Star Wars fans turned out this morning at SXSW expecting to watch The Director And The Jedi, a documentary about the making of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What they did not expect ended up being the best part of the event by far: the surprise arrival of Mark Hamill himself, joining director Rian Johnson and other members of the filmmaking team onstage for a Q&A.
In a typically entertaining, freewheeling discussion that included questions from fans about the newest film, Hamill’s advice for dealing with online criticism (“Note to self: Don’t go on the internet”), and near-universal praise for Johnson and his installment of the franchise, the actor got the opportunity to expound once more on a subject that is clearly actively paining him to have to rehash—namely, the disagreements he had with Johnson over the direction of the Luke Skywalker character in the film. On the plus side, this may have finally been the definitive explanation of why people should stop taking his comments as him taking issue with the The Last Jedi, or that he dislikes what happened with Luke at all.
In response to someone asking about his “distaste” for where Johnson took the character of the reclusive Jedi, Hamill interrupted to say that it was all along a matter of saying he had to be brought around to understanding where Luke is now, a disillusioned guy instead of the greatest optimist in the universe. Once he understood this was no longer Luke’s story, and what had happened to make the character that way, he was on board to tell the story. “Not distaste, at all. It’s just a Luke that I didn’t really understand. A lot’s happened… I mean, Kylo Ren, besides picking the next Hitler to be the new hope, that’s on me, but there had to be more, even to justify cutting off my telepathic communication with my sister. But that’s my job.”
Johnson backed up Hamill’s comments. “This process happens on every single movie. It’s always a dialogue with the director and the actor, and that’s a healthy thing. You always butt heads.” Hamill was equally worried about other things—continuity, for example. He recounted calling up Johnson in a panic because J.J. Abrams had originally mentioned adding some floating boulders via CGI to that iconic final scene of The Force Awakens, and once he read Johnson’s treatment (Hamill read Star Wars VIII before VII came out) he was worried that that wouldn’t match the director’s story. Also, he was wrong about Luke’s role in Force Awakens, too; people just didn’t make a thing out of it. “I thought, ‘Oh, great, I’m gonna have the Force oozing out of every orifice of my body. I’ll be knockin’ down AT-ATs like dominoes without raising an eyebrow, and I won’t even have to train that hard. I’ll just do this [little hand gesture] and the ILM guys will put lightning coming out of my fingers.’”
“I trained for 12 months for VII—before I read the script,” he continued, getting the biggest laugh of the day. He also dished on co-stars. “I would drive to the gym every day. Carrie [Fisher] had the gym equipment installed in her house, and still they’d come to the door, and she goes, ‘Oh, is that today? Ugh, I don’t wanna.’ Which is so Carrie.” Aware they hadn’t exactly answered the fan’s question, however, she asked Hamill how he would have handled things differently, were he the writer-director. (“I wanna hear this,” Johnson joked as Hamill laughed ruefully. “What would you do with it, motherfucker?”) And that’s when Hamill really tried to lay down the Jedi law.
“Listen, I told Rian, I have lots of reeeaaally terrible ideas I’d like to share with you, and maybe from a thousand you’d find one or two you’d like. I was no different with George [Lucas]! I read Return Of The Jedi and said, ‘Wait a second, I thought I was heading toward the struggle of going to the dark side. I lost a hand, I’m now dressed in black, I’ve got a glove, you know, I see the trend here. But you’re just an assistant to the chef—he comes up with the recipe, we have to cook it and hope the audience finds it the most delicious thing they’ve ever tasted… I’m like a lot of you. I feel an investment in it, I feel a certain sense of ownership, which is a joke, because I don’t own it, Disney does”—another big laugh—“but you care. That’s what happens with these films. I’m sorry I lowered my guard and expressed my misgivings about it because that belongs in the process. That doesn’t belong to the public. And I made that statement before I saw the finished film… and I just think it’s a stunning film. It’s surprising, it’s challenging, it has humor, it’s probably the most complex Star Wars film since Empire, so… I had to put aside my feelings and try to realize the director’s vision the best I can.”
He also mentioned that he signed up for the trilogy with two requests: that he didn’t want to do a cameo, and he wanted to do a run-of-the-trilogy role. “See how well that worked out for me?” Hamill added with a grin. Besides hoping this will finally put to rest any conspiracy theories about his unhappiness with the story, he also made sure to remind everyone that even he freaks out about the pressure of being in Star Wars. “That’s how I know I’m a good actor: I actually look nonchalant at times. But inside—coiled tightly.”