(Note - the following contains some very mild SPOILERS related to Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. As Taylor Swift so sagely advised Chewie that one time: "Don't say I didn't say I didn't Wraughrah...")
Now, when it comes to widely beloved loud, hairy giant bear men, they really don't come any closer to perfection than the Star Wars saga's Chewbacca. Chewie, after all, is awesome, and if you need an explanation as to why, there's a pretty good chance that you haven't actually seen the original trilogy. For devoted fans of the wonder Wookiee, though, a whole lot of the credit is inevitably given to the man who played him, the 7'2" British actor Peter Mayhew.
With Mayhew's distinctive gait — not to mention size — proving a defining element of Chewbacca's enduring appeal, Mayhew's return to the role in the recently released (and thus far moderately financially successful) Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was hailed by fans as an important sign of the movie's faithfulness to the spirit of the original movies.
The only problem?
Peter Mayhew Wasn't Actually the Only One to Play Chewbacca in 'Episode VII'
Y'see, Mayhew — who's now 71 — has long lived with substantial health problems related to his prodigious height, and the physicality of Chewie's substantial role in Episode VII was evidently too much to ask of his now weakened knees.
As a result, a stand-in was brought in for those more physically challenging scenes...
And Lo, a New Chewbacca Was Born
Meet Joonas Suotamo, the 6'10" Finnish basketball player — College ball fans might remember him from his time playing for Penn State — who stepped into Mayhew's rather large shoes for certain scenes in Episode VII.
And as it turns out, he's not only a star athlete and now movie star — who, in a classy move, refuses to reveal which scenes he appears in — but he's also something of an ace Twitterer, sharing not only the above snap of him being trained by a bona fide Jedi Master, but also glimpses of him catching up with a certain rogue stormtrooper...
...and a rather faith-instilling traveling companion...
Intriguingly, the now 29-year-old Suotamo had actually long since given up on his youthful dreams of becoming an actor when he nabbed the part — having instead earned a degree in film, and started his own video-production company (while also selling insurance to pay the bills). In fact, he only auditioned for the role — while not having any idea what it even was — because a Finnish national basketball coach heard that a movie production was looking for a seven foot guy with blue eyes, and immediately thought of Joonas.
Suotamo sent off an audition tape — he was asked to do a caveman impression — and then was quickly whisked off to London, where over the course of three auditions he clearly impressed director J. J. Abrams enough to become the new Chewbacca.
The best part, though?
Not only was Chewie awesome throughout The Force Awakens (suggesting Suotamo did a damn fine job), but Peter Mayhew himself clearly approves of the casting...
...and what greater validation could you ask for?