You may be asking, who is Joonas Suotamo? Some know him as a Penn State basketball player, others as a Finnish professional basketball player, and others as Chewbacca in the last two Star Wars films (The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi). Check out how Joonas Suotamo handles his role as Chewbacca in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the legacy of the character, and how quickly he learned how to speak Wookiee.
Thank you, Disney, for inviting me to the #HanSoloEvent and providing travel and accommodations. All opinions on how I am educating people that wookiee is spelled with two e’s are my own.
Who Plays Chewbacca in Star Wars?
Many people know that Peter Mayhew played Chewbacca in the earlier Star Wars films. When trying to think about what to ask Joonas for this interview, a friend turned to me and said, “I dare you to ask him how long it takes him to memorize his lines.” We laughed, because how silly, right? All you do is roar like a wookiee. Well it’s not that simple. Joonas Suotamo explains more about playing the most beloved Wookiee in the galaxy.
How long did it take you to speak Chewbacca?
Joonas:“When they told me I’m gonna meet Harrison Ford the next day, it took me 24 hours.”
We all laughed. When there’s a Harrison incentive, you work on your Chewbacca roar.
So, what was it like meeting Harrison Ford?
Joonas: “It’s great. And I think, I think I was so nervous that the first thing [I said] when I saw Harrison was, Harrison, oh, boy, I wasn’t even born when you guys made these films. [LAUGHS] And he did not like that very much.
But we were able to climb over that hurdle and start again.”
What was it like stepping out of Millennium Falcon for the very first time?
Joonas: “It is just the marvelous thing, because your mind goes back to the times you saw the movie and the first time Luke put on that helmet and battled against the floating ball, which I still don’t know how they did that. [LAUGHS] And it’s just like you know all the angles that they used. And it’s wonderful to be there, because it’s part of everyone’s childhood and memories, those places.”
I mean, I felt that same way when boarding a set that looked like the Millennium Falcon! I was a giddy kid!
On How Joonas Became Chewbacca in Star Wars
This is the 3rd time Joonas Suotamo stars as Chewbacca in Star Wars movies. How does one get the role of a very tall wookiee?
How did you make the jump from pro basketball player to starring as Chewbacca?
Joonas: “I got the role out of the blue sky came a call one day from the Finnish Basketball Association, who had received a request for such person who has blue eyes, is seven feet tall. Yeah, anyone could find that guy. And so the casting was pretty desperate at that point to find one. And they called me, and I said immediately I’m interested. Didn’t take a second to think about it, because we didn’t know what the role was. So, I just said, yes, whatever it is, I’m in.
And I filmed a video of me playing a caveman, half naked in my old high school gym. Just the kind of video where I go like [GRUNTS], just playing this cave man who gets shot in the knee with an arrow and stuff like that. They wanted to see if I could do the acting required for the film. And then four or five months it took to really go through the process. At the end of it, I received a call that said, congrats, you are gonna play Chewbacca!
Wow! What a phone call! Don’t give up on dreams, friends. You never know when that right opportunity will come along.
On Respecting the Legacy of Chewbacca
When talking about the hurdles or obstacles on playing Chewbacca, Joonas talks about the most diffciult one – respecting the OG Chewie.
Joonas: The biggest one probably is just respecting the legacy of Chewbacca, because he was played by Peter Mayhew, the legendary, original Chewbacca. I want it to be so that the fans going to these films see the same Chewbacca who was in the original films, because Chewbacca is so loved and I would not want there to be a feeling that Chewbacca somehow feels different this time around, but to respect that.
Did you consult with Peter [Mayhew]?
Joonas: “Yes, I consulted with Peter. I had a week long — we called it the Wookiee Bootcamp. [LAUGHS] Trademarked, not to be used by — no, I’m just kidding. He showed me the original films and clips. And we looked at his walk, and he told me why he did it such a way and what he did and what was he thinking at the time. It was so helpful, because I had done some studying up myself previously. And to hear from the master himself how and why did he do those things helped me tremendously in preparing for this role.”
Wookiee Bootcamp, trademarked and taken. Do not steal this at home, kids 😉 I love the respect that Joonas has for this role and character.
The Difference in Playing a Younger Chewbacca
Just as Alden Ehrenreich plays a young Han Solo, Joonas Suotamo plays a younger Chewbacca. You find out Chewie’s age in the movie. So was it any different?
Joonas: “I approached it as Chewbacca is very much looking for a way out and going on his own somewhere. He has a family. He has a commitment to his tribe. And I was very much looking forward to this, because he’s very different.
He walks around with worry on his shoulders, because he doesn’t know where this road will take him. And this movie also shows what that new life for Chewbacca is going to be and if he will take that…We talked with Alden a lot about the arc of their friendship and how to start that journey together so that the audience will see the development and also the downs and the ups of that relationship. And it was very important to get right, because we all wanna see how that relationship started.”
Check out how Han Solo and Chewbacca’s friendship began in Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters May 25th!
Thank you so much, Joonas! He really is the happiest, nicest guy. The picture below makes me laugh so hard, because he’s standing next to my friend, Elayna, who packs just as much happiness in a smaller body.