Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca) has spoken about his time in Star Wars from the sequel trilogy to Solo, revealing interesting anecdotes, details, eagerness to work with Alden Ehrenreich again if they return to Solo, and hopefully playing Chewbacca for years to come.
First off, I am just going to say this: Joonas Suotamo is a treasure to Star Wars. Disney and Lucasfilm hit a home run when they found him to take over as Chewbacca when legend Peter Mayhew became physically unable to do it anymore. I have yet to meet him in person (though he is fully aware of #MakeSolo2Happen), but from everything I have seen and heard, he is a wonderful human being and one of the best ambassadors the franchise has today.
Okay, on to the interview which was conducted by The Hollywood Reporter.
So this first bit is not the juiciest bit of information from the interview, but as a fan of Chewie and the Falcon, this was the coolest part. How seriously Chewie takes Dejarik. Joonas explains:
Well, over the years, Chewie has found that winning at that game proves to everyone that you rule the Falcon and all its gadgets. So, it’s important to win at all costs. I’ll let that be my final word on the subject. (Laughs.)
There’s something about the way Joonas talks about Chewie that is very endearing and pure. He speaks of him in a very real manner, as if he actually exists, and it’s clear he is genuine in how much he loves and respects that he is carrying on the legacy of this beloved character.
It’s almost hard to believe that Joonas has been on screen as Chewbacca as much as Peter Mayhew at this point. Even if you include Peter’s brief moments in the suit at the end of The Force Awakens, both actors have almost exactly 40 minutes each on screen as Chewbacca, and I think it’s a safe bet The Rise of Skywalker isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. Here are a few exchanges from the interview where Joonas touches on all three movies from the recent trilogy.
When you first read The Rise of Skywalker script, did you think Chewie had met his end when the transport exploded on the desert planet of Pasaana?
I was pretty shocked, but I was confident Chewie would pull through. I did get some worried looks from my wife at that point.
After the missed hug in The Force Awakens, did J.J. go out of his way to make sure that Chewie didn’t miss out on any hugs in Episode IX?
(Laughs.)I guess so. Chewbacca got to hug Leia at the end of The Last Jedi, which was a cool moment. Carrie Fisher and I made a point to have a special moment in that closing Falcon scene. But, the story is so huge that these small mishaps — as some people call them — don’t weigh as much when you’re bringing the Skywalker saga to an end. I’m just glad we corrected the Leia hug in The Last Jedi.
For some reason, I can imagine J.J. cracking jokes about hug-proofing the movie, but it certainly sounds like he had his hands full on this movie.
Yeah, the weight on his shoulders when we were shooting TROS must have been so huge. I didn’t bring that up and would never. My take on The Force Awakens’ missed hug was that Chewie was so preoccupied with helping Finn that his time to grieve and hug people came later. For The Force Awakens, we actually shot a special scene — a consolation scene for Chewie — which didn’t make it into the finished film or DVD. The thought process behind it was a little bit different than what ended up being in the film, and those kinds of things always affect the final decision-making on the day.
Do you see what I mean about how optimistic and positive he is? Now, positivity aside, Joonas has been tasked with bringing a lot to the screen as Chewbacca, from athleticism and action to anger and sadness. Perhaps his most impactful moment as Chewie came in The Rise of Skywalker, when he learns that Princess Leia has died. I can only speak for myself, but heading into Episode IX, a Star Wars movie had yet to make me cry, and that scene took me there. It’s an underrated moment brought to life by Joonas under J.J. Abrams’ direction, and the actor explains what it was like shooting that scene, and the atmosphere surrounding it.
I remember having some issues with my jaw being so sweaty that I had trouble opening the mouth of the Chewbacca mask. So, I was a nervous wreck underneath the mask because I knew this moment was so important to the film, and I wanted it to be perfect. But, maybe that helped me get into the right mindset. Everyone was really tense. It was agonizing to deal with that situation because you were essentially living the actual reality of it — that Carrie had passed — and now we were shooting the scene where her character passes. It was a very emotional day, and watching it is still very emotional for me.
Hearing Chewie’s anguish was already painful, but when such an imposing figure collapses to his knees and flails his arms, it makes his reaction all the more impactful.
Exactly. The whole film turned out to be beautiful, but especially those five minutes. When Han died in The Force Awakens, you knew that you were still going to shake Harrison Ford’s hand at the end of the day. So, yeah, Leia’s scene was definitely more difficult.
This interview was full of funny moments too, one of which being Joonas revealing what Chewie said to Rey to which she replies “It is” when she is back in the Falcon cockpit in The Rise of Skywalker. Poe fans be warned!
I think Chewbacca is saying something like, “It’s good that you’re back in the Falcon because Poe has been damaging the Falcon with his reckless, shifty flying.” So, I think it’s a small jab at Poe at that point. (Laughs.)
Joonas is a Star Wars fan, he has watched all of the original films, which not only helped him nail down Peter Mayhew’s mannerisms, but he knows his history. And yes, I know there is a comic that shows Chewie getting a medal, but not many people read the comics in comparison to general Star Wars fans, and Maz giving Chewie Han’s medal from A New Hope is another moment that makes you desperate to keep tears from falling down your face. Joonas takes us back to filming that scene, which takes place at the end of the film.
I was celebrating. It was the greatest thing. The whole ending weaves together all the storylines one last time, and it was wonderful to see that happen. It was also great to have the Maz character do it because Chewie and Maz seem to have this history together. Hopefully, we’ll learn something more about that in the future on some other story, but, yeah, I just really enjoyed how that played out.
