In 2015, on a remote island, high above the sea, “Star Wars” fans had a reunion with an old friend: Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
And this past week, at his home high above the sea in Malibu, California, “Sunday Morning” caught up with him again. Hamill moved there in 1978, after the first “Star Wars” film made him a household name.
Smith asked, “I heard you call yourself elderly in an interview the other day. You see yourself as elderly?”
“Well, I called myself an elderly recluse!” Hamill laughed. “It’s one of those things where when you say your age out loud – ’cause I’m 71 – I go, Really?!? That’s older than I ever expected to be!”
And how does he feel inside? “Much younger,” he said.
And that’s a good thing: His latest movie, “The Machine,” is not for the faint of heart. In the film, real-life comedian Bert Kreischer is in trouble with the Russian mob, and Hamill is his endearing (and often annoying) father.
To watch a red-band trailer (you’ve been warned) for “The Machine,” click on the video player below:
Hamill said, “I was drawn to the project because of the relationship between the son and the father. I mean, they’re at odds and trying to understand one another.”
And a good father-son storyline is something Hamill knows all about.
In the first “Star Wars” film, a young Luke Skywalker ponders his future with a double sun and a John Williams score. But what we were actually seeing is a 25-year-old actor on the ride of his life.
When he auditioned with future co-star Harrison Ford back in 1976, he says, he wasn’t sure whether or not to play George Lucas’ dialogue straight: “The problem was they didn’t give us a whole script. And yeah, I couldn’t figure out, is this, like, a send-up of Flash Gordon or whatever? You couldn’t tell, ’cause nobody talks like this! And I was asking Harrison, ’cause he had been in ‘American Graffiti.’ I said, ‘You know George. Is this, like, a joke? Should we send it up? Make fun of it?’ ‘Whatever. Get it done.’ So, he was no help!”
Audition tape of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill for the original “Star Wars”:
Of course, he got the part, and was soon working with legends like Sir Alec Guinness. “He took me out to lunch just to get to know each other a little bit. And I kept calling him Sir Alec. And at one point he tapped my face, little harder. I went, ‘Oww! What?’ ‘I want to be known by my name, not my accolade.’
“I said, ‘So, can I call ya’ Big Al?'”
He looked like an eager kid, but Hamill already had a few years in the business under his belt, with a raft of soap operas and TV series credits. Still, nothing could’ve prepared him for what happened when “Star Wars” premiered in the spring of 1977. He said, “We started the publicity tour – it was Carrie, Harrison and me. And when we landed in Chicago I looked out and I saw there were crowds outside. I said, ‘Hey you guys, there must be somebody famous on this plane.’ We’re lookin’ around for, like, some superstar athlete or whatever.” But then came the realization: “They’re dressed like us! There was no merchandising at that time, so they had, you know, made homemade lightsabers and all these things. We sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Wow.'”
Wow is right. The first film alone grossed nearly $800 million on an $11 million budget, and became the cultural phenomenon we all know.
But by 1981 Hamill wanted to shake his Luke Skywalker image, and started doing Broadway shows, including the role of Mozart in “Amadeus.”
He met with director Milos Forman, who was planning the film version: “I said, ‘You know, I’d really love a chance at playing Mozart.’ And he said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. The Luke Skywalker is not to be being the Mozart.’ So, I thought, well, at least he’s honest!”
Smith asked, “Was that a common refrain? We’re not gonna buy Luke Skywalker in this role?“
“Well, I’m sure in their minds,” he replied. “I mean, I at least admired the fact that he said it right to my face. But, you know, it’s a crazy business.”
“Did that hurt?”
“Well, I was disappointed, but I thought, all you can do is you gotta go forward, you know?”
His co-star Carrie Fisher helped him put it all in perspective, telling him not to be “precious” about theater. “She said, ‘Why did you put in the Playbill: ‘He’s also known for a series of popular space movies’? Something like that. She said, ‘Get over yourself. Look: You’re Luke Skywalker. I’m Princess Leia. Just accept it!'”
Hamill’s life off-screen has been remarkable as well: he’s an accomplished voice actor (as the Joker in the animated Batman adventures), and a family man; he and his wife Marilou have been married 45 years and have three children.
And if you find yourself in Ukraine during an air strike, you might hear Luke Skywalker’s voice talking you down:
Smith said, “To be that voice of reassurance in a horrible crisis has got to feel good.”
“It feels great to be able to do something,” Hamill said, “instead of just twiddle my thumbs and curse at the television.”
Hamill made his most recent “Star Wars” movie appearance in 2017’s “The Last Jedi.”
Luke Skywalker and Yoda ponder the lessons learned from failure in “The Last Jedi”:
He can’t (and won’t) say if he’ll ever return. “I had my time, and that’s good,” he said. “But that’s enough.”
Smith asked, “So, even though you say you won’t go back, there’s always a chance that you could go back?”
“Well, you never say never. I just don’t see any reason to. Let me put it that way: I mean, they have so many stories to tell, they don’t need Luke anymore.”
“You know that a lot of people out there would argue, ‘They always need Luke,'” said Smith.
And even if he never picks up another light saber, the role will always be a part of him.
Smith asked, “At this point, you could basically win a Grammy, cure cancer, and still forever you are going to be Luke Skywalker. Have you accepted that?”
“Yeah. Well, I don’t care,” Hamill said. “I mean, the truth of the matter is, I never really expected to be remembered for anything. I just wanted to make a living doing what I liked. And I thought, ‘Well, it could be worse. I could be, like, known as being the best actor who ever played Adolf Hitler, you know?’ At least Luke is an admirable fellow!”
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler.