Christmas came early for “Star Wars” fans everywhere this year with the Season 2 finale of “The Mandalorian” December 18, and, apparently, it was a real gift for Mark Hamill as well. In the episode, a CGI-youthened Hamill appeared as Luke Skywalker, lightsaber-slashing his way through a battalion of murder robots in a demonstration of his full Jedi abilities that we never quite saw in the Original Trilogy. In those films he only achieved knighthood at the very end, after intermittent and interrupted training. But seeing himself in full badass mode at the height of his Jedi powers is something the 69-year-old actor definitely wanted to see.
“Sometimes the greatest gifts are the most unexpected and something you never realized you wanted until it was given. #ThankYouJonAndDave,” Hamill tweeted on Sunday.
It’s fitting that it was Hamill’s appearance that energized fans in such a big way just before the start of the holidays. Five years ago, he did much the same with his mythic, resonant appearance as a self-exiled Luke Skywalker at the end of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which capped Disney’s franchise relaunch (the highest-grossing film, unadjusted for inflation, in U.S. box office history) with the expectation of more stirring adventures to come. At that time, the actor was the same age as Alec Guinness when he first appeared as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” in 1977, suggesting from the start that he would be more of a mentor figure to the next generation of heroes rather than someone whose display of Jedi fighting skills would be foregrounded itself. Luke’s feelings of loss, betrayal, and guilt over his nephew — and Jedi student — Ben Solo (Adam Driver) turning against him and having “destroyed it all” made Luke, in the words of Han Solo in “The Force Awakens,” “feel responsible… he just walked away from everything.”
But if those were beats that made sense for the mythic arc of the character in the Skywalker Saga films, there was still very much a desire to see what Luke was really capable of in that galaxy far, far away during the 30 years between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” And “The Mandalorian” finale finally showed us that, via a body double (29-year-old actor Max Lloyd-Jones), some CGI tweaking, and Hamill’s voice work. Luke single handedly defeats the robotic Dark Trooper army that had pinned down Mando (Pedro Pascal) and his comrades. One shot is even a deliberate echo of the hallway scene in “Rogue One” when Luke’s father, Darth Vader, slashes through a platoon of Rebel defenders. Hamill also appeared on set during the filming of Luke’s big scene.
The “Mandalorian” cameo perhaps wasn’t too much of a shock if you know how Industrial Light and Magic, which created the Young Luke effect, works. They had already masterminded a CGI-youthened Luke for a flashback in “The Rise of Skywalker,” in which we see the young Jedi train his sister Leia in the ways of the Force. And rarely does ILM create an effect like that without some plan to iterate on it further, down the road. Which is exactly what they did in the “Mandalorian” finale, to Mark Hamill’s joy — and that of “Star Wars” fans everywhere.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) December 30, 2020