331 DAYS TO GO!
What the hell ever happened to
My mother likes to tell a story every once in a while, about how sometime around 1978-79, three-year old Me I went around insisting on being called Luke for about six months.
Coincidently, or not as the case may be, this was around the time the first Star Wars movie came out. I actually can’t remember seeing it the first time – I remember some years later, as an older ten-year-old enjoying Return of the Jedi- but the closest I can get to a memory about Star Wars 1 is an inkling of my dad getting a film reel of the film and putting up a sheet on the lounge wall and showing the family this new weird film about robots and starships – in those days, before the mainstream use of video machines in South Africa – people used to hire film reels for home use, at least I think you could…maybe my dad knew someone…
So, somewhere along the line during the late 70s, Luke was apparently my self-adopted name, apparently inspired by the hero-worship of the young Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker: who for millions around the world, became an embodiment of a new kind of screen hero.
The wide-eyed innocence and excited enthusiasm of the young Skywalker became a sort of conduit for us all, in approaching the film and its later sequels, and I guess life in the 70s and 80s in general, too. Popular movie heroes up to then had always been the more mature, more roguish, less identifiable to younger audiences, more Han Solo archetypes, but in Luke Skywalker younger audiences found some identity on screen. The character was a large part of the film series’ success.
Mark Hamill portrayed Luke in those first SW movies, and despite being half a novice actor, with a few soap opera and television appearances to his credit, pulled it off quite well…let’s all agree, if there is one thing we don’t really watch the SW movies for, it’s the acting: for the most part wooden, at best…cringe worthy, at it’s worst. (*Something that got amplified to its detriment in state-of-the-art high definition digital of the later SW prequels – Exhibits A, B, C and D: Jake Lloyd’s Anakin (the Munchkin) Skywalker, Jar Jar Binks and, later, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman’s green-screen-addled marshmallow thespianism.
In 1978 though, and with nostalgic viewings of the original trilogy later, we were less forgiving of the performances. For the most part, there was great chemistry between the film’s leads – Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. Besides the visual elements of the movie had us all awestruck that it didn’t matter that the characters were cast out of cartoonish over exuberance. It made it all even better…
Hamill was a bona fide world superstar by the time the following two movies arrived…but then, once that trilogy was completed, nothing…or so it would seem. While Hamill might not have been top billing on much else after SW ended, he didn’t go away.
The story of how Hamill got the part: the Freddy Krueger Connection…
I like Hamill, particularly his obvious affection for his Luke Skywalker legacy, something he has from time to time, lightly satirised with great joy and glee in other media.
My favourite example is his star-turn in a classic Simpsons episode (Season 10, episode 9 “Mayored to the Mob”. In a nutshell – Homer becomes a bodyguard for Mayor Quimby, protecting him from assassination attempts by Fat Tony during a dinner theatre production of Guys And Dolls, featuring Hamill as Nathan Detroit whose main musical number is the hilarious and catchy Luke, Be A Jedi Tonight (Luck, Be a Lady Tonight…geddit) this is but one great example of the many consistently clever and incredibly funny SW references across the Simpsons universe. Simpsons writers wear their geek badges proudly throughout the show, not least when it comes to poking fun at Star Wars.
Luke, Be a Jedi Tonight!
Another highlight of Hamill’s post-SW self-lampooning, is the geek mockumentry Comic Book: The Movie, a lovingly satirical take on the global boom of geek culture that defines the sci-fi fan community, particularly the behemoth that is Star Wars fandom. A self-referential Hamill is at odds with his peculiar brand of fame and also the fans themselves. Much like William Shatner grappling with Captain Kirk before him, Hamill wonders if Luke Skywalker will be his only crowning professional achievement in life.
But of course, it’s not. Mark Hamill has gone on, after SW, to achieve a lot as an actor, a voice actor and writer. None of which have anything to do with Star Wars.
In the early 90s Hamill …and not Luke…received another boost of cool, being cast as the voice of the Joker in the iconic Batman animated series. An accomplished voice actor for some of his post-SW years, Hamill made the role his own and created another facet of the Joker not again achieved until Heath Ledger’s portrayal in the Dark Knight.
So influential was his voice for the Joker that he reprised the voice for a number of later appearances in video games and live-action (he voiced the Joker in the short-lived Gotham girl power TV series Birds Of Prey).
In between all that Hamill also appeared in notable theatre productions, including a star turn as John Merrick in The Elephant Man., as well as giving voice to several video games and writing for several issues of Dark Horse and the Simpsons comics.
And now Luke is back…
Since the purchase of LucasFilms and the Star Wars universe by Disney, and the announcement that director JJ Abrams will be making a seventh SW movie, following the story after the events of Return of the Jedi, speculation was rife that the characters of the original trilogy, particularly Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, would return, albeit older and in less prominent supporting roles.
It would be a popular option, after all. These are Classic Characters – ones most SW fans have grown up with, and it makes for fascinating speculation about what happened to them all, especially Luke: what happened after he defeated his arch-enemy (and the father he never knew) Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. Where is he now, as a fully-fledged sole remaining Jedi, what is he doing and what are his relationships with other characters in the universe like?
Now that the rumours of these characters’ return is confirmed and the new Force Awakens movie is nearly here…December 18th…the premise and promise of these stories now being told is an exciting prospect, and judging by Hamill’s Twitter postings over the last year during production for the new film, he’s as excited as us about entering that world again as that ultimate iconic movie hero Luke Skywalker.
I may not call myself Luke anymore, but I like to think I retained some his wide-eyed enthusiasm for adventure and doing the right thing. He is the ultimate movie hero, the kind we don’t see much anymore on screen or in real-life. It will be interesting to see Mark Hamill return to Luke, now older, wiser and with beard.
The student turned master…