Star Wars: Joonas Suotamo on Becoming Chewbacca and What’s Next for the Wookiee
Joonas Suotamo talks to us about his experience becoming Star Wars' new Chewbacca.
This Star Wars interview contains spoilers.
Some things never change, and in Solo: A Star Wars Story, it’s still not wise to upset a Wookiee. Meanwhile, so much about Solo signals a change for the Star Wars galaxy. Not only do we have a new Han, but the man inside the big walking carpet that is Chewbacca is also relatively new to the role.
Having transitioned into the role in The Force Awakens, Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo fully took over for Peter Mayhew as the Millennium Falcon’s co-pilot in The Last Jedi. And in Solo, Chewie gets more screen time than ever before, as well as a more fully realized character arc. Not only did Suotamo get to flesh out some backstory of everyone’s favorite fuzzball in Solo, he also had the opportunity to save some other Wookiees, and take part in the return of a major Star Wars villain.
In an exclusive interview with Suotamo at Star Wars Galactic Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, the new Chewbacca (New-Bacca?) discussed his character’s relationship with these other Wookiees, as well as how he found out that Maul was back. He also gives insight about Chewie’s newfound agency and what makes for the best Wookiee hair in movies. Oh, and he gets tempted by some Galactic Nights Porg wings…
How is the Chewie in Solo different from the one we’ve seen in Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope?
At the beginning of Solo, Chewbacca is a stray dog from the streets who has been beaten. He is very guarded and not trusting of the outside world. When the situation arises, he calls upon the powers he has and can do amazing things. That is the approach I took in this film. He has a lot of strength, but doesn’t always show it. But when you get him pissed off, he will explode. He is capable of many things we haven’t seen.
We see some other Wookiees in Solo. Who are they and are they related to Chewbacca?
Wookiees, at this point, the Empire has taken over their planet, and they could be found all over the galaxy working in pretty harsh conditions. But I don’t think Chewbacca knows them. He has a thing for helping his countrymen, his own race. I think we’ll see more difficult decisions on that point.
I think this is the most amount of screen time Chewbacca has had. And it feels like it’s the most agency he’s had.
When you contrast him with Harrison Ford or Luke Skywalker, you might say he’s more in the background. I think it’s important for the character to grow out of a background character. In this movie, I was most excited about bringing him in as an active character. He has a mind of his own, similar to Han. And he is a force to be reckoned with in terms of decision making. He has a really powerful presence in this.
When did you learn that Maul was going to make a surprise return in this movie?
I found it out at the premiere! I had not been told. It was a total shocker for me because I hadn’t watched anything auxiliary. I have just been watching the films. I was really excited because he’s one of my favorites.
Fans of The Clone Wars and Rebels series knew he came back, so did you have to call up Dave Filoni to find out how he returned?
I had to take appointments with George Lucas and have counseling. I needed that! [laughs]
You assumed the mantle from Peter Mayhew, and now Alden Ehrenreich is in the unenviable position of taking over for Harrison Ford. Did you offer any advice on taking over the role of an iconic character?
We had discussions, but you don’t want to assume you know better. You always leave it to the actor and director to work out those things. But I think he got it perfectly. He understood the tone of the films and came so prepared, studying Wookieepedia even! He knew so much stuff, like the Corellian blood stripes. He studied up.
After transitioning into the role, do you feel like the fans have embraced you as Chewbacca?
I think it is too early to say. I am slowly realizing the impact of Solo. But it has all been good and I’ve had nothing but good interactions. And the feedback on Solo has so far been positive. I think you come out of it feeling elated with the thrill of adventure. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of it.
We have seen Chewie with wind-swept messy hair and with the slicked back hair. Which is your favorite Chewbacca style?
It is definitely the conditioned, moisturized, wind-swept Chewie hair. That’s a pretty cool look for him. The suit is knotted one hair at a time, so it would behave like real hair. It is covering the whole humanoid, and it is wonderful to see a whole body of hair just reacting to the environment. And you can’t make that CG. There is nothing CG about him; it’s all mechanical and hairy.
Actually, I know the jaw in the suit is a mechanical apparatus you control with your jaw. In addition to hitting the gym to stay in shape, are you having to work out your jaw to put up with that?
My jaw is not even. The left side hangs lower than the other. So when I’m doing lots of jaw opening on set and have to do a lot of dialogue, my jaw is very sore at the end of the night. I always forget to talk about it. But yeah, it gets really sore! It is a pretty stiff jaw.
One more thing before I let you go. They are serving barbecue Porg wings here at Galactic Nights.
Really?! I actually have to get going!
Will you try one?
Definitely…wait, no. No!