Re­turn of the Jedi

Mark Hamill is now happy to fill the shoes of a Jedi mas­ter, a role loved by gen­er­a­tions, writes James Wigney

Herald Sun - Hit - - COVER STORY -

MARK Hamill knows first­hand the true power of the Force. High above the Tokyo cityscape the af­fa­ble ac­tor, whose name has been in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with farm­boy turned Jedi mas­ter Luke Sky­walker for more than 40 years, tells a story from the mak­ing of the first Star Wars film in 1977.

He and co-star Har­ri­son Ford were squab­bling over who ex­actly was the hero of the story — and who should be hit­ting on Car­rie Fisher’s Princess Leia — when direc­tor Ge­orge Lu­cas fi­nally came over and said: “Hey, let’s just do it, let’s shoot one. Re­mem­ber, it’s only a movie.”

Years later, af­ter the record­break­ing Star Wars had spawned two hugely suc­cess­ful sequels,

The Em­pire Strikes Back and

Re­turn Of the Jedi, Hamill re­peated those very words “it’s only a movie” in front of a pas­sion­ate crowd of 7000 at a fan event. The im­me­di­ate re­sponse was a re­minder — as if he needed one — of the unique place that that gal­axy far, far away has as a cin­ema pop cul­ture phe­nom­e­non the likes of which had never been seen be­fore.

“The crowd gasped and there was such anger that I could feel com­ing on to the stage and I thought they were go­ing to stran­gle me on the spot,” Hamill says with a wry chuckle. “And I re­alised that you don’t dis­miss the movies that are so im­por­tant in their lives.”

Hamill says it took him years to be at peace with the char­ac­ter he freely ad­mits will live on long af­ter he’s dead and buried. Hav­ing been cat­a­pulted from ob­scu­rity to one of the most recog­nis­able faces on the planet as Star Wars fever and mer­chan­dise ran riot, Hamill wor­ried that the rest of his ca­reer would be over­shad­owed by Luke Sky­walker. And for good rea­son. Although he’s worked steadily in film, tele­vi­sion and, es­pe­cially, voiceover work (he in­sists a cer­tain de­mo­graphic knows him best as the voice of The Joker in many Bat­man an­i­mated ad­ven­tures), he’ll for­ever be a Jedi in the hearts and minds of mil­lions.

But ini­tially, in an ef­fort to dis­tance him­self from the big­bud­get space fan­tasies, he turned to the stage, ap­pear­ing on Broad­way in pro­duc­tions such as Amadeus and The Ele­phant Man. When he au­di­tioned for the role of Mozart in the hit Os­car-win­ning big-screen ver­sion of Amadeus, a stu­dio exec re­port­edly told pro­duc­ers: “I don’t want Luke Sky­walker in this film.” Even­tu­ally, it was his on-screen sis­ter, Fisher, who he grew to re­gard as a real sib­ling be­fore her un­timely death last De­cem­ber, who turned him around.

“When I was on Broad­way play­ing Mozart, the fur­thest thing from my mind was Star Wars,” he says. “I love it, but what­ever job I am do­ing, that’s where my in­ter­est is. And Car­rie busted me on it be­cause in my Play­bill, that lit­tle bio that goes in the pro­gram when you do a Broad­way show, there was a line: ‘Hamill, known for a se­ries of space movies, made his Broad­way de­but.’ And I said, ‘Well I’m on Broad­way now and I don’t re­ally want to ac­knowl­edge that’. And she said, ‘Get over your­self — you’re Luke Sky­walker, I’m Princess Leia — you should own it’. And she was right. As usual she was miles ahead of me in terms of un­der­stand­ing the long view.”

Hamill ad­mits he was at first dis­ap­pointed when he signed up to make the new tril­ogy. Hav­ing made the weighty de­ci­sion to come on board, he was look­ing for­ward to gal­li­vant­ing around the gal­axy with Fisher and Ford again, only to find this his role in hugely suc­cess­ful first film, The Force Awak­ens, was lim­ited to a soli­tary, word­less scene just be­fore the fi­nal cred­its rolled. But then he counted the many ref­er­ences to Luke Sky­walker through the movie, the plot of which was largely de­voted to find­ing his char­ac­ter, and came to the con­clu­sion that it was in fact the great­est en­trance he could have made.

“I will never get an­other one like that one in my ca­reer,” he says, with a laugh. “And the up­side was that I got to ex­pe­ri­ence all the hoopla and the fun with­out do­ing any of the heavy lift­ing. Now the ta­bles are turned and I have to show up and ac­tu­ally do some­thing.”

While the plot de­tails for The Last Jedi are more closely guarded than the Death Star it­self, the trailer has re­vealed a seem­ingly darker, dis­il­lu­sioned Sky­walker in self-im­posed ex­ile on a dis­tant and bar­ren water planet. Hamill says he was shocked when he first re­ceived the script, writ­ten by new direc­tor Rian John­son, who was given free rein by the Dis­ney bosses to take the story wher­ever he saw fit. The fran­chise vet­eran fa­mously told the in­com­ing direc­tor, “I pretty much fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with ev­ery choice you’ve made for this char­ac­ter”. But, af­ter much back and forth, Hamill even­tu­ally came around to John­son’s way of think­ing. “I was the most op­ti­mistic, hope­ful char­ac­ter,” Hamill says, care­fully tip­toe­ing around any spoil­ers. “But on the other hand, maybe him push­ing me out of my com­fort zone is a good thing. If Luke were just a re­hash of the be­nign men­tor that we saw in the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, no­body can do that bet­ter than Alec Guin­ness. “Rian’s job is to de­liver all the el­e­ments you love in a

Star Wars film — the ac­tion, the ad­ven­ture, the ro­mance, the hu­mour, the crea­tures, the fan­tas­tic spe­cial effects — but find el­e­ments that will sur­prise the au­di­ence, which is get­ting harder and harder as the audiences are 10 steps ahead of you and have read all the books. “My son said, ‘Dad, there’s a book where they clone an evil Luke from your sev­ered hand’ and I went, ‘Oh my God, I want to do that!’ But when I pitched it they said, ‘The prob­lem is, we can’t do any­thing that has been done be­fore’. So the bar has risen very high and it’s get­ting more and more dif­fi­cult to sur­prise peo­ple. But I do be­lieve they will be sur­prised by The Last Jedi.”

SEE THE LAST JEDI opens to­mor­row

“THE BAR HAS RISEN VERY HIGH AND IT’S GET­TING MORE AND MORE DIF­FI­CULT TO SUR­PRISE PEO­PLE. BUT I BE­LIEVE THEY WILL BE SUR­PRISED BY THE LAST JEDI”

LUKE SKY­WALKER HIM­SELF, MARK HAMILL, AND BE­LOW, WITH THE LAST JEDI CO-STAR DAISY RI­D­LEY.

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