How real-life Chewbacca tried to save Harrison Ford during his Millennium Falcon accident
“Another guy, a friend of mine who was there — big man, strong man … he was there also, trying to pull the door off. … I didn’t think it was going to work, and I knew that eventually they’d figure out how to open the door, and until then… Well, it’s a long story.”
That’s how Harrison Ford began telling EW the tale of how a mechanical door on the Millennium Falcon slammed down on him during the walkthrough for a scene on The Force Awakens.
Ford broke his leg and recovered in time to finish the shoot, but in the harrowing moment when that sliding door mistakenly closed while Ford was standing beneath it, both director J.J. Abrams and the surrounding cast and crew feared the worst.
Oh my God, we killed Harrison Ford.
Abrams immediately lunged to the door to try to lift it, damaging his back in the process. But Ford’s “friend,” the “big man, strong man”? That was actually his costar, Joonas Suotamo, the 6-foot-11-inch actor who took over the Chewbacca role.
Adding a dose of absurdity to this terrifying accident … Suotamo was wearing the furry suit as he tried to rescue him.
The incident came up when Suotamo, who reprises the role of Chewie in Solo: A Star Wars Story, sat down with EW for a Q&A with Alden Ehrenreich, who plays young Han in the new movie.
Ehrenreich and Ford share some unusual history of their own. In Part 2 of our five-part interview, we touched on The Man Who Discovered Two Han Solos — then both the new Han and the new Chewie delved into how the veteran actor survived that sliding door catastrophe aboard the Falcon. (With a little help from real-life Chewbacca.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Joonas, you’ve worked with both guys. Tell me what it was like seeing the change in gears from Ford to Ehrenreich.
JOONAS SUOTAMO: Alden, from that first day, I knew that he was going for something that’s his own. He’s not trying to just merely mimic what Harrison would do. He can imitate Harrison. I asked him to many times, and he can do it. [Laughs] But in this movie, both of us were trying to find a way to portray these characters in that place and time before we set on this adventure. I’m just so privileged to have been able to work with both Hans. It’s a blast.
Alden, you got your break from casting director Fred Roos, and he also helped persuade George Lucas to cast Ford in the part back in the day.
ALDEN EHRENREICH: Yeah, he cast Harrison. He [helped] cast the original Star Wars. He cast American Graffiti. He cast me in my first film [Francis Ford Coppola’s 2009 drama Tetro]. And that was actually the first thing Harrison and I talked about.
EHRENREICH: We both had that shared experience and working for Francis Ford Coppola, and Spielberg I haven’t worked with, but he started my career [by recommending him to casting agents after seeing him in a friend’s Bat Mitzvah video], and Ford obviously worked with him a whole lot. So there was a lot of tie-ins like that.
So were you just drawing old war stories out of him?
EHRENREICH: Yeah, well, we were talking the [Millennium Falcon] blast door closing on him. [A 2014 accident on the set of The Force Awakens that broke Ford’s leg and stalled production.] And he was talking about his little injury. And I was like “Whoa, that sounds really gnarly. Is that the worst thing that’s happened to you on a movie?” And he was like [smirks] “No.” He started listing all the bones that he’s broken.
SUOTAMO: We were terrified when that thing happened. I thought that my hero from childhood was no more! I was sure of it. And then apparently when they finally lifted that hydraulic thing, he just walked off and called his own helicopter. [Note: Read Ford’s description of summoning his own medevac chopper here.] He had met someone and organized it himself. That’s Harrison.
EHRENREICH: He’s a real action hero.
SUOTAMO: He is. More amazing in real life than in the movies.
I interviewed him for The Force Awakens and we talked about the accident. He was like, “Fortunately, there was a really big guy there with me to help lift it off.” I thought he meant some crew member. But he meant you, Joonas.
EHRENREICH: I didn’t know that!
SUOTAMO: Let’s set the record straight. Hydraulic doors can’t be lifted, but we tried.
EHRENREICH: So that’s why those blast doors now have a foam bottom half.
SUOTAMO: I didn’t know that. That’s why it broke when I kicked it! [Laughs]
Tomorrow: Part Three — Jack Nicholson’s Influence on the young Han Solo
Solo: A Star Wars Story