It's been less than a year since The Last Jedi arrived in theaters, and it's already clear that the film's treatment of Luke Skywalker is going to be one of the most debated elements of the Star Wars mythos for years to come. Writer/director Rian Johnson's bold, divisive decisions for the character set the stage for a fan debate that's not likely to die down anytime soon, and if Johnson's choices for the character weren't enough to keep that going, then Mark Hamill's comments about his iconic role certainly are.
Though he ultimately embraced Johnson as a filmmaker, and The Last Jedi as a whole, Hamill has been vocal about his misgivings regarding Luke's direction in the film. After writers Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams envisioned Luke as an exiled Jedi and failed teacher in The Force Awakens in 2015, Johnson has to figure out exactly what that exile meant and why it seemed so complete. The answer he arrived at was that Luke closed himself off from The Force and retired to Ahch-To after Ben Solo (Adam Driver) turned to the Dark Side, burning Luke's new Jedi Temple and slaughtering many of his students. Luke grew to believe that both himself and the Jedi were part of an over-inflated legend that had failed the galaxy repeatedly, and that everyone would be better off without them. So he shut himself away, until Rey arrived to convince him to join the fight one last time.
Hamill had to deal not just with this decision for his character, but also with the knowledge that George Lucas' original ideas for a sequel trilogy and a somewhat tweaked final scene in The Force Awakens may have placed him on a very different path. He also had to reckon with his own feeling that Luke would never give up, that despite his failures with Ben he would find a way to, if not redeem his nephew, then at least deal with him warrior to warrior. It's an internal struggle over a character that's been in his life for more than four decades, and one that Hamill has been very open about since The Last Jedi's release.
That said, Hamill seems to have made a kind of peace with Luke's direction, particularly now that he feels the loss of onscreen sister and real-life friend Carrie Fisher removed something from Star Wars for him that he'll never be able to recapture. With the struggle over Luke's fate resolved, Hamill can now reflect on exactly how he found a way to get to the dark emotional places the character goes in The Last Jedi. Speaking to IGN, Hamill explained how he found a way to tap into Luke Skywalker's particular galactic tragedy.
“It is tragic. I'm not a method actor, but one of the techniques a method actor will use is to try and use real-life experiences to relate to whatever fictional scenario he's involved in," he said. "The only thing I could think of, given the screenplay that I read, was that I was of the Beatles generation -- ‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘peace and love’.
“I thought at that time, when I was a teenager: ‘By the time we get in power, there will be no more war, there will be no racial discrimination, and pot will be legal.’ So I'm one for three. When you think about it, [my generation is] a failure. The world is unquestionably worse now than it was then.”
It's a dark answer, but an understandable one. When it was released in 1977, Star Wars was a bright beacon of optimism in a cinematic landscape that had grown increasingly gritty and more cynical amid post-Vietnam America. Then George Lucas came along with his universal, mythic themes of heroes and dark lords and good always triumphing in the end. The sequel trilogy has, to an extent, been a deconstruction of those themes, working within certain mythic cycles (there is a new chosen hero, but also a new dark lord) while subverting others (the wise old mentor figure is no longer the patient Obi-Wan, but the frustrated Luke). Hamill, who's been a vocal critic of things like the Trump administration via social media, looked out at the real world and saw something that Luke also felt: The sense that he thought he was part of a wave of change that would solve everything, only to look back and realize there was still so much work to do it that it often felt hopeless.
If you love The Last Jedi, and you rewatch the film with that quote in mind, perhaps it will deepen your experience. If you hate the film and rewatch it with that in mind, perhaps you'll see a little more relevance in Luke than you previously thought. Either way, Hamill found something powerful that helped him to portray his hero's curtain call.