By Mark Edlitz
Mark Hamill was met with deafening applause when he took the stage in August for a rare personal appearance at the Star Wars Celebration V that was held in Orlando, Florida. He charmed the audience by calling them “UPFs”–his term for ultra-passionate fans. He said his goal was to make the fans as happy as they have made him over the years.
Hamill has appeared in many films (including Sam Fuller’s “The Big Red One,” on television, and in critically acclaimed Broadway performances (notably in “Amadeus” and “The Elephant Man“), but he will probably always be most closely identified with his characterization of Luke Skywalker
Hamill reminisced about his introduction to the Star Wars saga, long before the films became a blockbuster and a cultural touchstone. He recalled being “blown away” the first time he read the script which bore the original and inelegant title: “Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars.”
Even before a frame of footage was shot, Hamill believed the film was going to find a passionate audience, irrespective of whether it became a mainstream hit. “I thought it had “cult classic” written all over it”. He thought the screenplay was intentionally subversively funny and “didn’t take itself as seriously as other Sci-Fi films.” He also admired how Lucas created the fictional construct of the “Force” to talk about spirituality without making people uncomfortable by talking about religion”
Hamill assiduously prepared for his part by grilling writer-director George Lucas with endless questions: “Why do I live with my Aunt and Uncle? Where’s my Dad?” Hamill said that Lucas was evasive about that last question which in future installments would become a central and much debated topic. Lucas was similarly poker faced when Hamill observed, “Darth Fader sounded like ‘Dark Father’” Hamill dryly observed, “I realize now he made up all these lies just to shut me up.”
Hamill lamented the loss of his character’s original introduction in Star Wars. Luke was initially going to be seen first gazing at the skies (possibly watching a battle) and then going to a “teen club” to hang out with his friends who ridicule him for being “geeky”. Hamill thought this entrance effectively established Luke as an ordinary person and as surrogate for the audience.
Back in 1977, Hamill was nearly as wide-eyed as the character he was playing. He was so in awe of meeting Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) that he was afraid if “I opened my mouth that I would cry like a little girl.” He said that the legendary actor of The Bridge On The River Kwai had a great sense of humor, which he demonstrated, by playfully slapping Hamill in the face when the young actor wouldn’t stop referring to him as “Sir Alec.”
Hamill also spoke about the dynamic between him and his costars. Between takes he and Harrison Ford competed for Carrie Fisher’s attention. They both were determined to be deemed the “coolest” by the comely actress.
He says he doesn’t have a favorite Star Wars film but that The Empire Strikes Back is the “most surprising, most challenging, the most thought provoking. Who would have thought that good guys would be defeated?”
Empire also holds the dubious distinction of being for Hamill the most physically demanding of the Star Wars films. “It was like going to work and being beaten up for 12 hours.” For his own amusement he’d take Polaroid photos of the bruises that he incurred while performing stunts.
When telling stories about his behind the scenes adventures, Hamill didn’t always remember the name of the myriad of planets and characters that populate Lucas’s detailed fictional universe. Instead of correctly identifying the “All Terrain-Armor Transport” as the vehicle in Empire Strikes Back that crushes his space ship Hamill referred to them as “big walking things.” His malaprops were met with frequent (but good natured) laughs from the audience.
In his defense, Hamill said that most of the creatures and ships weren’t named “until they made a toy of them.” As a result, on-set the actors and crew would make up their own names. One droid was called “the dustbin robot.” Hamill has subsequently forced himself to remember the names of some characters because it’s “disconcerting when five year olds [fans] laugh at you.”
While George Lucas has said very clearly that there will be no more Star Wars movies, Hamill said that the filmmaker originally wanted to make nine movies. While shooting the original trilogy, Hamill recalled that Lucas offered him a part as “sort of an Obi Won role” in “Part 9,” which he anticipated would be released in 2011.
Talking to the rapt crowd Hamill was as warm and jovial as he’s ever been. But that’s not to say that he likes taking too many trips down memory lane. He reported that sometimes fans come up to him and say that they hear he’s “not a Star Wars fan.” As much as he clearly proud of his work on the movies he does not generally like to look back. “It’s not my thing. I apologize but that’s the way it is.” He likens it to how often you revisit your high school yearbook. It was obvious that the fans (whom he called “family”) enthusiastically appreciated his dusting off that old light saber for one more trip around the galaxy.
Mark Edlitz is the director/producer of a film about extreme Star Wars fans called JEDI JUNKIES. More information about the film and the trailer is available at JediJunkies.com. The film is available for rental and purchase at iTunes and Amazon.com
[AT-AT Picture (CC)]