Joonas Suotamo inherited the iconic role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew. Here are five facts about the Star Wars sequel trilogy actor.
One thing the Star Wars sequel trilogy made unfortunately clear was that in order for the story to move on, some of the actors who were part of the original, who had all aged by almost three decades when The Force Awakens went into production, wouldn’t be able to portray their famous characters. This was sadly underscored by the deaths of Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, and Peter Mayhew in recent years.
Mayhew, the tall and charismatic actor known for playing Chewbacca, was able to reprise his role as the lovable and fearsome Wookie in The Force Awakens, but not without difficulty. Because the character would continue to be a major part of not only the sequel trilogy but of the prequel story Solo as well, a new actor would have to carry the torch of playing Chewbacca. That actor is 6-foot 11-inch actor Joonas Suotamo, who first joined the Star Wars universe playing a body double for Mayhew in The Force Awakens before completely taking over the role with The Last Jedi and Solo.
Below are five little-known facts about Suotamo.
1. He’s Finnish
The actor was born in Espoo, Uusimaa, Finland. Growing up, Suotamo came to love acting while performing in local plays. He also developed a love of storytelling and film while watching Star Wars movies on VHS tapes. In a 2018 interview, he shared his love of Luke Skywalker growing up particularly. “I had blond hair and wanted to fly Luke’s spaceships and be heroic.” But, of course, he eventually got to live his dream in some respect by performing alongside Luke Skywalker in the sequel trilogy.
Utilizing his height, Suotamo became a star basketball player in high school, which drew the attention of a university in the States.
2. He was an excellent student
On a basketball scholarship, Suotamo went to Pennsylvania State University to study film and video. He was an excellent student and actually earned his degree in just three and a half years before returning home to Finland. He made the Academic All-Big Ten Team twice during his time at PSU.
His time as a basketball player at Penn State, however, wasn’t all he’d dreamed it to be. In a 2016 interview, he shared that his time with the Nittany Lions was unfortunately plagued by injuries. “I never could give it my 100 percent,” he said. “It was just that kind of thing where eventually I knew I needed to focus on my aspirations elsewhere.”
3. He served in the Finnish army
Of course, playing Chewbacca means being part of a story that includes galaxy-wide conflict and war. Suotamo was no stranger to military service before joining the cast of Star Wars. After graduating from Penn State, Suotamo returned to Finland to serve in the Finnish army. Finnish citizens are required to serve between six months to one year in the military between the ages of 18 to 29. He rose to the rank of second lieutenant before his required service ended.
4. He was a professional basketball player
After finishing his military service, Suotamo returned to the world of basketball, playing seven seasons professionally in Finland. He was a part of the Finnish National Team in 2005 and competed in the World University Games in Turkey and the U20 Championships in Bulgaria. He was also an insurance salesman in Finland before getting the call to audition for his iconic role.
5. He was just as worried about Chewbacca’s fate in Episode IX as we were
One of the most shocking moments in The Rise of Skywalker is when Rey and Kylo Ren have a Force battle over pulling a First Order transport out of the sky that Chewbacca is allegedly on. Rey pushes herself so hard and experiences so much anger at Kylo Ren that she unintentionally shoots Force lightning out of her hand and destroys the transport, leaving fans believing that Chewbacca just met his tragic end.
Thankfully, we soon learned that Chewbacca was on another transport and was very much alive, but even Suotamo worried at first. Suotamo shared in a 2020 interview: “I was pretty shocked, but I was confident Chewie would pull through. I did get some worried looks from my wife at that point.”
Fortunately, Chewbacca survived to the end of the film, and Suotamo will likely continue to portray the character in future Star Wars stories. Perhaps we’ll see a sequel to Solo in some form in the near future.