To show Luke Skywalker’s conflicted, dark turn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Mark Hamill looked to real-life politics for inspiration. Hamill is back in Episode VIII, this time in a major role (after a single scene at the end of The Force Awakens), although the farmboy-turned-Jedi is a little different to how we remember him.
At the start of the film, Luke is a nomad, in forced isolation after the destruction of his Jedi Academy by Ben Solo (now going by Kylo Ren) and seeking knowledge from the first Jedi Temple. And, when Rey turns up with his family’s saber to try and bring him back into the Galactic fight, he refuses, fearing the scavenger’s raw power and declaring “it’s time for the Jedi to end.” That’s a major change from what we know (and that’s before theories of evil Luke come into play), one that Hamill worked hard to convey.
We recently sat down with Hamill at the Star Wars: The Last Jedi press day and discussed how his approach to the character has changed. We asked what it was like going dark, and the actor revealed it mirrored his view on the real world:
“Well, I had to find what could have happened that would make the most hopeful, optimistic character wind up in this dark place. Now, I was eleven when the Beatles hit and they were the peace and love generation, and when I was in high school I said, I believed all that. I thought by the time we get in power they’ll be no more wars. We’ll end world famine. Hey baby, Love Is All You Need. And that, we failed! Basically, we failed, so even though this is a fantasy, you try and find something that you can relate to in life to be able to portray that element of the screenplay and so that’s what I was thinking of. Is the potential of the flower power generation and now the world is worse than it’s ever been. Thought Watergate was bad? That was just two parties. Now it’s a political entity with a hostile foreign government and that we’ve been in perpetual war. I thought, well at least after Vietnam will never get into another pointless war that will, with no clear objective. We’ve been in perpetual war for what seventeen, eighteen years now? This is why these movies are power so popular. Real life is so horrible. Harsh reality is so draining on the human psyche you need to go to a safe place like a galaxy far far away.”
While Hamill hasn’t been able to talk much at all about his actual role in The Last Jedi, he has been somewhat open about his influences. The actor recently revealed he constructed a “devastating” interim backstory for Luke that explained his mental state, but this highlights even more the stance he’s taken to the character; he’s transferred the sanding of his own optimism to Luke, where a string of ever-worsening events challenge the idea that things will get better. While in the quote he focuses mainly on world-changing moments from 1970s, the always outspoken Hamill does nod towards the conflict in the Middle East and infers current political strife.
That he focuses on the 1970s, though, is interesting in its own right. Star Wars was actually born out of that post-Vietnam malaise; it’s a nostalgic exercise that returned us to a more simple good/bad conflict. For the saga to now be challenging that view is good franchise evolution in general, but specifically for Luke shows the pitfalls of idealism and, really, heroism. Indeed, while there’s often debate over how reflective of politics the franchise should be – CEO Bob Iger last year claimed Rogue One wasn’t at all political – it’s always been a prominent undertone, from Vietnam of the original trilogy to the Gulf War of both Bush’s in the prequels.
Hamill and director Rian Johnson had rather different takes on what to do with Skywalker in The Last Jedi, with the actor totally surprised by what’s in store for his character. However, given the way it clearly mirrors the real world, perhaps it was only to be expected.
KEY RELEASE DATES
Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi release date: Dec 15, 2017
Solo: A Star Wars Story release date: May 25, 2018
Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX release date: Dec 20, 2019