Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Mark Hamill talks bringing Luke Skywalker back to the big screen

Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Mark Hamill talks bringing Luke Skywalker back to the big screen

Finally, it’s time for Luke Skywalker’s story.

We all thought that time had arrived two years ago, when writer-director J.J. Abrams picked up the tale of Luke, his sister Princess Leia and their friend Han Solo three decades after we’d left them at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But we were hoodwinked.

As satisfying as the seventh Star Wars film, 2015’s The Force Awakens, was, the fact that we didn’t look upon Skywalker’s grizzled face until 58 seconds before the final credits rolled, well, felt like a bit of a bait and switch.

Mark Hamill, the actor who has played Skywalker for 40 years, was also surprised by his lack of screen time when he first read The Force Awakens’ script, especially since he’d spent the time since the new trilogy was announced losing weight and getting in shape for his big return.

But Hamill quickly came to appreciate what he now calls “the most elaborate entrance in the history of movies.”

“To have Luke standing there, literally on a cliff, I thought, come on, a cliffhanger metaphor like that that, visually, I thought was hilarious,” says Hamill with a laugh. The 66-year-old who plays Skywalker for the fifth film in this month’s Star Wars: The Last Jediis on the phone from the Malibu home he shares with his wife of 39 years, Marilou. “They all but tattooed the words ‘To be continued’ on my forehead.”

Still, it must have been frustrating not to have a single scene with his old pal Han Solo (Harrison Ford) before Solo’s dramatic death at the hands of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the villainous offspring of Solo and Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).

“Of course,” he says. “C’mon, look, I don’t want to go there because I love them all and they had decided how those characters should interact and should not interact, but absolutely, I made no bones about it. I said at the very least let us go and not be able to save Han, you know? Luke and Leia hook up, even the last 11 minutes, rush to his side and the same thing happens to him, but my god it’s his wife, I’m his best friend, it’ll resonate, like people will be crying their eyes out, what are you nuts?

“But they don’t listen to me. I’m just a hired hand. Do the lines and go home and play with the dog,” he jokes. “And I came to see how right it was. You see, it’s not about us anymore, it’s about a new generation.”

Hamill really, really wants you to know he’s not complaining. And he’s not. He is having an absolute ball with these new movies. “I loved what J.J. did, I think he’s so smart,” he insists. “Print that.”

Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi’s writer-director, gets top grades too.

“Rian is highly, highly collaborative. He is a dream in that regard,” Hamill says. “He listens and you discuss things. He came to the house, we had meetings, we had rehearsals. I mean, look, it was the total immersion experience that an actor can have with a director, almost too good to be true.”

The only sting in an otherwise wonderful experience is that Hamill’s on-screen sister Carrie Fisher, who died suddenly last December, is no longer along for the ride. “She was wild and I’ll never stop missing her,” he says softly. “I’m so sorry that she’s not here to enjoy all this.”

Hamill is relaxing in his man cave surrounded by his toys and memorabilia — “my puppets and my lunch boxes and my monster model kits,” he says with relish. He’s always been a huge collector and was a regular at comic-book conventions long before he was cast in 1977’s Star Wars. His attic, pool house and basement are so full that he now rents a storage space 90 minutes from his home for the overflow.

So how many lightsabers does he have?

“You know, I don’t have a single one,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t…. My son does all the Stars Wars stuff. Do I have anything from Star Wars in here? I must somewhere, but it’s not prominent. I kept a couple of things over the years but I always asked. You can’t just walk off with something you know, it’s a prop, it belongs to people.”

Personality-wise, the actor bears little resemblance to Skywalker — neither the original trilogy’s wide-eyed version, whose voice seemed like it could crack at any moment, nor the older, worn-out Jedi of the new films.

He is jovial, energetic, and loves to talk and laugh. He did so many panels and interviews during April’s “Star Wars Celebration” that he nearly lost his voice. He began one event with the raspy address, “Welcome to the Mark Hamill Salute to Harvey Fierstein Panel.”

There is something of the lounge performer to Hamill — a joy of telling stories, being in the spotlight, connecting with his audience. And who has a larger audience with which to connect than Hamill, who’s sold a bajillion sheets, shampoo bottles, Halloween costumes and action figures bearing his likeness?

Speaking of Star Wars’ iconic objets d’art, Hamill’s dramatic entrance so late into The Force Awakens meant he’d have to wait one more film to be surrounded by Star Wars props and set pieces. For instance, the Millennium Falcon.

“It buckled the knees,” he says.

Although we saw Solo’s well-worn ship on the shores of Ahch-To at the end of The Force Awakens, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrived aboard the “piece of junk,” the Falcon was added in post. That final sequence was shot on Skellig Michael, an environmentally protected island off Ireland. There was no way the authorities were going to allow a big hunk of metal to be dropped onto its fragile ecosystem.

For his first contact with Han’s old ship, Hamill had to wait for The Last Jedi’s set.

“It was one of the most unforgettable experiences because, number one, you never thought this would be within the realm of possibility,” he says. “Not only are you back where you started but every detail — the smell, the way you sat on the couches — oh my gosh! I mean, I had to be alone,” recalls Hamill.

He likens the experience to revisiting an old childhood playhouse or classroom, pointing out that he had few long-term places like that in his early life because his father was in the Navy and the family moved nearly every year.

“This was that,” he says. “It was so long ago and I was moved and filled with joy. It was like, ‘Give me a minute, I have to catch my breath here.’”

No surprise, there’s little Hamill can reveal about the plot of the new film. Who is the last Jedi? Will Rey find her family? Will Luke reunite with Leia?

But he insists the film’s biggest spoiler is already out there. “The [trailer] that they did most recently included the line ‘I only know one truth, it’s time for the Jedi to end.’ Now, you don’t get a bigger spoiler than that coming out of Luke’s mouth. And I will say that I was as shocked to read that as you were to hear it.”

Like the rest of us — no, probably much more than the rest of us — Hamill had always had a vision of what became of Skywalker after that bonfire on Endor burned out and Return of the Jedi’s credits had rolled. “I mean, obviously, he was to me the most optimistic, hopeful character in the entire original trilogy,” he says.

So it took a while for Hamill to reconcile the hopeful Skywalker in his head with the broken hermit Luke had become. But he did.

“What I think is interesting about it is that it’s unexpected,” Hamill explains, “and in Star Wars films it’s getting harder and harder to deliver the unexpected because, just the progression of the storyline, and the fans being as, I was going to say rabid but I’ll say enthusiastic as they are.”

When asked if he ever imagines what his life would have been like had he not been Luke Skywalker he says, “You know, that’s so funny, because I’ve heard that before — ‘What’s it like to have been in Star Wars?’ And you have to say, ‘What’s it like not being in Star Wars? Because I don’t know. Fate is a funny thing. It’s all part of the journey.”

Marni Weisz is the editor of Cineplex Magazine.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Hits Theatres December 15th.

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