Joonas Suotamo Talks Chewbacca Going ‘Solo,’ Working On The Rise Of Skywalker, And The Star Wars Holiday Special

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Joonas Suotamo has taken on the iconic role of Star Wars‘ favourite Wookiee, Chewbacca, since 2015’s The Force Awakens. As promised by director J.J. Abrams, The Rise of Skywalker will bring Chewie and many other characters’ arcs to a close, so we sat down with Suotamo to talk about the Rise of Skywalker filming process, what he thinks a Chewbacca spin-off should look like, and more.

CTV Sci-Fi Channel: Unlike the late Peter Mayhew, you’ve spent the majority of your Star Wars career playing a solo Chewie, pun intended. How did portraying a Chewbacca who has lost his partner in crime affect your performance in comparison to Mayhew’s?

Joonas Suotamo: I think it was very uncharted territory for me…when I was playing next to Harrison [Ford] in The Force Awakens, you knew that…Chewbacca was a sidekick, he was always looking to cover all bases and to protect his buddy. But now it’s been different. And that’s also given me freedom to think of new ideas for scenes and maybe do something that’s unexpected of Chewbacca but still something that feels real to the character.

Chewbacca’s such an iconic role, and yet it affords you a certain level of anonymity because you’re in costume all the time. How much has being in Star Wars affected your life, if at all?

That’s the big blessing of this role, is it doesn’t touch on your personal life so much. so you can kind of dictate your level of exposure and be very…keep that same life that you had before all this started. Which I have. The only thing that’s changed is I got married to my then-girlfriend, and we’ve been through this all the beginning and it’s been a real blessing.

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Would you want to pursue more “traditional” acting roles after this?

Absolutely. I’d much rather be known as the actor than “hey, that guy must play basketball. How tall are you?” [laughs]

Fair enough. Any particular genres or roles you’d want to explore?

I see myself more fitted in something otherworldly. Maybe some science fiction or horror or fantasy.

The Rise of Skywalker marks your third time taking on the role of Chewbacca on your own. Did it get any easier over time? Or did each film come with its own set of difficulties?

The first time I was very confident, then the second time I was more knowledgeable. But at the end of the day, it’s always hard to get it perfect. So it’s always kind of a compromise, because…you have to understand the director’s vision for the scene and then play out the correct energy and spacing of the action. You need to know the rhythm, and it’s a lot of little things that sometimes come intuitively but sometimes I need some more help from the director to really get the intent that they’re going for.

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Obviously J.J. Abrams was with you for that first time, during The Force Awakens. Did working with him again for The Rise of Skywalker give you any sense of ease?

I think so. The Force Awakens was kind of a celebration as much as a film shoot because everyone was happy to be working on Star Wars. We thought every shot, every day we showed up, and every scene we saw being filmed we were like “oh man, this is going to be so great.” For Episode 9, we had seen four, five films before. So it was much more, I think easier, to focus on the real thing. There wasn’t as much of a celebration as pressure of delivering what was required of this last epic conclusion.

So was the energy on set any sadder or more intense than it was for The Force Awakens?

It wasn’t sad, but there was definitely more of that…you can’t really celebrate something five movies in a row. So we were more work-focused, definitely. But still, it’s always fun to shoot and be a part of. And what the real lure for me of this film was we get to sort of bring it all together, so every decision you do as an actor, it leads to a scene being some kind of a scene…if Chewbacca looks and nods a certain way, it give a certain weight to that moment. So all that kind of stuff, you knew that these things were going to happen in the conclusive film and it’s going to be so much weightier than it was before. Everything has more meaning, I think, and that put pressure on everybody.

Despite the pressure, do you have any favourite behind-the-scenes memories from The Rise of Skywalker?

For me, I’m always in the suit when we’re filming. So first of all, I might be very boiling [laughs]. I keep to myself most of the time because I need to cool down in front of a fan or something. But definitely, me and Daisy [Ridley] had lots of fun shooting those desert scenes in the speeders…we were really enjoying each other’s company…there’s a lot of waiting around in filming, so we were chatting and laughing every chance we got.

To start wrapping it up—if Chewbacca got his own spin-off, what would it be called and what would it be about?

Maybe “The Rise of the Porgs” [laughs]. What would it be about? …I’d like to see Chewbacca in his home world, what is was like to live there before the Empire came. Or right after that.

And finally, have you seen the Star Wars holiday special?

Only the beginning. I felt like it could damage the view I had…I think it was a fun little comedy clip. Perhaps it should have been left [laughs].

Would you be willing to watch the whole thing?

No. I’ll never be ready [laughs].

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theatres December 19. Watch the official trailer below.