Never let it be said that actor Mark Hamill isn't a gracious host. Even after a very long day of press for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, he’s game and more than ready to to meet yet another reporter and chat. His dogs, Millie and Mabel, are there to greet the revolving press with some specific welcoming sniffs before gravitating back to their daddy's lap. After a handshake, Hamill is seated and ready to field Star Wars questions which always end up being answered in a delightfully enthusiastic stream of consciousness peppered with random memories and non sequiturs.
Once we reminisced about our dual love of Warren the Ape, we got on topic and dug into the reports that he was initially not that pleased by the arc writer/director Rian Johnson pitched to him about Luke Skywalker. Asked if the issue was that Hamill had imagined too much of a specific storyline for Luke on his own since Return of the Jedi, the actor acquiesces, "Well, it's not my job to dictate, 'Okay, I've got to do this, I've got to do that,' but, it was so ambiguous at the end of VII."
Hamill's referencing the silent meeting between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke in the final shot of The Force Awakens, in which the secluded Jedi’s reaction to the newcomer could mean a myriad of things to the audience. "They didn't want the audience to know, 'Do I know this woman? Did Leia mentally give him [a heads up]' because it was established that we could communicate telepathically. But with VIII, Rian had a long discussion with me, before I read the script. I was pretty much just on board. I mean, it was so unexpected, and such an unexpected gift, to be able to come back and revisit a character that I was so fond of."
But as you've seen in the trailer: "It's time for the Jedi to end,’” he continues. "That was such a shock to me. I said to Rian, 'The Jedi doesn't quit! He doesn't give up.' But, in the grander scheme of things, I can see why he did it."
What that means is still up in the air.
"But the trouble is, there's like a 30-year gap where you don't really know what Luke's gone through," Hamill explains. "They imply that I chose Ben Solo (Adam Driver) and it was a disaster. I thought he was the Chosen One, but he slaughtered all my students, and now is potentially on track to become the new Darth Vader, and it's all my fault. But I said to Rian, 'Well, that's all the more reason that Luke would get back there and try to rectify what's wrong.' But it's not Luke's story anymore. It's about the new generation, and the new protagonist is Rey.”
That’s both obvious statement and big admission from a man who has been at the center of this galaxy in some way or another for the last 50 years. But as he says, Hamill was so excited to put the robes back on, that the shift was more than welcome.
“In the grander scheme of things, you have to say, 'Why is he using this?' It's almost more like a plot device than it is a study of a particular character. And I just have to accept that, because beyond that, it's such a pleasure working with Rian. It is so great to be with the crew. I'm telling you, these people are the best in their particular field, and they all love the fact that they're doing a Star Wars movie."
An even more personal marker that these new trilogies are for a new generation is the fact that this is the first full Star Wars film that Hamill's done without George Lucas' presence or input. About that, Hamill muses, "Well, this is the first generation of writer/directors who were fans originally, that have grown up into the position of authority. I'll tell you, after Episode VII, I saw it for the first time, and George was there. I went over and gave him a hug, and I whispered in his ears, 'It's just not the same without you.' Dad now sold the company," he recalls, laughing.
"And I'm sure it was hard on him. It's really a monumental decision, to let your baby go like that. And so, every time I start feeling that way, I think, 'Well, how must George feel?' And even with Carrie, I go, 'As sad as I am, as hard as it hit me, imagine what Billie Lourd feels?' She lost her mother and her grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) in the space of two days. It's unimaginably tragic."
Hamill then laments the loss of his friend, and former junket partner, as this is also his first press push for a Star Wars film without Fisher's presence. "In the old days, you'd go, 'Oh, but Carrie'll be there. We'll do room service. We'll have fun!' She always made me laugh, I could make her laugh, and I know she enjoyed that," the actor says, smiling at the memories. "But that's selfish, you know. I should be saying, 'Gee, I'm so lucky to have had the years I had with her," instead of being mad I don't have more years with her. You know, that's life. I mean, it's almost like the epic elements of Star Wars: there's great triumphs, and there's terrible tragedy."
Laughing, he then adds, "And when you really look at it, [the Skywalkers] had horrible lives. We were orphans. My uncle and aunt were burnt to a crisp. I mean, my dad turns out to be the worst villain in the history of movies. And what kind of an uncle was I not to be able to help my nephew? Carrie says, "It's a story about family... a dysfunctional family." But without that, there's no conflict."
Yet it's that kind of dysfunction that's so relatable because the majority of humans on the planet have screwed-up families. Hamill agrees, "Yeah, exactly! Talk about relatability, when I was reading the Star Wars screenplay, where [Han and I] risk our lives to liberate Leia from her cell, and the first thing she says is, 'You came in that?' and doesn't want to get on [the Millennium Falcon] 'cause it's not a cool spaceship. In reality, my sisters used to tell my dad, 'Drop us off a block before we get to school,' because they didn't want people to see what a crummy car we had, so everybody can relate to that," he laughs.
The way Fisher played Leia resonated even further, especially for generations of female fans. “Women could also see Leia's no shrinking violet. She says, 'You call this a plan?', grabs her gun, and takes over. I loved it, 'cause it was effortless feminism without really making a point of it. What a great role model for young girls. Everybody's going, 'Oh, Rey, we finally have a female hero.' Well, you've had one for 40 years," he says with a genuine twinkle in his eye.
Despite it almost being a year since Fisher passed, she's clearly still deeply present in Hamill's mind. He admits that he thinks of her every day. "I would go to her trailer and just hang with her and Gary [her beloved dog], you know. She was comfortable around me, I wasn't trying to get anything, or ingratiate myself. I'm sure she had far more interesting friends. She seemed to know every celebrity in Hollywood, but there was a comfort level."
"And like I say, I could make her laugh, she could make me laugh. I hate to tell you this, but you look back on conversations, where you go, 'Oh, that sort of has a double meaning now.' For instance, we got onto the subject of, 'Why do they always wait to give people posthumous Oscars?' Oliver Hardy had no idea that he would be so revered, and then they give Stan Laurel an honorary Oscar. And it brought us to the subject of the scene in Huckleberry Finn, where everybody thinks Tom and Huck are dead. They sneak in and go to their own funeral, and they're being eulogized with great superlatives, and all those people that treated them horribly are talking about, 'What lovely boys they were.' And I turned to Carrie, and I said, 'Look, if I go first, will you promise you'll heckle my funeral?' She said, 'Deal, if you promise to heckle mine.' Now, that was our macabre humor. And I hate that I think that might have been, not the exact last time that I talked to her, but pretty darn close. But like I say, you've got to treasure the moments you had, instead of being angry about the moments that you lost."
And there's no melancholy when he suddenly sparks into a story about how the duo used to sing to one another when they were in each other's presence. "She loved my lounge lizard interpretation of any song because you can make any song super icky if you imagine me with a big pinky ring, saying, 'Hey, thank you very much, you're beautiful, thank you. This goes out to you, ladies.' When we saw Bill Murray do that, 'Star Wars, those near and far wars,'" he says of the classic Saturday Night Live skit, "I was on the phone with Carrie and said, 'Are you watching this?' And she said, 'No, he called me in rehearsal.' He was so thrilled with what he came up with, that Bill called her and sang it to her! See, she could always top me," he chuckles. "I'd go to her parties and I'm like, 'My God. Mick Jagger and Meryl Streep and Paul Simon! I'm the only one here I've never heard of!'"
Now, it's Hamill's turn to bring to a close the old-school Star Wars legacy, and we're pretty sure Carrie knows he's going to nail it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters on December 15.