LOS ANGELES • Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, describes castmate Peter Mayhew as "the gentlest of giants".
The actor, chosen for his 2.18m height to play Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the blockbuster franchise, died on Tuesday at home in Texas. He was 74.
A statement from Mayhew's family said: "He put 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 than a role in a film. The relationships... grew into the friends and family that he would love for decades to come."
The British-born actor was a hospital attendant in London when he was discovered by a film producer. He was first cast in the film Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977), in an uncredited role.
But he was then cast in the role that would define his career - as the co-pilot and best friend of Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) in the original Star Wars film released in 1977.
He went on to appear in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return Of The Jedi (1983) and Revenge Of The Sith (2005).
The family said Mayhew had "fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall and portray Chewbacca once more in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)".
He then worked to coach his successor in the role, Joonas Suotamo.
Hamill, in his tribute to Mayhew, tweeted: "A big man with an even bigger heart who never failed to make me smile & a loyal friend whom I loved dearly."
He is survived by his wife Angie and three children.