For reasons that will be obvious to anyone who’s already seen The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill was somewhat reluctant to do an interview for Rolling Stone‘s recent Star Wars cover story. But in the end, he agreed, and in late October, just as the world was starting to wonder about the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the guy who plays him was sitting at a table in his tree-lined Malibu yard, wearing Batman-themed Converse sneakers. Hamill was just starting to regrow his Jedi beard for the follow-up, Episode VIII — which would soon need him on set. He had shaved to play the Trickster on the new season of The Flash, and had to ask Lucasfilm’s permission to do so. “The bottom line was if I couldn’t grow it back fast enough, I couldn’t do the part,” says Hamill, 64. “Luckily, I have 10 weeks, so fingers crossed!” Here’s more from his interview:
The weird part about all of this is that George Lucas told you during the filming of the original Star Wars that you’d be needed as Luke again in your 60s.
And he told me he cobbled it down from 12 movies! Now, remind you, this is idle time between shots in North Africa [laughs]. At this point, I’ve only known George like a week or less, maybe 10 days. I said, “Why are you starting in the middle? It’s crazy.” At that point, it wasn’t called A New Hope; it was Episode IV: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker as Taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga #1. Then it was The Star Wars; by the time I get the shooting script, it says Star Wars. And George said, “Well, because this part of the trilogy, this one is the most commercial.” “Oh, okay.” [Laughs] And now he’s disputed this. He said, “I was pulling Mark’s leg.”
But he was talking about sequels already, right?
Yeah, and I’m thinking, Oh really? ‘Cause all he said, “Would you think about doing a cameo? Handing down Excalibur to the next generation?” Which gives you at least an insight into what he was thinking about. Anyway, that’s the only significance of that story. It was not like it was something you take to the bank, like you rush home and call your agent say, “Hey, guess what? In 2011, I’ve got another job!”
Much later, Lucas said the prequels would be the end of it. But in the back of your mind did you still think you’d be back?
It’s funny – I had conflicting thoughts because, number one, I thought nobody lets a really potent property languish on the shelf when it’s begging to be exploited, with the novels and the games and you name it. I mean, it’s a huge canvas. But then I thought even if they go forward, they’re not gonna use us. It’ll be about the next generation, as it should be. It’s not about getting the band together and hitting the road again. And that’s mixed in with the fact that he told us flat-out, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not doing the last three. When Episode III is over, that’s it. I’m not doing these things into my 70s.”
Now, all of this gets blended in my mind because … part of it is I read what’s on the Internet and so forth. I do remember him saying the words, “I don’t wanna be doing these in my 70s.” What I didn’t foresee is him selling the company. When he told us all this – in the summer of 2012, he had lunch with all of us and said –
All of you together?
No. What happened was we were in Anaheim at one of the Star Wars celebrations; Carrie was there, I was there with my daughter and wife, and George wanted to have lunch with us. I said, “Well, something’s up,” and my wife jokingly said, “He’s probably gonna do another trilogy.” And I have to tell you, I feel embarrassed now, because I just laughed derisively at how stupid that idea was. “No, look. Come on, let’s get real. They had to be nice to us when they wanted us to do the DVD extras, remember that? It’s gonna be something like that.”
So when he actually said the words, so matter-of-factly: “Well, I don’t know what you know but I’ve decided to sell the company, Kathleen Kennedy’s gonna take over and they’re gonna wanna be doing another trilogy. And if you don’t wanna be in it, you don’t have to be. We’re not gonna recast; we just write your characters out.” Within 30, 40 seconds, Carrie goes, “I’m in!” [Laughs] And she then asked about whether there’s a part for Billie, her daughter.
And how did you end up reacting?
Now I’m still sort of in like a state of shock. I have a good poker face and I was determined defiantly not to register any kind of emotion whatsoever. I was going to a be completely a blank canvas.
[Sighs] You know, we’re all in a great place and we’ve all done it before, there was a beginning, a middle and end. You have to think about all the aspects of it ’cause, you know, if you wanna maintain a low profile, this isn’t the best way to do it. [Laughs] And I had sort of got into a niche where I did my voiceovers and I could do theater when I wanted to. I mean, all along the way I’ve been having a really great time and doing a lot of interesting stuff. It’s just that people don’t really pay a lot of attention.
Well, the geek world certainly does.
Oh, no, believe me, I have the most supportive backup. It sounds corny but over the course of my life to have this happen in a way that people are, you know – it’s like if I hadn’t gone through the Beatles I wouldn’t understand it. And I’m not comparing myself to them in any way, shape or form, but in terms of disproportionate reverence for something that you can’t explain, where you wanna know where they live and what they eat. I call ’em UPFs: the Ultra Passionate Fan. ‘Cause there’s fans who like the movie and, go, “It was well done and I enjoyed myself. Now I wanna see the James Bond” — and then there are the UPFs. It’s changed their lives: “I got into movies because of this,” or “I met my wife online [because of Star Wars].”
