Star Wars is scrutinized more than any other film or TV franchise, so for every 99 decisions fans quietly appreciate there’s always 1 that causes consternation. The moment in The Force Awakens where Chewbacca, stunned at the loss of his long-time partner Han Solo, is passed by Leia as she hugs Rey (a scene that now makes more sense in light of The Rise of Skywalker) caused an outcry and Joonas Suotamo discusses that and his last ride – for now – in the role of Chewbacca (although he is clearly up for Solo 2).
JS: (Laughs.)I guess so. Chewbacca got to hug Leia at the end of The Last Jedi, which was a cool moment. Carrie Fisher and I made a point to have a special moment in that closing Falcon scene. But, the story is so huge that these small mishaps — as some people call them — don’t weigh as much when you’re bringing the Skywalker saga to an end. I’m just glad we corrected the Leia hug in The Last Jedi.
THR: For some reason, I can imagine J.J. cracking jokes about hug-proofing the movie, but it certainly sounds like he had his hands full on this movie.
JS: Yeah, the weight on his shoulders when we were shooting TROS must have been so huge. I didn’t bring that up and would never. My take on The Force Awakens’ missed hug was that Chewie was so preoccupied with helping Finn that his time to grieve and hug people came later. For The Force Awakens, we actually shot a special scene — a consolation scene for Chewie — which didn’t make it into the finished film or DVD. The thought process behind it was a little bit different than what ended up being in the film, and those kinds of things always affect the final decision-making on the day.
Joonas also discusses filming the scene where the mighty wookiee breaks down after learning of Leia’s passing, a difficult day for all concerned.
THR: Chewie’s reaction to Leia’s passing was heartbreaking to say the least. Can you talk a bit about shooting that moment?
JS: I remember having some issues with my jaw being so sweaty that I had trouble opening the mouth of the Chewbacca mask. So, I was a nervous wreck underneath the mask because I knew this moment was so important to the film, and I wanted it to be perfect. But, maybe that helped me get into the right mindset. Everyone was really tense. It was agonizing to deal with that situation because you were essentially living the actual reality of it — that Carrie had passed — and now we were shooting the scene where her character passes. It was a very emotional day, and watching it is still very emotional for me.
THR: Hearing Chewie’s anguish was already painful, but when such an imposing figure collapses to his knees and flails his arms, it makes his reaction all the more impactful.
JS: Exactly. The whole film turned out to be beautiful, but especially those five minutes. When Han died in The Force Awakens, you knew that you were still going to shake Harrison Ford’s hand at the end of the day. So, yeah, Leia’s scene was definitely more difficult.