Dragon Con: Star Wars

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Andrew attended a Star Wars Q&A with Joonas Suotamo, the new Chewbacca and Brian Herring, the main puppeteer for BB-8. 

Star Wars fans of all ages attended the panel and presented questions to the actors. 

Even though they weren’t allowed to say much about the highly anticipated Episode IX, they still provided plenty of fascinating behind the scenes stories. 

Below are the highlights from the panel! 


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– When asked how he got his start in the entertainment industry, Brian Herring spoke about his unusual journey to puppetry. He originally started as an actor and lied about being able to puppeteer in an audition which led to him becoming an assistant puppeteer on the British TV show “Spitting Image.” He later worked for the Jim Henson Company for ten years before working as a freelancer. 

– Joonas Suotamo had an equally unusual journey of how he got into the industry. He started as a basketball player at Penn State and later the Finnish national team. He studied film in college and always felt passionate about acting, but found it difficult to pursue due to his towering height of 6’10. When Star Wars began looking for a new Chewbacca, the casting department reached out to the coach of the national team, trying to find possible tall candidates for the part. Without knowing what movie he was auditioning for, Suotamo was instructed to make an audition tape of himself acting like a caveman. 

– Suotamo’s first day of filming on The Force Awakens was the nostalgia inducing scene where Han and Chewbacca walk into the Millenium Falcon. The entire crew was crying and many people who weren’t even supposed to be working on the scene were trying to gather around and watch. There were no dry eyes in the house including Harrison Ford’s (even though he would never admit it!)

– Speaking of Harrison Ford, Herring recalled a funny moment from when he first met the legendary actor. They were preparing to film in the Millenium Falcon and Herring was dressed in a nylon green onesie that he must wear when puppeteering BB-8 so he can be digitally removed in post production. Harrison Ford walked in, gave him a funny look and dryly asked “Who chose that look?”

– One fan asked Suotamo if he could share what wisdom the late Peter Mayhew imparted when he took over the role of Chewbacca. He studied Mayhew’s unique physicality that made Chewie memorable. Little things like head turns and posture were very important for Suotamo to master so he could properly honor the character. Mayhew was a great mentor who provided a lot of advice and support and Suotamo expressed how much he will miss him as time goes on.

– The actors both recalled working on a scene from “Solo: A Star Wars Story” where Han and Lando are playing the card game “Sabacc.” This scene was a huge undertaking for the crew as there were 50 creatures scattered throughout the scene who all required at least two puppeteers. On top of that, trying to make it look like the puppets were actually playing cards proved to be a struggle. Suotamo wanted so badly to keep the credits from the card game as a souvenir, but was not allowed (and he calls himself a smuggler!)

– When asked if they own any merchandise, Herring said he was hugely obsessed with the franchise as a kid and still has his collection of old toys. His love of the films was so vibrant that his teacher wrote in his report card “Brian’s obsession with Star Wars will lead him nowhere.” If only they knew…

– Suotamo was asked to recall what it was like filming Han’s death scene. He thought hard about how Chewie would react and remembered how the atmosphere on set was very tense and daunting. They filmed in a huge soundstage and very few people were on set as no one wanted to disturb Harrison Ford’s performance. They filmed the scene in only a few takes and Suotamo praised JJ Abrams’ direction.

– When asked what they will miss most about the Skywalker saga, both were very hopeful that they would continue to work in the franchise, even if it meant playing different characters. Herring still expressed that he will greatly miss BB-8. Suotamo hoped that a Chewbacca origin movie might be in the cards, but joked that they’ve stopped answering his emails. 

– The panel ended on a very hilarious note. The convention tried playing the most recent Star Wars promo that premiered at D23 last month. Apparently there was a disturbance in the force because the audio refused to play. Not missing a beat, Herring and Suotamo started humming music from the films and doing the characters voices. The audience exploded into laughter and I’ve been trying so hard to find a video of it ever since. (Anyone who can find a video will receive a reward of 5 million galactic credits).

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