Hamill passing the lightsaber to young actors
Star Wars icon Mark Hamill letting go to make way for next generation
When Mark Hamill LOS ANGELES first received the script for Star Wars back in the 1970s, he felt no obligation to keep its plot points secret. In fact, he did the opposite. He shared the screenplay rather generously, if for no other reason than to get some help wrapping his head around it.
“I said ‘This is the goofiest thing you’ve ever read. I can’t figure out how it’s going to turn out. Is it a parody? Is it straightforward? What?’” says Hamill, in a recent interview to promote Star Wars: The Last Jedi in downtown Los Angeles. “So I lent it to my best friend Jonathan and he read it and said ‘Can I give it to so-and-so?’ and I said sure. She read it. Three or four people read it.”
Things soon changed. By the time The Empire Strikes Back was being made, Hamill’s farm boy-turned-intergalactic-hero Luke Skywalker was a household name and the press were concocting schemes to learn as many secrets about the Empire as possible. Reporters paid a helicopter pilot to fly over the frozen Norwegian set, for instance, and take photographs. What was ultimately captured, Hamill says, were pictures of snowmobiles with “clear logos of the companies that made them,” but were nevertheless interpreted as representing “strange alien craft” by excitable reporters.
Back in England, tabloids would stake out pubs near the production and pay for information. This allowed the producers to ingeniously leak a fake twist into the cosmos, specifically that the late and beloved Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Alec Guinness), had murdered Luke’s father. At least one tabloid dutifully reported the news. At that point, few knew the truth. The Empire Strikes Back was about to reveal what may be the most famous plot twist in the history of cinema: Villain Darth Vader had not killed Luke’s father, he was Luke’s father.
Star Wars mastermind George Lucas knew, director Irvin Kershner knew and a very nervous Mark Hamill knew.
“Kershner brought me aside one day and said ‘I’m going to tell you something that I know and George knows and when I tell you, you’ll know. Because if it leaks, we’ll know it was you,’” Hamill says.
The 66-year-old could have never guessed that, 38 years later, efforts to keep plot points of the Star Wars franchise under wraps would become even more demanding.
Dressed in a dapper, dark suit and conveying a dignified gravity that befits Luke Skywalker’s presumed role in The Last Jedi, as a wizened old master, Hamill is amiable and chatty, even if he is in the midst of dozens of interviews with journalists who were not allowed to watch the film ahead of time.
This is a rare occurrence for movie junkets and adds to the already tricky task of “talking about a movie you’re not supposed to talk about,” he says. What’s clear is that keeping secrets these days is much more complex than it was 40 years ago.
“Of course, there was no social media ( back then),” he says. “There was no way to slip up and make a comment that’s misinterpreted.”
Yes, many things have changed in the Star Wars universe. George Lucas is no longer involved. Harrison Ford’s swashbuckler hero Han Solo is gone. Most tragic of all is that Carrie Fisher, who played Skywalker’s sister Princess Leia and had a sibling-like relationship with Hamill for 40 years, died suddenly in 2016 after completing her work on The Last Jedi.
Watching her final performance on film was not easy, Hamill admits.
“It’s almost unspeakable,” he says. “It just hit me so hard. I thought, ‘it’s been a year, I’ll be over it.’ But I’m still thinking of her in the present tense. I sort of fantasize that it’s some Andy Kaufman-like practical joke and she is on an island in Crete enjoying herself. It’s just irrational on my part because it’s such a painful loss, not just for me but for the world. They all felt like they knew her. The unfortunate thing is as Harrison was more prominent in The Force Awakens and I’m more prominent in The Last Jedi, she was meant to be prominent in Episode 9.”
Still, Hamill likes what he saw in The Last Jedi, even if he had some trepidation about director Rian Johnson’s vision for his character. What we do know is Luke Skywalker, who made a very brief appearance in the final scenes of 2015’s The Force Awakens, seems to have become a reclusive, broken soul that even the actor who plays him had trouble recognizing.
“The thing that just jumped out at me was ‘It’s time for the Jedi to end,’” says Hamill, referring to a line by Skywalker that was included at the end of a teasing trailer released earlier this year. “Really? A Jedi does not give up. In the new generation, the new incarnation, I had to swallow that.”
But Hamill says he has accepted that this new generation of resistance fighters has taken on many of Skywalker’s attributes.
The “cocky, devil-may-care pilot” persona has been taken on by Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. “Sneaking around the Death Star disguised as bad guys” is now a job for John Boyega’s Finn and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. “The orphan from nowhere discovering mystical powers she didn’t know she had” is now Daisy Ridley’s Rey, who ended her adventures in The Force Awakens by seeking out Hamill’s reclusive Skywalker for his help in a renewed battle against the dark side of the Force.
“It’s like watching a bunch of kids rifle through your old toy box and play with your toys,” Hamill says. “But I’m a generous person. I love them all and I think they did a spectacular job. And they did all the heavy lifting. It’s not my Star Wars anymore. The more I remember that, the more fun I have.”
Mark Hamill has learned to relinquish aspects of Luke Skywalker’s identity as younger actors redefine Star Wars for a new audience.