I think (it was Han’s). It would make sense, yeah. Nobody told me whose medal it was, but I’m thinking it was Han’s.
What makes The Rise of Skywalker such a great movie for Chewbacca fans is his interactions with his friends, new and old. THR’s Brian Davids asks Suotamo about two key parts in the movie for Chewie, the first being Chewie’s rescue from the First Order, and the second, his reunion with Lando. This is not Joonas’ first time with Lando, but it is his first time with legend Billy Dee Williams as the card playing swindler.
When Poe and Finn rescued Chewie on Kylo’s destroyer, Chewie seemed surprised by the fact that they came to rescue him. Poe responded to him by saying, “Of course we came for you, Chewie.” Were you also surprised that Chewie seemed to think he was expendable?
I think Chewie lives in the moment sort of like dogs do. (Laughs.) I don’t think he puts a heavy emphasis on expectations like humans do. I also think Chewie is joking or being a bit sarcastic when questioning them, but it is also possible that he thought all hope was lost at that point. I do think he maintained his sense of humor throughout the experience and was ready to deliver the punchline when his friends came to save him.
When you prepared for the scene where Chewie reunited with Lando, did you think back to all their times together in hopes of conveying that familiarity on the screen?
Yeah, I did. Chewbacca knows this guy, and he ends up helping them out in the desert. I really felt the same warmth for Lando and Billy Dee (Williams). They’re both great men that I’m really happy to see again, and they both can help us in our mission. Chewbacca is practical in that sense. If it was a more relaxing get together, it would’ve included more bonding, but they had a pressing issue as they needed to get going and find the ship in the desert. There was no time for celebration even though they definitely have a history together.
Okay, now, as a massive Harrison Ford fan, this is the best part of this interview, and possibly one of my favorite reveals from a Star Wars interview period. I like to call this “vintage Ford” as Joonas explains the veteran actor’s casual tension-breaking approach to settling down his less experienced colleagues.
You’ve shared the cockpit of the Falcon with just about everyone at this point. Which captain or co-pilot has the best jokes or banter in-between takes?
Harrison was flying the Falcon, and I needed to look back and yell something at Finn. I didn’t realize at the time why I was looking back, and I asked J.J., “What’s my motivation for doing this?” Harrison then looked at me and said, “It’s for the money, stupid.”(Laughs.) So, I learned that early on, and it was so true.
As green as he may have been in experience, Joonas did not shy away from giving his input and even doing a little continuity-correcting improvisation. I always wondered why Ford looked at him this way, and now we know! Check out the clip and the explanation afterward.
So, one of my favorite moments in this entire trilogy was when Chewie, Han, Finn and Rey were leaving Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. After the group rescued Rey and got back in the elevator to leave, Chewie picked up Han’s parka that he threw on the ground when they arrived and handed it back to him to put on. Han proceeded to give Chewie one of the funniest and most bewildered reactions to this gesture. What do you remember about shooting that moment?
(Laughs.) I’m pretty sure I improvised that. I gave the jacket to Han, and then J.J. thought about it before realizing, “Oh, yeah, he has to have the jacket since we’re going outside.” So, it was left in, and I was really happy about that. I might have come up with it during rehearsal first, but it was one of my only ideas that got to stay in the film. I’m really proud of that scene, and I’m so happy that you noticed that. It’s so comedic that Chewbacca is worrying about Han’s jacket.
Okay this is where my #MakeSolo2Happen senses start tingling, as now we’re getting to the part that makes me cautiously optimistic and hopeful. Probably as cautiously optimistic and hopeful as Joonas is at seeing more Solo too (okay maybe not, because he gets paid to do it). Anyway, he looks back on the film fondly and does not shy from saying he can’t wait to work with Alden Ehrenreich again if they continue with more Han and Chewie adventures.
I do keep in touch with Alden every once in a while, but I haven’t seen him since the premieres. Every now and then, we’ll message each other, and I hope he’s doing great. If we ever return to Solo, I can’t wait to work with him again.
Despite the on-set drama, which was likely overblown a bit, was that still a great experience for you?
Absolutely. It was a long shoot, and there was some controversy. But, all that stuff happens outside of the film set. Actors don’t get involved with that. We were still having fun and shooting a film that we enjoyed. Visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, who now runs ILM, took so many photos and made a book of behind-the-scenes photography [Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making Solo: A Star Wars Story]. He really captured the process, and it was wonderful looking back and reminiscing about those scenes.
Currently there are no active projects (that we know of) that include Chewbacca, but THR asked Joonas how he felt about his run (so far):
I’m so happy with the way the Skywalker saga ends. I’m really excited for people to see and experience it. I think it’s multifaceted and detailed. I’m just really happy about how Chewbacca fits in to the picture. He’s been with the Resistance and Rebellion for so long, and it’s great to see that he’s out on an adventure with his friends again.
So what about the future? The Skywalker saga is over, but will we see Joonas back as Chewbacca again?
I’m just gonna have to say… (Suotamo performs his Chewbacca voice). I think Chewbacca — more than anyone — is never really gone. So, I’m really hoping. I wouldn’t say no to more Star Wars…
I can’t imagine a situation where Lucasfilm and Disney decide to stop including Chewbacca in future projects. First of all, Joonas is only 33 years old and loves playing the character and being an ambassador for the franchise. I think I speak for all Chewie fans when I say they hit an absolute grand slam home run when they found him.
I know somewhere, Peter Mayhew is proudly looking down, arms fully stretched in the air as he often did, giving that famously big smile of approval that he can rest easy knowing the character he loved playing so dearly, is in the best hands imaginable.