From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
As Chewbacca in the Star Wars trilogy, Peter Mayhew made a fine alien. Now he's a resident alien: In 1999 the British actor moved to Texas and applied for a green card. An immigration official welcomed the Wookiee. Recalls Mayhew: "He said, 'I can't tell my grandson that I wouldn't let Chewie into the United States.' "

Whether in the Lone Star State or a galaxy far, far away, Star-dom still drives the 7'4" Mayhew. After portraying Harrison Ford's shaggy sidekick in 1977's Star Wars, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi (all newly released on DVD), the actor, 60, now spends time crafting furniture in his Granbury, Texas, garage and makes his living attending twice-monthly Star Wars conventions. He'll also return as Chewie in next May's final Star Wars installment, Revenge of the Sith. The Barnes, England-born Mayhew, his towering height caused by an overactive pituitary gland, was working as a hospital orderly when a newspaper story about his size-16 feet got him cast as a minotaur in 1977's Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Nine months later he met with Star Wars creator George Lucas. "After talking with him, I knew I'd found Chewbacca. He was perfect," says Lucas. "When Peter put on that costume, he instantly became the embodiment of the character."

Unable to find acting work after Jedi, Mayhew joined a Yorkshire woodworking business for 12 years but quit in 1996 to appear at conventions full-time. A year later he met toy dealer Angie, now 50, at a Phoenix convention. They married in 1999 and settled in Granbury, where his tall frame gets him quick service in stores—even when no one knows of his hairier alter ego. Says Mayhew: "It's charisma."