RIP Peter Mayhew

British-born actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca the Wookiee, the loyal, furry companion of space buccaneer Han Solo in five of the “Star Wars” movies, has died at age 74, his family said on Thursday. Mayhew, whose face was never seen in the “Star Wars” films – his entire body was always clothed in his Wookiee costume – died at his north Texas home on Tuesday, according to the family’s statement on Twitter. No cause of death was given.

The lanky performer, at 7ft 3 in, made his first appearance as the beloved, bleating Chewbacca character in the landmark 1977 sci-fi action-thriller “Star Wars,” and went on to co-star in four more films in the blockbuster series – “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Revenge of the Sith” and “The Force Awakens.” He retired from playing Chewbacca for health reasons, although his family recalled that for Mayhew’s final turn as the heroic Wookiee in “The Force Awakens,” he “fought his way back from being wheelchair-bound to stand tall” once more as the woolly character in the 2015 film. He also served as an off-camera consultant on the final 2017 film in the series, “The Last Jedi,” helping to tutor his successor in the Chewbacca role, Joonas Suotamo, on the ways of convincingly playing a Wookiee.

Mayhew got his first acting job in 1976 when the producers of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger discovered him from a photograph in a newspaper article about men with large feet, and cast him in the role of the minotaur. Outside Star Wars, Mayhew appeared in the 1978 horror film Terror, directed by Norman J. Warren. In the English version of Dragon Ball GT: A Hero’s Legacy, he provided the voice for Susha. He also appeared in Yesterday Was a Lie. Mayhew married Mary Angelique in 1999. They had three children. Mayhew lived with Angie in Boyd, Texas, and was a business owner. He became a naturalised citizen of the United States in 2005 at a ceremony in Arlington, Texas.

Arsenal 3 Valencia 1

Alexandre Lacazette scored twice as Arsenal came from behind at Emirates Stadium to win the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Valencia. Mouctar Diakhaby’s header put Valencia in front before Lacazette slotted in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass. The Frenchman nodded in Granit Xhaka’s cross seven minutes later to make it 2-1 before half-time. And Aubameyang’s late volley ensured Arsenal take a two-goal lead to Spain. Lacazette should have scored a hat-trick – he fluffed a header from six yards out in the second half and was later denied by goalkeeper Neto on two occasions. But Arsenal will travel to Valencia for the second leg next Thursday, hoping to avoid a second successive semi-final defeat after they were knocked out by eventual winners Atletico Madrid last year.

Arsenal started sloppily in London and Ezequiel Garay’s miss from a few yards out was an early warning. They looked rattled, and things looked bleak for the Gunners when Rodrigo was allowed to head the ball back across goal to set up Diakhaby for the opener. A loose header from Ainsley Maitland-Niles was almost pounced upon by Goncalo Guedes immediately afterwards but Lacazette’s swift equaliser – which came against the run of play – helped settle the nerves. He started the move himself, providing the through ball for Aubameyang before the Gabonese striker cut it back into the middle and Lacazette fired into an empty net. The Frenchman was clinical again eight minutes later – powerfully nodding in Xhaka’s curling cross at the back post – before Aubameyang’s volley bounced off the turf and over the bar.

Valencia still caused Arsenal problems though. Rodrigo and Guedes were pests in attack and Petr Cech was called into action to deny Kevin Gameiro from close range in the second half. Arsenal were wasteful, too – Lacazette missing two glorious chances before Aubameyang eventually made it 3-1 with a well-timed volley at the back post. Arsenal’s hopes of securing Champions League football next season have been lifted by this victory. Three successive defeats have left Arsenal fifth in the Premier League – one place below Champions League qualification and two points below Chelsea with two games remaining. Arsenal can of course reach the Champions League by winning this competition, but Chelsea could stand in their way again if they make it to final in Baku.