Star Wars At 40 - Mark Hamill - Star Wars Press Conference
Mark Hamill Talks About His Experience Making Star Wars
From a press conference of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – By Yani Begakus
Mark Hamill – With all the merchandising that’s going on, I really wish they would publish the original screenplay for STAR WARS. It is so thick with ideas – more descriptions and more of everything than was in the movie. There just wasn’t time to get it all in. Yes, it is very simple, and people say there is no story line – just bad guys chasing you because you have something they want. On one level, that’s true; on another level…you know, even though I am ostensibly the hero, George Lucas has given me a menagerie of supporting creatures – animal, vegetable and mineral – and everybody’s working together. Men working with machines, working with rodents, working with whatever…I think it’s terrific.
There are things that don’t satisfy the audience about Luke – I’m too naïve, too straight forward, too earnest. All those things are complicated by Harrison Ford’s character, who is cynical, or Carrie Fisher’s character, who is very aggressive and sure of herself. Every creature in the story line has such a recognizable human quality. The kids, of course, respond to the Wookie because he’s big and furry and scary, but also he’s more scared than they are. That they love!
They were always fair with us during the filming. They didn’t make us fly blind. I mean, we had all those oil paintings that were done by Ralph McQuarrie, visualizations, beautiful paintings of all the characters. On certain sequences, like say, the rescue of the Princess, they used story-boards just like a Sunday comic strip. Like a Walt Disney animation.
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We went to see all the models before filming; and they said: this is the Millenium Falcon, and these are the fighters. I just sort of memorized them all so I knew what they were talking about in the screenplay.
As much as possible, they tried to show us what it was all going to look like. But we were still amazed when we saw it!
One of the most difficult things was the final battle sequence. Everybody, all the pilots, sat in the same cockpit. It was like popping people into a dentist’s chair. Pilot number one, pilot number two, pilot number three….I was pilot number five. Take a number and wait. They had all these guys rocking you on a platform ten feet off the ground, bored. And there was nobody reading off lines to you – no script girl. We went through what must have been fifteen pages of that last battle without stopping! I had to memorize all the different dives and where this guy gets blown up and that he was supposed to be my friend in high school and where to turn off the targeting device and then just fly along for a while. If I forgot, I’d just fake it. That was really hard! I asked George later why he did that sadistic thing to the actors, and he said because it added a sense of urgency.
Tunisia. Ah, that was my favorite part of the movie. It was very easy to imagine you were out in another galaxy if you just turned your back on the film crew and watched the sun going down. It’s so exotic. Plus, when I’d be in the Landspeeder, they’d give me a suite, a robot – all those toys!
George Lucas is very generous with his actors. He’s very open to suggestion. If you have a better idea for a line of dialog, he’ll listen. He’s much more, I think, a technical director. He knows film. He knows camera angles, F-stops, lighting, everything like that, but he’s such an inward person – a private shy man – he is not the kind of director who will say: that was GREAT. He just says: that’s not right, do it again. He doesn’t want to tell an actor how to do it.
When I went in to do the screen test for the part, George didn’t say: Luke is an innocent but shy, earnest young lad. He wanted my version, and I lucked out. I played it straight because I thought the six pages I was reading were so ridiculous it must be like BATMAN or something. I mean, it’s a very fine line you tread when you’re saying things like: Golly, they followed us! You’re just potato chip thin away from being camp.
The new KING KONG (1976) didn’t get that line right. They couldn’t decide whether they were sincere or not. I have to think that one reason it didn’t work was that it was not set in the thirties, when people were naïve and you could do those lines. Why did it work in the original and it didn’t work with the Seventies sensibility?
That’s why setting STAR WARS in another galaxy is a stroke of genius, as far as I’m concerned, because then it not burdened with being scientifically correct for the science-fiction buffs, the ones who say it’s absurd to have sound in outer space. You ask them: is it any more absurd than having a nine-foot apeman wearing headphones flying our spaceship? In STAR WARS, we don’t things the way we would from a Seventies point of view – with all we’ve been through. Then the Princess can give me a kiss on the cheek to show me her confidence. It’s funny to us, because the Stormtroopers are after us and forty-thousand ray guns are pointed at our heads. But it’s not the Seventies, it’s somewhere a long time ago; so why shouldn’t the Princess give me a kiss on the cheek for luck? It’s my favorite part.
