“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” garnered a complex set of reactions when it came out in December, but none was more unexpected than the one from Luke Skywalker himself. While critics raved about the movie and fans picked it apart, Hamill revealed in an interview shortly after the release that he “still hasn’t accepted” the transformation of his iconic character from idealistic Jedi to the cranky reclusive he portrays at the beginning of the seventh installment, written and directed by Rian Johnson.
Hamill apologized a few days later, tweeting that he regretted “voicing my doubts and insecurities in public,” but his real apology tour kicked off at the SXSW Film Festival. It was there that both Hamill and Johnson showed up for a series of appearance tied to the March 27 home video release and a screening of “The Director and the Jedi,” a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the blockbuster film. While the Lucasfilms-sanctioned production is actually an upcoming DVD extra, it doesn’t skimp on addressing Hamill’s running concerns with Johnson’s updates to Skywalker’s trajectory.
“You have your own interpretation of how the character should be utilized,” Hamill says in one of the documentary’s interviews. “My character represented hope…now, he’s sort of demoralized.” Later, he comes around, recalling that he told Johnson, “‘I hate what you’ve done with my character.’ After I got that off my chest, it was like, ‘Lead me, o guru.’”
Directed by Anthony Wonke, “The Director and the Jedi” provides a feature-length deep-dive into Johnson’s production process, from the sprawling use of practical effects to touching moments on the set with the late Carrie Fisher. But Hamill’s complex relationship to Luke’s transformation — he’s lost touch with the Force and turned his back on the Rebel Alliance — provides a recurring drama throughout, as if the actor himself is working through a conflicted mindset not unlike that of his character.
“What he has to understand,” producer Ram Murali says at one point in Wonke’s film, “is that he’s not Luke Skywalker in this trilogy. He’s Obi Wan.”
Indeed, Luke’s transformation from the fresh-faced warrior of the original trilogy to a bearded curmudgeon begrudgingly training newcomer Rey to use the Force allows him to undergo a fresh emotional journey that rejuvenates the character over the course of the movie. Rather than betraying Luke’s heroism, Johnson’s choice actually allows the Jedi to rediscover his roots. The most effective moment in “The Director and the Jedi” arrives when Johnson sits down with the actor towards the end of the production and whispers the title of the movie in his ear. “‘The Last Jedi’!” Hamill exclaims. “That’s me! I like it.”
After the screening, Hamill recalled how anxious the changes to the role made him. Having read Johnson’s script before the first entry in the new trilogy came out, he was concerned about inconsistencies. He had heard that “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams planned to include floating boulders around Luke during the final shot of episode seven, which would suggest the Jedi still had Force powers even though Johnson’s screenplay found Luke powerless.
“Remember when I called you up, asking, ‘Did they take out the floating boulders?’” Hamill said to Johnson. “I called Rian and said, ‘Did you know they’re going to put in floating boulders? It won’t match your script!’” (The floating boulders ultimately didn’t make the cut.)
Johnson insisted that the back-and-forth he shared with Hamill was normal. “You have to remember, this process happens with every project,” he said. “It’s always a dialogue between the director and the actor. That’s a healthy thing. You always butt heads with the actors. It is a fascinating part of this process.” Hamill echoed that perception. “I was no different with George [Lucas],” he said. “I read ‘Return of the Jedi’ and said, ‘Wait a minute, I thought it was going toward the struggle of moving toward the Dark Side. I was dressed in black, wearing a glove. I see the trend here!’ But you’re just an assistant to the chef. He has to cook it.”
Notably, despite his misgivings about the character, Hamill appears throughout “The Director and the Jedi” even in scenes that don’t involve him. He surprises Frank Oz while the Yoda puppeteer records the character’s voice, and hangs around on the set of the crowded casino planet Canto Bight, where a makeup-covered alien extra trips over the actor and then professes his fandom.
Later in the afternoon at SXSW on Monday, Hamill surfaced on a panel conversation with Johnson and said that he didn’t shy away from offering some suggestions for the script. “I had lots of horrible ideas,” Hamill said, referring to the finale where Luke distracts Kylo Ren by projecting himself to the scene of a battle. “After Kylo realized that I’m a hologram, I said, ‘I should start growing 10 feet, then 20 feet, then 30 feet, then 40 feet, and then start stomping on Adam Driver,’” Hamill said. “At the time I thought, ‘This is a really good idea’…Days later, ‘Did I really say that? That’s horrible.’ I think I had, like, inner Godzilla aspirations.”
He added that he tried to delay his character’s sacrifice at the climax of the eighth episode. “My first reaction was, ‘Can’t we push this off until [Episode] 9?” he said. “Luke eventually does the right thing selflessly for the good of the Rebel Alliance, and [I realized] I should do the selfless thing for the betterment of the movie. Seriously. I’m not trying to be self-aggrandizing, I’m just saying, in the greater scope of things, number one, I never expected to come back, so this is all like found money.”
At the post-screening Q&A, Hamill said that part of his reservations stemmed from his broader feelings about getting involved with the new trilogy in the first place. “I was very happy with where I was, you know?” he said. “I was supposed to be in the elderly reclusive portion of my career. They say you can never go again. Well, that’s not true. Here I am going home again, but with a house I didn’t recognize at all.”
Fortunately, when he finally saw Johnson’s movie, he concluded that it was “probably the most sophisticated ‘Star Wars’ movie since ‘Empire’…I just think it’s a stunning film — it’s challenging, it’s surprising, it has humor. I have to put aside my feelings and try to realize the director’s feelings the best I can.”
Still, he defended his commitment to working through the material. ““I’m like a lot of you,” he told the audience. “I feel an investment in it, a certain sense of ownership. I’m sorry I lowered my bar and expressed my misgivings about it, because that belongs in the process, it doesn’t belong to the public. I made that statement before I saw the finished film.”
Johnson returned the compliment. “At the end of the day, you’re always going too have back and forths with every actor about the character,” he said. “The fact that Mark gave the emotionally powerful performance that he did in this movie, that comes from completely committing yourself to putting that story on the screen.”