Mark Hamill looks back as ‘ Empire’ turns 40
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 floored 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 film 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 first 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; Griffin, 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 filming, 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 filmed 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 filming 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 filming 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 film “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