Mark Hamill: the reluctant mentor in ‘Last Jedi’
Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi craves not these things — and neither did Mark Hamill when he first signed on for a bizarre, low-budget space opera called “Star Wars.”
The then-25-year-old actor, lucky to land a lead role in any movie in 1977, would have preferred to play the Han Solo part that went to Harrison Ford. Luke Skywalker was not only a little short for a Stormtrooper, he seemed a little bland for Hamill’s taste.
“The actor in me would rather have played someone else,” Hamill told the Daily News. “I loved Han better than me, I loved Darth Vader better than me, I thought C-3P0 was hilarious.
“Luke is sort of the Dorothy (from ‘Wizard of Oz’) with a gender switch, someone that anchors the story of being swept away and meeting all these incredible characters.”
But to wide-eyed children who came of age over the years watching Luke blow up the Death Star, search his feelings after discovering Darth Vader is his father and then having to face his absentee dad in a light saber fight, this champion of goodness meant so much more. One of those kids, Rian Johnson, grew up to direct “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the eighth installment of the most powerful film franchise in our galaxy.
“These movies in some way are all about adolescence, about navigating the waters between childhood and adulthood and finding your place in the world,” said Johnson. “As a kid in Colorado, I saw this farm kid who feels like he’s a million miles from anywhere but knows he’s on the cusp of stepping into a bigger world, and just instantly responded to it.”
In the movie, Luke returns as a reluctant mentor forced to pass the baton, and the lightsaber, to a new generation of heroes including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac). It’s been 34 years since moviegoers last saw the hero partying with Ewoks — not counting those thirty seconds of screen time at the end of “The Force Awakens.” But by the time “The Last Jedi” opens he’s not in a celebratory mood after the betrayal of his former student, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
As the hero’s caretaker, the now 66-year-old Hamill has mixed feelings about making this champion of the light side of the Force so dark.
“I find that highly ironic that you say you’re the caretaker, because you’re so wrong,” said Hamill. “I’m the host body to which this character has been assigned. And that’s the problem. When I disagree with the direction of the character, I get a little mouthy.
“Like when the trailer came out and the line is, ‘It’s time for the Jedi to end.’ There’s no way, I don’t care what happened to this guy. Jedis do not give up. It’s just inherent in them.”
The occasional duel with a childhood idol over the script is “intimidating and terrifying, but … also an important and necessary process,” said Johnson.
“Mark had had 30 years to imagine what this character’s return would look like. There was no way his ideas were going to line up 100 percent with the script I dropped in his lap,” said the filmmaker. ”(But) by the end, the process had made the character richer, and had definitely brought us closer together.”
And Johnson should take solace that Hamill occasionally jousted with Lucas — who the actor calls his real-life Obi-Wan Kenobi — during the making of that famous scene from “The Empire Strikes Back” in which Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father.
“I played the scene like (I believed) it is true, that it was as traumatic as finding out Charles Manson was your dad,” said Hamill. “I’m completely trapped, I’ve lost a hand, I’m injured. So, if you see the film, there’s this sudden calm that comes over me and I just let go (and let myself fall), like people who are going to jump off a bridge.”
But a year later, while treading the boards in a play in New York, Hamill was horrified to learn Lucas had dubbed a scream in as Luke plummets, ruining Luke’s heroic sacrifice. “So you see me get calm and let go and you suddenly hear, ‘Yeahhhhhhhhh!’” said Hamill, punctuating his anecdote with a piercing yell. “That so doesn’t make sense.
“To jump ahead, he took it out again because I guess he got negative backlash. But it just galled me because I thought, ‘You’re in my territory now as an actor.’”
Hamill clearly still cares about that Skywalker guy, but, like his on-screen persona, feels it’s time to hand down the lightsaber.
“What you have to understand, and I’m saying this for myself, is it’s not mine anymore,” said Hamill. “And it’s not George’s anymore.
“These characters belong to a new generation, your generation, Rian’s generation. One that grew up as loving the films and then making up their own.”