The Acolyte’s Wookiee Jedi Kelnacca Is ‘A Star Wars Dream Come True’ For Joonas Suotamo – Exclusive

The Acolyte – exclusive

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

Star Wars’ most legendary Wookiee, Chewbacca, is many things – a loyal friend, a stellar co-pilot, a great shot, and a guilty devourer of Porgs, among others. But he’s not exactly Jedi material. His impulsiveness and propensity for guttural growls are two of the reasons he’s so beloved by fans – even though those traits are hardly the Jedi way. But in The Acolyte, for the first time in live-action, Star Wars will bring us a lightsaber-wielding Wookiee Jedi in full flow. Meet Kelnacca, an all-new walking carpet, and “another Star Wars dream come true” for actor Joonas Suotamo – the man who picked up the Chewie baton from Peter Mayhew on the sequel trilogy and Solo.

“Ever since [I was] five years old, I've been fantasising about being a Jedi, like every kid,” Suotamo tells Empire. “When the word ‘Jedi’ was first mentioned [in talks for The Acolyte], I felt really excited – like a little kid who finally gets his favourite toy on his birthday.”

Shaping an all-new kind of Wookiee meant going back to what Suotamo learned while playing Chewbacca. “Peter told me right from the get-go that Chewbacca is a mime character,” Suotamo recalls. “The audience doesn't understand what he's saying exactly, but they [interpret] his mannerisms, and every little twitch, and every little movement, and roar.” From there, it was a case of using those principles to make his Acolyte character something new and different. “Kelnacca being a Jedi, that sets certain expectations to how you carry yourself in the line of duty,” explains Suotamo, promising a less impulsive fuzzball. “There are certain assumptions that can be made as to whether he lets his emotions take control of him to the extent that Chewbacca would, for example. It was very interesting to bake that into the character and try to personify that on screen.”

Of course, Kelnacca isn’t the first Wookiee Jedi in all of Star Wars. The Clone Wars’ Youngling arc introduced budding Jedi Gungi – while the High Republic era of novels and comics (a time period which culminates in The Acolyte) features fan-favourite Force-wielding Wookiee Padawan Burryaga on the page. “I was aware of the character, and I talked to the High Republic writers at a convention,” Suotamo says of the books – but notes that he hasn’t read Burryaga’s adventures. “I also wanted to differentiate Kelnacca from Burryaga, and not copy too much from those stories.” Now, who knows what ‘May the Force be with you’ is in Shyriiwook?

Empire – The Acolyte – June 2024 issue newsstand cover

Read Empire’s full The Acolyte cover feature – going deep on Star Wars’ boldest streaming series yet, speaking to creator Leslye Headland and stars Amandla Stenberg, Lee Jung-jae, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joonas Suotamo, Dafne Keen, Charlie Barnett, Rebecca Henderson, Manny Jacinto and Jodie Turner-Smith – in the June 2024 issue, on sale Thursday 11 April. Order a copy online here. The Acolyte streams on Disney+ in the UK from 5 June.

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