'Star Wars': New Chewbacca Actor Honors Peter Mayhew After Taking on the Role

Finnish-born basketball player turned actor Joonas Suotamo will step into the role in the upcoming Han Solo stand-alone film.
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Joonas Suotamo

Time to re-meet the galaxy's favorite Wookie. 

Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo was officially announced in the role of Chewbacca for the upcoming Star Wars stand-alone film following the exploits of a young Han Solo. Suotamo will take over the beloved role Peter Mayhew made famous. In fact, Mayhew has played Chewbacca in every onscreen appearance of the character to date.

"Chewbacca is one of the most iconic characters in the history of film, and Peter's development and portrayal of this beloved Wookie has spread so much joy around the globe," Suotamo wrote in a statement after the casting was announced. "Peter's guidance and kindness have been invaluable gifts which warmed my spirit and prepared me for this journey. I aspire to make Peter proud and bring Star Wars fans the Chewie they know and love." 

Suotamo joins Alden Ehrenreich, who is taking over the eponymous role from Harrison Ford, and Donald Glover, who will be playing Lando Calrissian. 

While Mayhew's shoes are large ones to fill — both metaphorically speaking and literally — perhaps no actor is better equipped to do so than Suotamo. For starters, this isn't his first time suiting up as the towering furry smuggler: Suotamo served as a body double (Wookie double?) to Mayhew in 2015's The Force Awakens.

Suotamo also measures up to the demanding physical requirements of the role. A former college basketball star at Penn State University, Suotamo played center for the Nittany Lions and stands at an imposing six feet 10 inches tall. That puts him a few inches shorter than Mayhew's 7-foot-2 stature, but hey, this is a prequel — maybe Chewbacca was still growing (though he's thought to be around 200 years old at the time of A New Hope, so probably not).

And if you think Suotamo may be too much of a jock for Star Wars, he graduated with a film degree from his alma mater and was a self-confessed theater nerd in high school, according to a 2016 interview with Business Insider.

Before his big break in a galaxy far, far away, Suotamo was an over-the-phone insurance salesman. When he saw a casting call looking for seven footers with blue eyes — to match Mayhew's irises — for an upcoming project, Suotamo saw his chance. 

When Harrison Ford suffered a broken ankle on the set of The Force Awakens by a falling door on the Millennium Falcon, Suotamo was nearby, ready to lend a hand. "I immediately tried to lift it, but it wouldn't even move," the actor told Business Insider. "It was stopped by an emergency button, but none of us knew that. We were all freaking out. But [Ford] was great, he wanted everyone to not worry about him."

What says Chewbacca more than helping an injured nerf herder in need? 

Suotamo has been getting into the role for awhile, posting Chewie-themed photos on his Instagram. Check out some of the highlights: 

 

With @thewookieeroars at #millenniumfalcon #theforceawakens #theyoungwookiee #chewbacca #starwars #starwarspremiere #finn

A post shared by Joonas Suotamo (@joonassuotamo) on

 

Met a tiny chewbacca, gave him a #piggyback ride. #starwars #helpingout #chewbacca

A post shared by Joonas Suotamo (@joonassuotamo) on

 

What a pleasure it was to have a chat with #princeharry and #princewilliam. With them both being pilots, I told them that the pilot seat of the #milenniumfalcon has recently become vacated and that we are searching for a fearless fighterpilot-type to join the team. They promised to give it some thought. #rip #hansolo #employee #manager #chewbacca #chewie #wookiee #starwars7 #kensingtonpalace #royal #family #hair #pilot #aviation

A post shared by Joonas Suotamo (@joonassuotamo) on

 

Use the Force, you tall finnish guy. #markhamill #lukeskywalker #theforceawakens #starwars #starwarstheforceawakens #usetheforce #finn #r2d2anajet @wohoo

A post shared by Joonas Suotamo (@joonassuotamo) on

 

 

Before the #r2d2anajet planeride with #johnboyega who plays #finn in #theforceawakens #starwars #VII #theyoungwookiee

A post shared by Joonas Suotamo (@joonassuotamo) on

 

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