There are few characters more vital to the history of Star Wars as C-3PO and Chewbacca. They are among the limited group of key supporting players who have appeared in all three trilogies of the Skywalker Saga, and being non-human characters their specific designs have long informed the larger aesthetic of the galaxy far, far away.
Given this significance, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the actors delivering what may be their final performances in the roles in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker… which is why I specifically decided to ask stars Anthony Daniels and Joonas Suotamo about the experience during the movie’s recent Los Angeles press day.
You can watch the clip from the interview by clicking play on the video below:
As you would expect, Anthony Daniels is very aware of the effect that seeing C-3PO has on people, having been playing the character for more than 40 years, and he noted that it was something he had no problem taking advantage of in the making of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – where he has a role far larger than the one he played in either Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
How did he go about doing this? It started with not breaking the illusion for the crew while cameras were rolling. Anthony Daniels wouldn’t actually go on set until he had gone through the unique costuming process that brings C-3PO alive. As he explained, the actor just couldn’t get enough of how people would react to and behave around the legendary droid:
When I come on set in any of these movies, I always make sure that I am fully dressed so that I can walk out as a C-3PO and get the reaction of the crew, who've all grown up with it. But they are still fans, and it is so rewarding just through the little peephole eyes to see them go 'Star Wars is here.' There's a little kick there.
The experience was a bit different for Joonas Suotamo, given that he inherited the role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew in the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – but being in such heavy makeup and wearing a costume that so completely disguised him still allowed him to feel that same kind of awed energy from people involved in the production. There is truly no character in cinematic history quite like him, and he always turns heads.
Naturally there was a particular pressure that came part and parcel with everything, as the actor felt a deep responsibility for carrying on the legacy of the character, but he could still be wowed seeing the world through Chewbacca’s eyes. Said Suotamo,
I was scared from day one that as a fan, I didn't want to let myself or other fans down by changing the essence of this character. I wanted the character to remain so that the character would keep holding on to that special place that he has in the Star Wars galaxy. That was interesting to me because it's very specific, very much a creature that you don't expect, and it's always a wondrous thing when Chewbacca lurches on screen and does whatever he does.
Clearly the presence of C-3PO and Chewbacca on the set of Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker heightened the emotions of everyone involved as soon as they arrived – and this made it all that much harder to say goodbye at the very end. I also asked the actors about their respective last days shooting their roles, and they discussed the specialness of the moment.
Anthony Daniels explained that there was a bit of irony involved with his particular role on the last day he was on set as C-3PO. As any fan will tell you, one of the most iconic aspects of the character is the fact that he never seems to know when to shut up – which is why it was a bit odd that Daniels’ last day playing the role didn’t feature any dialogue:
The 'last day on set' is a very sporadic event. My last day on set, Threepio, who is always very chatty and so on, didn't have a single word to say in the script. And I thought that was a real kind of interesting... It was just an accident. But then, yes, as a person I walk off the set and feel a little sad.
Discussing his own experience, Joonas Suotamo revealed something that I genuinely didn’t know: that the production specifically didn’t tell the actors what their last shot on the film was going to be. Based on arguments that the actor laid out, it definitely made sense as a policy – and he was still ready to deliver a speech (in full costume, of course) when J.J. Abrams announced that it was a wrap on Chewbacca in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker:
They never tell you what is going to be your last shot. They keep the cards close to their chest because they don't want to create expectations, and suddenly you have to do another shot, and you get upset. So they always said, 'Just keep working until we say it's over. Have your speech.' But my head stayed on, my Chewbacca mask, and I gave a speech as Chewbacca to the wonderful crew of Pinewood Studios and all who were there. We've been doing this for five years, starting from Force Awakens, we've been working together, and to say goodbye... Who knows what will happen in the future, but to say goodbye for now was very emotional.
Stepping back in, Anthony Daniels noted that he now has a significant amount of experience witnessing what appears to be the end of Star Wars with both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, but this one was particularly special. Said Daniels,
For me it was the third time of saying goodbye. The others were just a rehearsal. This is a real one, you know? And it felt absolutely right.