Chewbacca is a favourite Star Wars character for generations of fans, and so a role for him in the latest instalment of the money-making franchise was guaranteed. Few are aware however that underneath all that hair in The Last Jedi is a 31-year-old Finn, Joonas Suotamo.
Suotamo started out as a double for the man who originally played Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew, in the 2015 reboot of the franchise, The Force Awakens. Mayhew was 71 years old when the film was being made, and so a tall double was hired to help out with the long days of filming. Stuntman Ian Whyte portrayed Han Solo's long-time companion in the movie's action scenes.
From double to star
But few people know that the rookie Wookiee from the first film played the role on his own in The Last Jedi. Suotamo plays all of the Chewbacca scenes in the new film, which premiered in Finland last Friday. Mayhew has stepped aside, but still acts as a consultant.
The tabloid Iltalehti reports that the number of scenes in which the 2-metre-tall Finn played Chewbacca in The Force Awakens was kept quiet. The second time around, news that Suotamo had taken over the reins of the character was also not revealed until quite late in the game, after the marketing campaign for The Last Jedi got off the ground.
Rave reviews from his Last Jedi crew
Now that Suotamo has been recognized as the new man behind Chewbacca, he has had a more active role in the movie premieres. Last Sunday he walked the red carpet with the other stars of the film in Los Angeles, and the following Tuesday he was part of the cast gathering in London.
His colleague Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in the films, has nothing but praise for Suotamo.
"Oh, Joonas is so wonderful. The most important thing I own is a Chewbacca toy that Joonas gave to me. He does terrific work and is a very kind man," Ridley has said.
The Last Jedi's director Rian Johnson says that it would certainly have been a challenge for anyone to play Chewbacca behind all that brown fur.
"It's not easy to communicate in that costume, so I asked Joonas to watch the silent movies with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. You have to be precise and intentional underneath all that hair. Joonas made it work," the director said.
Suotamo's Twitter account features a great group shot of the film's actors at the Royal Albert Hall, along with several tweets reminding people who have seen the new film not to reveal any spoilers.
New Solo film will open in 2018
Joonas Suotamo is a former basketball player for Penn State, and he has played for the Finnish national youth basketball team in the past. He says he is a musician in addition to his acting work. The Helsinki-based actor and his partner Milla Pohjasvaara are expecting their first child in February.
Suotamo has already revived his role as a much younger Chewie in the spin-off Solo movie about Han Solo's pre-1977 Star Wars back-story, a film that is already in post-production.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi starring Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca opened in Finnish theatres on December 13th.