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
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.