At the end of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally reaches a stark, craggy island on a distant planet, she climbs a set of ancient steps to find a lone caped figure poised on the brink, staring out at the sea. The figure turns, conveniently lowers his cape’s gray hood, and it’s Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill. As the violins swell and the camera soars, audiences everywhere cheered or wiped a nostalgic tear. Luke is back.
With the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi in theaters and in it a larger, significant role for Luke Skywalker–don’t worry, spoilers are out of the question–Mark Hamill is once again at the forefront of popular culture with a role he created 40 years ago.
Surrounded by iconic characters like Darth Vader, Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, not to mention the lovable Chewbacca, CP30 and R2D2, Luke and the man who portrays him have sometimes been seen as less exciting in comparison. And yet it could be argued that Luke is the heart and soul of the Star Wars series.
Looking at the wise but sorrowful face of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, it’s easy to forget just how buoyant Luke was in Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977. George Lucas is known for casting actors who are close in personality to the characters they’ll play. Mark Hamill was, after all, an upbeat blond 24-year-old Californian actor known mostly for TV roles when he was chosen to play Luke. He’d already been cast as a son in the TV series Eight Is Enough, and had to wriggle out of it to play Luke.
Lest anyone forget that Hamill was once a healthy young man on top of the world, in recent interviews, he admitted to having a bit of a romance with Carrie Fisher while they shot the first film. Moreover, he said, “My crush on Carrie never went away.”
“Carrie and I were attracted to one another, but I knew from previous jobs that it would have been a bad idea [to get involved],” Hamill told The Guardian. “But Carrie and I found pretexts. I remember one time–I’m sure alcohol was involved–we were talking about kissing techniques. I said, ‘Well, I think I’m a fairly good kisser. I like to let the women come to me rather than be aggressive.’ And she said, ‘What do you mean?’ Well, next thing you know, we’re making out like teenagers.” After not too long, Hamill said, the two of them “drew back from the precipice” and became lifelong friends instead.
After Fisher died on December 27, 2016, Hamill has said he was “devastated” and has struggled with his loss. “There was a comfort level we achieved,” he said. “We became like real siblings over the years.”
As for Fisher’s more serious on-set affair with a married Harrison Ford, Hamill said in the same interview, “Marcia [Lucas] told me after we finished filming. I’m glad I didn’t know before, as it probably really would have affected me.”
The two questions people usually have about Mark Hamill is what is the truth about the car accident he had that may have led to some facial scarring, and why didn’t his acting career extend to other roles.
The accident is still something of a mystery. Reportedly, Hamill got into a car accident on January 11, 1977, after he finished filming the first Star Wars film but before it was released. In the accident, he is believed to have fractured his nose and left cheekbone. Hamill, who does not like to talk about the accident, has said he was going too fast reaching a highway off-ramp and crashed, and the injuries have been exaggerated. “I broke my nose, that’s it!”
But Star Wars aficionados believe that a scene was written into the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back in which Luke’s face is mauled by a creature called a wampa to accommodate a nose shaped differently and a few scars.
Hamill said that the scene’s need did not originate in his accident. But in her own interview, Fisher said, “I was still shooting ‘Star Wars’ when Mark got into the car accident. It was a really bad accident. Miraculously his teeth didn’t shatter. But his nose did. He had to have some of his ear put into his nose. So they adjusted the film with this snow monster to right away in the movie scratch his face to account for his looks being different.”
As for why Hamill’s fame revolves around Star Wars alone, unlike Harrison Ford, he has said that rather than suffering from typecasting, he didn’t have the burning drive to be a film star. “You know how there are some stars out there who know how to market themselves? I don’t have that.”
In 1978, Hamill married a dental hygienist named Marilou York and they are still married to each other, with three children and a grandchild. In an interview, he said, “I never saw myself so much as an actor. I wanted to be a cartoonist like Charles M. Schulz and create my own world and be able to have a studio at home and not commute and be able to be with my family.”
The one part of showbiz that has excited him besides playing Luke Skywalker is doing voice work. Hamill has an impressive list of credits as a voice actor, particularly his voicing the Joker in animated series, for which he’s won acclaim and a following.
Hamill has deep affection and pride in the Star Wars world he is a big part of. “You know where [the pride] comes from?” he asks. “It’s not so much from the industry, but the 9-year-old kid who looks at you like a cross between Superman and Santa Claus. And you’d have to be a really, really hardened cynic not to be moved by that.”