STAR WARS is like a good ride at Disneyland. You just put on your seatbelt, relax, and off you go. George really and sincerely made it for children, but it has that magic ingredient you find in the classic Disney movies – it doesn’t pander to children. It tells the story straight. George gave them a thousand things at once without explaining any of them. He hit a chord with adults. It’s a cliché, but it’s true that there is a portion of child in you until you die.
Is Luke really George Lucas? I didn’t think so a t first. I just didn’t make the obvious connection of Lucas and Luke. I started thinking of it when I saw the things that tickle George, or the kind of humorous things I might say to cheer him up (he suffers so when he makes his movies). I discovered that George is such a kid. He built this movie around gadgets and toys because he loves them so much. We gave him a little BUCK ROGERS liquid helium pistol, Carrie and I, as a gift. He loved it; he wouldn’t put it down. He’d spin it – and not let the other children play with it.
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I think George just thought: if I’m going to have to write a character who’s going to appeal to children, I’ll have to write all the things I would like to do if I were the hero – whether swinging across the chasm or flying the X-Wing.
From the beginning I thought we were going to be doing sequels, so I chose to play Luke really young, as I could and get away with it. More than the other characters, my character will have to swing into young manhood.
I understand George’s and Gary Kurtz’ intentions; they always wanted to set up their own little JAMES BOND series – taking the environment George has set up but keeping it limitless in terms of what the characters can do. For the sequel, he’s going to add new characters. It won’t be a direct sequel to the first story; it’ll be a series of adventures, you know, in that galaxy. George has such an opportunity to surprise you!
I think the second film will be better than the first one, simply because the vision is so much clearer now. When they were trying to get over nine hundred people to match up with what was in George’s imagination, when they had to have a guy in the art department go and tell this guy to build something and then explain to the studio why it costs so much money…I mean, the fact that it came off at all is amazing. But now that’s it’s clear in people’s minds what we’re trying to do….which, as far as I’m concerned is just escapist entertainment.
I think the only danger with this whole phenomenon of STAR WARS is that people are placing too much importance on it. I think that’s why you’re getting some negative reactions. People say: oh, come on – it’s fun and it’s dazzling, but it’s very simple minded. Well, what’s wrong with that? I mean, I don’t need to have some sort of false intellectual experience every time I go into a movie theater. What for? To make me feel better about the fact that I’m nor home reading a best-seller?
I saw CLOSE ENCOUNTERS yesterday for the second time. I really liked the movie. It’s inevitable, I guess, that it’s being compared to STAR WARS, but as far as I’m concerned, the only thing they have in common is vehicles that go off the ground. It’s like trying to compare PSYCO with SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. The two movies have such different intentions. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is a realistic account of what would happen if people on Earth in the present day came in contact with extraterrestrials. Even my family is doing it. I took them all to see CLOSE ENCOUNTERS; and of course they’re so loyal; they said: STAR WARS is better. I said: why didn’t you say that TURNUNG POINT is better or GOODBYE GIRL or HIGH ANXIETY? You just can’t make comparisons like that.
Did the Success of STAR WARS help CLOSE ENCOUNTERS? I don’t know. I think CLOSE ENCOUNTERS would have done well regardless of us. Because it’s just a real good movie. It’s funny…I saw it with George Lucas and Gary Kurtz, and as soon as we had finished seeing it, we had dinner with Steven Spielberg. It was great. Both of them really like each other’s films. George doesn’t feel threatened by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and Spielberg doesn’t feel threatened by STAR WARS. There’s so much rivalry in this business that it’s nice to have two people who are this successful and are both friends.
The future? If the STAR WARS series runs as long as I think they’re going to run. I will be Ben Kenobi’s age when I do the last one.
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