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Make-A-Wish: Turning Kids Into Superheroes, Ice Cream Men & More

The Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted nearly 200,000 wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. From the first wish—making a 7-year-old boy with leukemia a police officer for a day—through countless family vacations and celebrity meetups, the foundation has provided all sorts of joy for seriously ill children and their families. Here is just a handful of wishes the foundation has fulfilled in recent years.

1. Superhero for a Day

This April, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted an unusual wish to 13-year-old Erik Martin: it turned him into a superhero for a day. The Seattle boy transformed into his super secret identity, Electron Boy, to help Spider-Man with a dangerous mission. Nefarious supervillains Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy had imprisoned Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field, and only Electron Boy could use his powers to save them. After pulling on his red-and-blue costume, Electron Boy rushed to the stadium in a DeLorean driven by his trusty sidekick, Moonshine Maid, and rescued the team while his family and friends looked on and cheered.

After Electron Boy saved the team, the soccer players congratulated him and gave him his own jersey. As a sign of Seattle's gratitude, the city council gave him a key to the city while declaring it Electron Boy Day. Electron Boy, for his part, smiled for the TV cameras and flexed his muscles. The Electron Boy comic book was created by Ken Christiansen.

Such an elaborate wish certainly wasn't easy to pull off, but it really cheered up Erik Martin. His older sister told the Seattle Times, "He's over the moon. This is definitely beyond anything we thought it would be."

2. A Management Job in the Ice Cream Business

What kid hasn't considered the endless possibilities of becoming an ice cream man? You would have access to an unlimited supply of frozen treats! Five-year-old Robin had a much more sophisticated view of things, though. He didn't just want to be an ice cream man. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked Robin to make a wish, he asked, "Can you make me the boss of the ice cream man?"

Pretty sharp little guy. Robin figured that if the ice cream man worked for him, he could send down orders to give everyone free ice cream, even the kids in his neighborhood who sometimes couldn't afford a treat.
The Make-A-Wish folks made it happen. Robin got his own cap that said "Ice Cream Man," and he rode around the neighborhood with his normal ice cream man, taking orders from his chums and making sure that all of the frozen snacks were on the house.

3. Quality Time with Elmo

Like a lot of three-year-olds, Amanda is obsessed with Elmo. Sadly, though, Amanda is sick with a form of cancer that affects her liver. According to her parents, she spent all of her time in the hospital watching Elmo, playing with Elmo, or talking about Elmo, so when it came time to grant the Michigan girl a wish, the choice was easy: she had to meet Elmo.

Kevin Clash, the "muppeteer" who plays Elmo, canceled a previous engagement and flew to Michigan so Amanda could meet her favorite furry red monster. Amanda was understandably delighted, and the pair danced, sang songs, and laughed for an hour and a half. Make-A-Wish even shot a video of Amanda and Elmo playing together. Fair warning: it's so sweet that it will make you cry.

4. A Spot in the NFL Draft

Fifteen-year-old Zach Hatfield is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan who was diagnosed with leukemia last August. While many kids ask to meet their favorite team, Zach had a different request: he wanted to announce the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Zach got to travel to Radio City Music Hall in April and announce on national TV that the Steelers had used the 18th pick in the draft on Florida center Maurkice Pouncey.

While Zach did a commendable job of announcing the Steelers' pick, he kept trying to help the team throughout the evening. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that when he met NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell he asked for a second wish, "So, do you think maybe you could unsuspend Ben Roethlisberger?" According to Zach, not even the Make-A-Wish Foundation can help the embattled quarterback; the commish just smiled and said, "I don't think we can do that."

5. Taking Kids Camping

If you offer to fulfill a kid's craziest wish, how many of them would choose to use it on other people? That's what 17-year-old Rankin, a Tennessee boy, did a few years ago. When the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Rankin carte blanche to make one of his whims come true, he asked for a weekend camping trip for the children he tutored after school. Rankin had been tutoring younger kids from Chattanooga in his free time, and he wanted for them to get a chance to have a fun outdoor experience.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was happy to make Rankin's unselfish dream a reality. They sent Rankin and his young pupils for an action-packed weekend of hiking, playing ball, and climbing walls at an Alabama summer camp.

6. Meeting Dwight Schrute

Even if you're a fan of The Office, the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin is probably the last place you'd want to visit. Sixteen-year-old Anna disagreed, though. The North Carolina teen wanted nothing more than to visit the set of the hit NBC sitcom, so she made a trip to California to meet the stars. Anna later told the Make-A-Wish Foundation's website that Steve Carrell broke out of his Michael Scott character and was "down to earth and normal" with her, while she really hit it off with B.J. Novak—he plays Ryan Howard on the show—and continued to exchange letters with him after returning home.
* * * * * *
To learn more about Make-A-Wish, visit wish.org.

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
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Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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