Star Wars Celebration: Mark Hamill talks of being 'drafted' for 'The Force Awakens'

Mark Hamill, who portrayed young Jedi Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy of “Star Wars” films, offered a chilling alternate timeline for this December’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in core space fantasy saga. What if he said no?

Speaking Saturday night at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, Hamill regaled a packed auditorium with tales of “Star Wars” past and present. Hamill spoke of how “Star Wars” creator George Lucas first broached the subject of a new trilogy of films, shared details about the difficulty of working with a Jedi Master puppet in Yoda and said he initially viewed “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams with a hint of suspicion.

The talk brought to a close the the third day of the four-day fan expo, one that over the course of the weekend has featured droid races, speed dating, costume contests, a tattoo alley and a whole lot of merchandise. Prior to Hamill  taking to the main stage at Anaheim Convention Center his costars from the original trilogy Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels had led lively conversations.

While Hamill, sporting a leather jacket and socks branded with “Rocky and Bullwinkle” character Boris Badenov, joked that fans would have come for his head if he passed on “The Force Awakens,” he told festival attendees that he had no other option but to reprise his role of Luke Skywalker.

“It’s not, like, a choice,” he said. “It’s like I was drafted. Can you imagine if for some reason I said that I don’t think I want to do it? I would have all of you surrounding my house like villagers in a Frankenstein picture. Angry villagers, with lightsabers instead of torches. I’d sort of be like the most hated person in fandom. ‘Oh, you’re too cool for school. You don’t want to come back and do Episode 7.'”

Still, Hamill said he was in a state of shock when Lucas told him there would be a new trilogy. He recalled being asked to a lunch meeting in which his wife, Marilou York, and Fisher (Princess Leia), were also present.

“What happened was we were at some ‘Star Wars’ event that George Lucas was at and George Lucas asked us, through his people, to have lunch with him,” Hamill said. “So I’m saying to Marilou, I said, ‘George asked me to lunch. It’s something big going on.’ I remember she said, ‘Maybe he’s going to do another trilogy.’ I laughed at her. Because George had told me specifically he wasn’t doing anything after the prequels. He said, ‘No, I don’t want to be doing these things in my 70s.'”

Besides, Hamill thought, Luke’s story had reached a conclusion.

“I had a beginning, middle and end. My story was finished … I said, ‘You know what’s happening? They’re doing these things in 3-D. He’s probably going to us to do press for that. Or they’re going to put it out in another variation — another boxed set.'”

Then, in mock sarcasm and to great applause, Hamill shouted, “How many times do I have to buy this thing?”

Hamill, who in recent years has focused heavily on voice-over work, then did his best Lucas impression, speaking softly and somewhat rushed. Lucas, recalled Hamill, told the actor that he would be stepping down from Lucasfilm and leaving the company in the hands of Kathleen Kennedy. Disney purchased Lucasfilm outright in 2012.

In a statement that generated a few audible gasps from audience members, Hamill said Lucas offered him an out.

“He said, ‘If you don’t want to be in it, we won’t recast. We’ll write you out of it.'”

Never fear, Hamill was on board from the start. Still, he said he viewed newcomer Abrams, who was fresh off directing two “Star Trek” films, with a little uncertainty.

“I was a little suspicious. I was like, ‘Wait a second, that ‘Star Trek’ guy? Listen, I like ‘Star Trek’ … There’s no rivalry, but I just thought it seems odd. Not that I was predisposed to dislike him. I was just cautious about it.”

Abrams soon won the actor over. Hamill cited Abrams’ penchant for wanting to make the new “Star Wars” films reflect those of the original trilogy rather than the heavily computer-generated Lucas-helmed prequels. As much as possible, Abrams and his team built original sets for “The Force Awakens,” and earlier at Celebration, the film’s special effects team said the new film would emphasize characters over digital magic.

“This film is the first ‘Star Wars’ film that is actually in the hands of someone who grew out of fandom,” Hamill said. “He feels the way you feel, in terms of wanting practical sets, real sets.”

Also, Hamill said he felt comfortable roughhousing with his new director.

“He’s a personable guy,” Hamill said. “He’s really easy to talk to. He’s very inclusive in listening to your ideas instead of being adamant that it has to be ‘this way.’ He’s lovable. What can I say? I like that he’s diminutive. The bully side of me was eager to get him into a headlock and give him noogies.”

Hamill repeatedly stated that he was fearful he would say something about “The Force Awakens” that would get him trouble. The cinema world, he said, is more secretive today than it was when he was making “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in the late ’70s, and his tendency is to over-share. He said he hesitated to so much as answer a fan question via Twitter regarding which lightsaber Luke would wield in “The Force Awakens.”

“I’m so nervous I’m going to leak something,” Hamill said. “I don’t even know if I’m allowed to tell people I’m in the movie.”

Hamill is heard but his face is not seen in the latest trailer for “The Force Awakens,” which was unveiled on Thursday morning by Abrams and Kennedy. Luke’s voice-over in the clip is an echo of the character’s words in “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” in which Luke speaks of the Jedi lineage.

Hamill said he wished Abrams would have published the outtakes, in which the actor riffed on Jedi power the Force being passed on to everyone from his “certified public accountant” to the “one-eyed raccoon that keeps getting into trash cans.”

The conversation briefly touched on numerous aspects of Hamill’s career, from voicing Batman villain the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series” to appearing on a recent episode of “The Flash.” Hamill also spoke about the pleasures of working with Alec Guinness, who portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, and shared some tidbits about acting alongside the Frank Oz-controlled Yoda in “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.”

At one point, Hamill said, filmmakers were considering using live animals instead of a puppet. “They talked about crazy things, like having a monkey in a mask,” Hamill said.

Finally, there were also some very real health benefits, Hamill said, to becoming Luke Skywalker again.

“They put me on a regimented diet and I’m training and doing all this stuff,” he said. “Being a voice-over artist, you sort of forget. You’re not on camera. You can show up looking like a slob. You don’t have to shave. You don’t have to memorize your lines. You can read your lines. It’s the ultimate lazy actor’s job.”

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