It’s truly moving, you know, and it’s remarkable and it doesn’t lessen over time. Because Star Wars never went away. And I understand obsessive-compulsive entertainment impulses. I have many, many, many, many of them.
You’re also beloved for voicing the Joker in Batman cartoons.
To be the icon of virtue in this one fantasy and then you’re the villain in another – it was too ultimate for me. When I begged to be on the Batman show, I was thinking like Hugo Strange or Clayface or somebody they’d never done before. When they said they want you to audition for the Joker, I thought holy moly, there’s no way you can do this and not disappoint a large percentage of the audience. He’s iconic — it’s a fool’s game, but I’m a fool. There’s great strength in anonymity. You get really bold when you’re not seen, so that’s one of the things that’s so liberating about playing a character like that.
Were there early signs that you might gravitate to voiceovers?
I mean, I was one of those kids that had a Jerry Mahoney dummy and I realized I could say stuff about my relatives that would kill my brothers and sisters. They thought I was the funniest thing in the world and you could blame it on the dummy: “Stop that! Oh, don’t be so rude to Aunt Bertha! She doesn’t know she has that thing on her upper lip.” It was quite a learning experience for me: Wow, you can say anything you want and have plausible deniability ’cause you’ve got this thing on your lap.
Getting back to Star Wars: Did you have any doubts that Harrison Ford would agree to come back?
Absolutely! At one point, we were back at the hotel and I said to Carrie, “You know, the ace in the hole is Harrison’s not gonna do this. Why would he?” So that’s our escape clause. If I’m the only one I’ll look terrible, but if he doesn’t do it I don’t have to do it! I just didn’t expect it.
I think he secretly loves Han Solo.
Why wouldn’t he? I mean, that’s sort of like the archetype of the modern, cynical, skeptical leading man. To me, there’s no way to overestimate his contribution to the success of those movies – because the idea of the Force and this clueless farm boy who’s uneducated, it’s too bland. You need a little spice, a little abrasiveness … somebody who’s only in it for the money. When Han Solo is cynical, it takes away that weapon from all the cynics in the audience and allows them to enjoy it the way it should be enjoyed.
You once said you were disappointed that the saga ended with Return of the Jedi, right when Luke had really become a Jedi.
I made the analogy it’s like telling the story of how James Bond got his license to kill and then ending the story there. Because I just got to be what I wanted to be — and that’s the end of the story? So yeah, there’s that.
You’ve also tried to remind fans to keep this all in perspective.
You know, I said to people, “No matter what we come up with, folks, we can’t make everybody thrilled and delighted with our eventual decisions.” And the headline ran online: “Star Wars VII bound to disappoint, says Mark Hamill.” [Laughs] That got me a phone call from the powers that be. I’ll tell you another thing you should never say in front of a crowd of Star Wars fans – which I heard from George first on the set. The phrase that I used in front of like 5000 fans pumped to the gills, ready to see the trailer was, “It’s only a movie.”
So it was your version of that William Shatner SNL sketch?
Oh, “Get a life!” [Laughs] No, I mean, it’s different in the sense that he was attacking the actual character of the person who is a fan. I’m trying to appeal to the rational, sane people that know that movies don’t really change your life. If you really think that we can make you feel like you were 10 years old at 38, you know what’s gonna happen! So just don’t think that and you’ll be fine.
What was the training like? Whenever they said, “Mark Hamill is in training,” I kept picturing Yoda on your back.
[Laughs] Well, I hate to tell you, but it’s diet and exercise. I see all these ads on TV, “Don’t get off the couch! Take this simple pill. Don’t change your diet,” I said, “Oh, that’s the training I want!” [Points at fruit and vegetable plate] Look at what I’m eating now instead of potato chips and bagels with cream cheese. They say, “What diet are you on?” and I said, “I’m on the ‘If it tastes good, don’t eat it’ diet.” I mean, my trainer said you pick a day and you can cheat. And I don’t like that; it just doesn’t seem right. I was raised in such a strict upbringing. My father was in the military, he’s staunch Roman Catholic, Nixon Republican … you can picture it.
So how does J.J. stack up against the other three people who’ve directed Star Wars movies?
Well, they were all really gifted filmmakers. But it’s hard to really give you an answer that does it justice without revealing so much that I’m not supposed to say! But I would say this about him: He has an enthusiasm about him that’s infectious. You know that he really cares about this stuff a lot. He’s a UPF — it’s just that he’s also a gifted filmmaker and he’s in charge.
There’s only one captain of every starship, see, and I’ve worked with Captain Lucas, Captain Kershner, Captain Marquand and now Captain Abrams, and I’m well into working with Captain [Rian] Johnson [director of Episode VIII]. It’s a fantastic thing, and you look at these films that they make – Rian Johnson’s never made two films that are exactly alike. They’re completely different in their own ways, and it’s really exciting. I love the next generation. It’s tremendous, and it’s kind of hard to be cynical and go, “Oh, it’s just another job. I don’t care,” when there’s so much enthusiasm from that end of things.