Wookiee torch to Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo for the two most recent movies in the main Star Wars saga. Mayhew died in 2019 at 74 after devoting much of his later years to philanthropy, including the foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “the alleviation of disease, pain, suffering, and the financial toll brought on by life’s traumatic events.”

Angie and others at the foundation learned about the auction Feb. 7 as news stories about it started circulating, Egan said. Foundation representatives sent Ryedale a direct message through the auction house’s Twitter account to try to talk about it out of the public eye. When they didn’t hear back by Wednesday, Angie started tweeting about her opposition, tagging the Twitter accounts of Ryedale and Ashworth.

Star Wars fans promptly bombarded them both, Egan said.

Representatives from the foundation and Ryedale met Friday on Zoom, where auction house employees said that, because they don’t check the Twitter account often, they didn’t know about the foundation’s message until after they started getting blowback.

At the meeting, the couple selling the items agreed to donate them, so long as the foundation promised not to sell them. Egan said Angie and the foundation have no intention of selling or even giving them away. The memorabilia already has a place in the “Chewie room,” a large outbuilding on Angie’s father’s ranch in Boyd, Tex., filled with hundreds of photos, posters, costumes and other Star Wars souvenirs.

Ryedale Auctioneers sent an agreement to the foundation Monday morning and then bowed out of the negotiations, leaving any further arrangements to the foundation and the homeowners, Egan said. The foundation has not yet had direct contact with the couple who discovered Mayhew’s Star Wars memorabilia but hopes that will happen soon.