AUSTIN, Texas—Following the world premiere of The Director and The Jedi, a comprehensive two-hour documentary about the making of the latest Star Wars film, South By Southwest Film Festival attendees got a Last Jedi double-whammy. After the curtain raised at the Paramount Theater, director Rian Johnson and actor Mark Hamill took the stage for an impromptu Q&A.
Hamill unsurprisingly opted for jokes and openness in his answers, and in particular, he offered his most robust comments yet about that spicy bit of news ahead of Episode VIII's launch: that he didn't much care for how the character of Luke Skywalker had been written.
“A house I didn’t recognize”
The topic bubbled up with a question about Star Wars' mythical and heroic scope as a long-running series, and Hamill explained how he prepared for the role: "When you get down to it, it's not Mark Hamill in a blockbuster film. It's Luke. I had to do a wild reimagining of the character. Like, hey, what happened between the last one and this one, where the most hopeful man in the galaxy becomes a cranky old suicidal man telling people to get off his lawn?
"Here I am going home again," he later added, "but it was a house I didn’t recognize at all."
Another fan pressed Hamill about this and about the brief mentions of disagreements between Hamill and Johnson during the film's production, which he opened up about widely.
"It's not distaste at all," Hamill said, partially quoting the question. "It just wasn't a Luke I understood." He described "backstories" that he had to invent for himself, including how Luke, in mentoring Kylo Ren, "picked the new Hitler to be the next hope" and "how I justified cutting off my telepathic communication with my sister." He even had a conversation with Johnson about the fact that Episode VII ended with Luke wearing Jedi robes. "What do we say about that? To make sure there was a flow."
"I’m in black. I have a glove. I see a trend here."
"In the context of how this has all been framed, you have to snap your head back and remember that with every single movie, with characters, it's always a dialogue between the director and actors," Johnson added. "That's a healthy thing. You always butt heads with actors."
The same fan asked a follow-up question: how, Mr. Hamill, would you have written the plot if you could have? (Johnson immediately interjected and drew a huge laugh from the audience: "I wanna hear this. What would you do, motherfucker?")
Hamill admitted that he had "lots of really terrible ideas" for Episode VIII, at which point he shifted the question with an interesting tidbit: he had similar beef with George Lucas and Return of the Jedi's plot before that began filming. "I read [the script for] Jedi and thought, 'Wait a sec! I thought I was heading toward the struggle of heading to the Dark Side. I'm in black. I have a glove. I see a trend here.'"
After offering a cooking analogy about actors and directors, Hamill expressed a rare bit of regret, which he explained by way of his own Star Wars fandom.
"I'm like a lot of you. I feel an investment in it, a certain sense of ownership, which is a joke, because I don’t own it, now Disney does. But you care! That's what happens with these films. I'm sorry I lowered my guard and expressed my misgivings about it. That belongs in the [filmmaking] process. That doesn't belong to the public. I feel bad because I made that statement before I saw the finished film."
He went on to compliment the film—"probably the most complex Star Wars film since maybe Empire"—and even acknowledged how Johnson found little ways to get him on board with the acting role while the film was in production. He referenced a scene in which Luke threatens to burn down the Jedi library, then acts startled and sad when Yoda calls his bluff to do it instead. "Not only is [Luke] a broken man, he's certifiably insane? I can play that."
“If Larry and Moe come back, Curly’s gotta sign”
Like in other interviews, Hamill again reflected on the fact that all three original-trilogy actors came back to the series. "Within seconds [of our first meeting], Carrie [Fisher] slapped the table and said, 'I'm in.' Later, I said, 'Carrie, pokerface!'" He said that he found out about Harrison Ford returning to the series via the press, at which point he said to himself, "Oh my god, I've been drafted. If Larry and Moe come back, Curly's gotta sign. Or I'll be the most hated man in nerd-dom."
When talking about the pressure of starring in a new Star Wars film, Hamill admitted he insulated himself by thinking about Johnson as a smaller-fry filmmaker. "It was almost too high-profile for comfort. I said to Rian, 'I'm just… I'm terrified.' You know what he said? 'I am, too.' That's when I bonded with him deeply. I said, 'I have to pretend that this is a small, arthouse film that critics will rave about and the public will roundly reject. If I thought intellectually, like, 'camera this far from your face, it's forever, I can't go back and change it,' I'd be in a fetal position in the corner."
Hamill also admitted that he physically trained for 12 months, twice a week, before even reading the script of Episode VII, just to be prepared for a possible intense role in that 2015 film. He later learned that JJ Abrams' vision for Episode VIII included a description of "floating boulders to show off my Force powers," which didn't match Johnson's vision of how Luke would be portrayed. (This Abrams suggestion made him hopeful in part, however, that he'd have a simpler time in terms of exertion while filming Last Jedi: "I'll have the Force oozing out of my every orifice in VIII. I'll be knocking down AT-ATs like dominoes, and I won't have to train very hard.")
For more on Hamill and Johnson's insights on the process of making The Last Jedi, and on other revelations from that film's gestation and production process, stay tuned for our review of The Director And The Jedi (subject to embargo). The film does not currently have an announced release date.
Ars' Nathan Mattise contributed to this report.
Listing image by Nathan Mattise