In 1983 Mark Hamill completed (arguably) the most important movie trilogy in American cinematic history — at a time when sequels and trilogies were still kind of novel in Hollywood! At just 32-years-old Hamill was a household name, and his Luke Skywalker role firmly entrenched as an iconic character for generations to come… although Hamill’s subsequent career was not nearly as notable or successful as his co-stars Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
Return of the Jedi ended in a definitive and (mostly) satisfying way for Hamill, Ford, and Fisher. In particular, Skywalker’s mastery of the force and his lightsaber ended the empire, killed the emperor, and somehow even made a hero of his notorious father, Darth Vader. Most of franchise’s major questions and plots successfully concluded, but rabid Star Wars fans wanted more. Much more. As the old adage goes: be careful what you wish for.
Sixteen years later creator George Lucas initiated another Star Wars trilogy, which was primarily interested in exploring the rise of Darth Vader, connecting to the timeline of the original films. The idea sounded great on paper, but the execution and storytelling were… not awesome (to put it mildly). In fairness, some fans — particularly younger audiences — sincerely loved these “prequels,” but many older fans, who were raised on a steady diet of Star Wars movies/shows/games/toys/clothing, not so much.
A decade after the final prequel film, Attack of the Clones, a new Star Wars trilogy kicked-off with The Force Awakens, but Lucas would not be involved (Disney bought LucasFilm and ever-so-gently shoved Lucas out the door). Many fans worried that these new films would be another prequel debacle, but the return of Hamill, Ford, and Fisher and a new cast of heroes/villains was intended to mitigate these fears, and the rest is box office history.
However, on the eve of the second new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, Hamill finds himself in an interesting position. He barely appeared in The Force Awakens, he never shared a scene with Ford (who was killed in that film), and Fisher passed away earlier this year. Now Hamill is the focal point of the new film, but it might surprise you that he had some trepidation about returning to the role that put him on the map.
Speaking with Cinemablend, Hamill shared his concerns prior to filming The Force Awakens:
I was just really scared. I thought, why mess with it? The idea of catching lightning in a bottle twice was ridiculously remote. … No one wants to see the 50-, 60-, 70-year-old versions of us, running around, bumping heads on the Death Star. It’s sad.”
Hamill is right, it’s proving harder and harder for older actors — even luminaries like Ford — to draw significant audiences these days. Additionally, the chances that these new Star Wars films would capture the zeitgeist again seemed pretty slim at the time… and then The Force Awakens blew the doors off the global box office. By some estimates, The Last Jedi will exceed even those extraordinary results.
Interestingly, the generally reticent Ford actually convinced Hamill to return, upon returning to his Han Solo role. Hamill, who is often noted for his wit and self-effacing humor, had this to say:
Can you imagine if I was the only one to say no? I’d be the most hated man in nerd-dom.”
He’d be entirely correct. Fortunately, Hamill is back as Luke Skywalker — older, contemplative, and maybe even a bit angry. It’s almost time to see how the years have treated both the actor and his character. Good luck Mr. Hamill, we’re all counting on you! Wait, wasn’t that from Airplane? Getting my classic quotes mixed-up.
The Last Jedi hits theaters on December 15, 2017.