Mark Hamill on realizing Luke’s arc mirrored his own descent into cynicism

The Luke Skywalker we met in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI was quite different from the hero we grew to adore in George Lucas‘ original trilogy. As I’m sure you’re aware, not everyone was pleased by how THE LAST JEDI writer/director Rian Johnson handled the character of Luke Skywalker, as the Jedi went from from optimism to despair over the course of the thirty years between RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE FORCE AWAKENS. Even Mark Hamill himself wasn’t exactly a fan of what Johnson was planning to do. “It was a radical change, but I think sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone is a good thing,” Hamill told IGN. “Although a part of me said to Rian, ‘but you know, a Jedi would never give up’. My concept of the character was that even if I chose the New Hitler thinking he was the New Hope, yeah I’d feel terrible, but I wouldn’t secret myself on an island and then turn off the Force.

So just how did Mark Hamill play out in his own mind how Luke Skywalker went from “the most optimistic, positive character to this cranky, suicidal man who wants people to get off his island?” He drew upon his own life, and that of his generation, to justify the tragedy of Luke’s descent into cynicism.

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. 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.

As the Empire fell, there was the sense that everything would change for the better, but as we know from the real world, that’s just not how it works. There’s always another dictator and there’s always another terrible catastrophe, but there’s also a spark of hope, the belief that things can get better, at least for a little while. Empire. Rebel Alliance. First Order. Resistance. Rinse. Repeat.

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Part of Mark Hamill‘s initial resistance to where Rian Johnson took Luke Skywalker may also have stemmed from J.J. Abrams‘ original intention for the final scene of THE FORCE AWAKENS. You know the one, where Rey (Daisy Ridley) travels to Ahch-To and extends the lightsaber to a silent and grim looking Luke Skywalker. Before Rian Johnson requested a change to better connect with THE LAST JEDI, the scene would have shown off a glimpse of Luke’s sizeable Force abilities.

J.J. said, ‘Oh and by the way I’ll probably put in a couple of floating boulders to show the Force emanating from you, as strong as it is.’ So I’m thinking for VIII, I’m going to have Force Lightning coming out of every orifice of my body. You know, lifting an eyebrow and toppling AT-ATs like dominoes. That would have been fun to be that powerful! Plus, I wouldn’t have to do much. They wouldn’t have to teach me choreography to do lightsaber duels. I’d just have to do this,” Hamill points across the room, “and let the special effects guy do everything.

It hasn’t been confirmed, but I’d imagine that we’ll be seeing Luke Skywalker once more in STAR WARS: EPISODE IX, which is set for a December 20, 2019 release.