When Han Solo and Chewbacca walked back onto the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was a homecoming for two iconic movie characters — and a memorable first day of work for the big rookie in the furry suit.
In the “Chewie, we’re home” sequence that fans went nuts over, that was Finnish newcomer Joonas Suotamo in costume opposite Harrison Ford. Suotamo tag-teamed with Peter Mayhew, the 73-year-old original Chewbacca, for the more physically rigorous aspects of the gig in Force Awakens and the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi (in theaters Dec. 15). He takes over the Wookiee role entirely for next year’s standalone Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25), which focuses on the young Han Solo.
Suotamo, 31, a former basketball player for Penn State and the Finnish youth national team, says it was “great to share” screen time with Ford, but the real fun for the 7-foot actor came much later, watching YouTube reaction to their first scene together from the trailer. “I was just curling up on the sofa from excitement to see the level of joy it brought to people.”
Here’s what you need to know about the new Chewie:
1. He got help from the Wookiee master.
Mayhew couldn’t walk well on the set of Force Awakens because he was still recovering from a pair of knee replacements, so Suotamo became his stunt double and transitioned to doing more on Last Jedi, which included a Wookiee boot camp. Mayhew “talked about the mindset of Chewie, how he’s loyal to his pilot — things that require underlining,” Suotamo says. And the new guy needed some work: “He told me I was too skinny to be a Wookiee.”
2. He missed his first world premiere.
Suotamo’s involvement in Force Awakens was a well-guarded secret — so much so that “nobody thought of inviting me to the premiere until 24 hours prior,” says Suotamo, whose plane from London to L.A. broke down at Heathrow Airport. “Maybe this time I’ll have better luck.”
3. We’ll see an action-packed Chewie in ‘Solo.’
Solo is set before George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars, so that means a fresh-faced Han (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and a younger Chewie, too. “He’s much more active in this version and a lot more agile,” says Suotamo, whose hoops background helped. “I worked a lot harder for my paycheck, but I love it.”
4. Chewie isn’t Suotamo’s favorite Star Wars character.
“When I was a kid, before I knew I was going to be a foot taller than everyone else, I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker,” Suotamo says. “He has his heart in the right place, and I really love his ideology and the fact that he’s trying to achieve something that requires great responsibility.”
5. But it could have gone better when he actually met Luke.
Chewie and Rey (Daisy Ridley) find Luke at the end of Force Awakens, and Suotamo shares some Last Jedi scenes with Mark Hamill. When a costumed Suotamo met Hamill, the newbie decided to greet the original star with Chewie noises. “I don’t know why I thought that would be a good idea,” Suotamo says. “I started growling, and Mark said, ‘Oh, how are you, Peter?’ Behind Mark, (Force Awakens director) J.J. (Abrams) is giving me the ‘Stop it’ gesture. Then I revealed to Mark that I was Joonas from Finland and he looked so confused by the whole situation.”
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