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There’s a disturbance in the Force. The Star Wars family lost one of their own when the original Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew, died last week at 74. There’s since been an outpouring of love and homage paid to the actor who portrayed the lovable Wookie for almost 40 years.
Peter Mayhew’s apprentice, Joonas Suotamo, who shared the Chewbacca role with him in The Force Awakens before completely taking on the role for The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story and The Rise of Skywalker, has joined in to pay tribute as well. Suotamo reminisced about working with the icon with these words:
We had a camp-like session together at [London's] Pinewood [Studios] for a week or so before we began filming The Force Awakens. We watched footage of the original movies and talked about Chewbacca's mannerisms, his nature, his attributes, his physical movements. It was the cocking of the head in a certain way, and also the proud chest of Chewbacca and the way the arms flail all over when he gets angry or excited. We talked a lot about all that.
Joonas Suotamo talked about the memorable time he shared with Peter Mayhew to The Hollywood Reporter when they worked together for the 2015 Star Wars film. It looks like Mayhew set up a Chewbacca boot camp of sorts for him to teach Suotamo how the character moves and acts – including to lead with the chest. Suotamo continued by describing how the actor felt about passing the character to him:
I think it was a tender situation for Peter because he'd been Chewbacca all his life, and to pass the baton — it's not easy. But I always told him, he's the original Chewbacca, and everything I would do was to pay homage to how he set up the character. He took it so well.
George Lucas cast Peter Mayhew for 1977’s A New Hope, and he reprised the role for the entire trilogy whilst keeping his other job at a hospital. Due to his love for the character (and Chewbacca’s global popularity), Mayhew made his living in the role and through public appearances. In a recent tribute, Lucas said he was “more like a Wookie than I originally imagined a Wookie to be.” Mayhew reprised the role in Revenge of the Sith among other reappearances.
Joonas Suotamo closed out his recent words about his Wookie mentor by saying:
Peter was always a very kind, very likable person who didn’t make a big deal about himself. He was quiet but very wise in his words — he chose his words carefully. And he was honest. The first time when I met with him, he told me I was too skinny to play a Wookiee. We laughed a lot about that. He was a giant man with a big heart.
This is so sweet! The two developed a great relationship and Joonas Suotamo got to get to know Peter Mayhew as he genuinely was. The new Chewbacca actor joined in tribute after Star Wars actors including Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill reacted to his passing. Mayhew died soon after suffering a heart attack and had undergone spinal surgery last year to improve his mobility. The actor was over seven feet tall due to a connective tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome.
Joonas Suotamo was a Finnish basketball before taking on the role of Chewbacca, and he towers at 6'11''. He was approached while the search was on for a very tall man with blue eyes and the role fit the bill for him. Chewbacca will live on in Suotamo when he reprises the role in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20.