Mark Hamill looks back as ‘ Em­pire’ turns 40

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Brian Truitt

The ac­tor talks about deleted scenes and memories from the set in Nor­way. He also shares never- be­fore- re­leased photos.

Around the same time Luke Sky­walker was floored by the great­est par­ent­ing re­veal in cin­e­matic his­tory, Mark Hamill be­came a dad.

“The Em­pire Strikes Back,” the se­cond “Star Wars” in­stall­ment in the Sky­walker Saga, which pre­miered 40 years ago Thurs­day, shocked movie­go­ers when Darth Vader told an in­jured Luke, “I am your fa­ther.” Over the years, “Em­pire” ( stream­ing now on Dis­ney Plus) has be­come many fans’ fa­vorite film in the pop- cul­ture fran­chise, and it’s beloved for Hamill as a movie but also as an ex­pe­ri­ence: The ac­tor’s son Nathan was born dur­ing the shoot.

In Ge­orge Lu­cas’ orig­i­nal 1977 “Star Wars,” Luke was in­tro­duced as “sort of this naive boy and had grown into a young man with great re­spon­si­bil­ity and a bit more grav­i­tas,” says Hamill. He also re­calls “Em­pire” as a “make or break” for the nascent “Star Wars” gal­axy.

“This one was chal­leng­ing in a way the first one was not – more cere­bral, more in­tel­lec­tual, more spir­i­tual. The Force al­ways had an element of spirituali­ty, but this just deep­ened those themes and ex­plored them,” says Hamill, 68, call­ing from home dur­ing “the un­ex­pected va­ca­tion” of coro­n­avirus quar­an­tine. (“I’ve never for­got­ten what day of the week it is more than than these last cou­ple of weeks, but I’m as well as can be ex­pected.”)

Hamill last saw “Em­pire” in theaters in 1997 when his grown chil­dren – Nathan, 40; Griffin, 37; and Chelsea, 31 – wanted to watch the “Star Wars” rere­leases. Now, with ev­ery­body in self­iso­la­tion, Hamill Zooms, Face­Times and emails with all three. On Mother’s Day, the fam­ily hung out­side at Hamill’s house “more than 6 feet apart.”

In honor of the “Em­pire” an­niver­sary, Hamill shares never- seen ex­clu­sive shots from the pro­duc­tion with USA TO­DAY.

Mark Hamill en­joyed get­ting plas­tered for ‘ Em­pire Strikes Back’

Even back in 1979, Hamill had some ex­pe­ri­ence in iso­la­tion. Dur­ing film­ing, Hamill had his hand cast in plas­ter – since Vader slices off Luke’s in their lightsaber duel – and also en­dured a full over- the- head cast and a whole body mold for other “Em­pire” se­quences. “They had straws in your nose and you have to sort of just Zen out and zone out, and it was kind of a peace­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” Hamill says. “Some peo­ple re­act neg­a­tively and get claus­tro­pho­bic, but as the mold sets it gets very warm, and I found it kind of sooth­ing.”

Han and Luke got a sur­prise vis­i­tor in Nor­way

Freez­ing Finse, Nor­way, was the lo­cale for the open­ing shoot on the ice planet Hoth, and even though she wasn’t sched­uled to be there, Car­rie Fisher showed up to hang with costars Hamill and Har­ri­son Ford. A key scene – in which Ford’s Han Solo saves Luke ( af­ter he’s at­tacked by a nasty wampa) by stick­ing him in the warm, sliced- open guts of a dead tauntaun – was filmed 200 yards from their ho­tel. “If you turn the cam­eras around from that scene, there’s peo­ple out on their bal­cony, sip­ping co­coa watch­ing us,” Hamill says.

There was ac­tu­ally even more heat to that Luke/ Leia kiss

It was a warmer en­vi­ron­ment in­side when film­ing the now- in­fa­mous scene in the Rebel base on Hoth, where Fisher’s Princess Leia kisses a re­cov­er­ing Luke to spite Han – which is made a lit­tle weirder one movie later when Luke and Leia learn they’re sib­lings in “Re­turn of the Jedi.” Hamill says the sit­u­a­tion was even steamier in a deleted scene just be­fore the big kiss, in which Luke tries to work up the courage “to tell her how I feel about her” and droid C- 3PO in­ter­rupts a po­ten­tial smooch.

“That was trimmed just for time,” Hamill says. “That’s the great­est good news, bad news joke ever: The good news is there’s a very at­trac­tive woman in the gal­axy, in which you don’t see too many women at all. And the bad news is she’s your sis­ter.”

Luke was fight­ing AT- ATs the day his first son was born

Hamill mar­ried Mar­ilou York in 1978, three months be­fore “Em­pire” pro­duc­tion started, and his wife was preg­nant and “re­ally pop­ping there”: She stayed warm and com­fort­able in a Nor­we­gian lodge while Hamill worked. They were film­ing in Lon­don when Nathan was born at St. John’s Wood Hospi­tal on June 25, 1979. “Look­ing back now, I think, ‘ Geez, how did I do all that?’ You just han­dle what­ever they throw at you.”

He ne­go­ti­ated a day off for when the baby came, but get­ting home at dawn af­ter the birth, a weary Hamill got called in for a shot where Luke runs, shoots a grap­pling hook up to­ward an Im­pe­rial Walker, then jumps out of the way. Dur­ing the last take, Hamill sprained his thumb, badly enough that some of Luke and Vader’s lightsaber duel had to be resched­uled. “It would have been bet­ter off if they’d just let me not come in,” he says.

Like the Force, Luke will al­ways be with Hamill

Hamill might be gone from the gal­axy af­ter last year’s saga- cap­ping “The Rise of Sky­walker,” but he still has Luke in his heart, who for him is as much a part of Amer­i­can folk­lore as Davy Crock­ett or Su­per­man. “In the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, I had a be­gin­ning, a mid­dle and an end – although I said to Ge­orge, ‘ This is like if you told the story of how James Bond got his li­cense to kill and once he be­comes 007, you end the sto­ries,’ “Hamill says.

With the new se­quels, “it wasn’t re­ally Luke’s story any­more, but I was able to en­joy them. I never ex­pected to see Car­rie and Har­ri­son ( again on a ‘ Star Wars’ set), and work­ing with all the new peo­ple was very en­joy­able. That’s some­thing that will al­ways be a part of me and I’m grate­ful for that. “



Mark Hamill was newly mar­ried and a fa­ther- to- be when he started work on “The Em­pire Strikes Back” in 1979.


Hamill worked with makeup artists Kay Free­born and son Gra­ham Free­born to make casts of his hand and head.


Car­rie Fisher watched Hamill and Har­ri­son Ford film “The Em­pire Strikes Back” in Nor­way.

Wear­ing his Rebel flight suit, Mark Hamill works on a scene in­volv­ing hu­mon­gous AT- ATs on Hoth in “The Em­pire Strikes Back.”

Mark Hamill ( cen­ter back) smiles as Car­rie Fisher and Har­ri­son Ford con­verse on set. PHOTOS BY GE­ORGE WHITEAR/ LUCASFILM

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