Inside Mark Hamill's Ups and Downs — From Struggling After Star Wars to His Amazing Comeback
Mark Hamill's Career Ups and Downs
After a blink-and-you'll miss it cameo in The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker is finally rejoining the Star Wars universe in a meaningful way in The Last Jedi.
It's been over 30 years since Hamill has spoken a line as the iconic character, which helped launch the-then young actor to unimaginable fame as the hero of a multi-billion dollar franchise.
But the recognition he earned through Star Wars has been bittersweet. After the original trilogy wrapped with Return of the Jedi in 1983, Hamill struggled to shake the role even as he continued acting in other film, TV and theater roles.
Before Star Wars
Hamill was born in Oakland, California in 1951, and was the middle child of seven siblings. The family moved around often during his childhood because his father was a U.S. Navy captain. He grew up in California, Virginia and Japan, attending nine schools in 12 years.
Hamill settled in Los Angeles in 1969 with dreams of being an actor, but was determined to be in show business in any capacity. “If I didn’t get a part, no problem,” he told The New York Times. “Then where do I go? I sell tickets. I make props. I make posters. I don’t have to be in the show – I want to be near the show.”
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
After landing roles on TV shows like General Hospital and The Partridge Family, Hamill was cast in an off-beat sci-fi, western epic titled Star Wars.
Most of the crew and cast, including newcomers like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, were skeptical the film would get any notice.
“I thought, even if this thing doesn’t slay at the box office, it’s got midnight cult movie written all over it,” Hamill told the NYT. “Move over, ‘Rocky Horror,’ ‘Star Wars’ is here!”
Hamill was involved in a bad car accident while on his way to shoot a scene for Star Wars on Jan. 11, 1977.
He fractured his nose and cheekbone in the incident, and cartilage from his ear was used to rebuild his nose in a seven-hour surgery.
Fortunately, Hamill had finished most of his scenes in the film at the time, and George Lucas only needed to use a body double for one scene in which Hamill's face would not have been visible anyway.
There has been speculation that the opening scene of The Empire Strikes Back, in which Skywalker's face is mauled by a Wampa, was designed to help explain Hamill's facial scarring. However, Lucas later revealed the scene had always been planned.
Much to Hamill's surprise, Star Wars became an international sensation, launching him and his young costars into pop culture superstardom.
Over the next six years, the trio grew close through their time on set and months spent promoting the films. “The three of us were like a very small tribe in the wilderness," Ford later told the NYT. "We really were figuring this out as we went along.”
Over the past two years, the stars have admitted to having romantic relationships as well. Hamill revealed to The Guardian that he and Fisher had kissed at one point, before they ultimately, much like their onscreen characters, decided they were more like "siblings."
Fisher, before her death in 2016, confessed that she and Ford had been involved romantically — a fact they both had kept hidden from Hamill.
Hamill married Marilou York, a dental hygienist, on Dec. 17, 1978. The have three children, Nathan (born 1979), Griffin (born 1983) and Chelsea Elizabeth (born 1988).
Nathan was born during the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, and made a cameo appearance in Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace.
Struggling After Star Wars
Over the next three decades, Hamill struggled to escape the shadow of Luke Skywalker. He chose dramatic roles and comedies to shake his teen idol image, and even tried his luck on Broadway.
But no matter what the role, audiences struggled to see past his Star Wars fame. Hamill eventually leaned into the predicament, parodying himself on shows like The Simpsons.
His best known work outside of Star Wars came from voicing the Joker on various Batman animated TV shows. Hamill is still considered the definitive voice for the iconic villain.
Champion of the Nerds
When Fisher went to see Hamill in a theater production several years ago, she noticed he had only briefly referred to his Star Wars work in his program biography.
Asked why he didn't include more about his famous past, Hamill explained to Fisher that he wanted to focus on his theater work instead. Fisher responded, according to the NYT, "I am Princess Leia. You’re Luke Skywalker. Get used to it.’ ”
While Hamill longed to escape Skywalker's shadow, he never had a problem interacting with his rabid fan base. Over the years, he has attended dozens of conventions, posing for photos and signing autographs for what he calls “ultra-passionate fans” or U.P.F.'s.
“It’s clearly not for everyone — I get that,” Mr. Hamill told the NYT. “But the passion of it all is just astonishing. The way it’s become part of the fabric of their lives — ‘I met my wife at this movie, we named our child Leia’ — it’s moving.”
A Cliffhanger on a Cliff
Hamill joined Fisher and Ford in sitting out for the critically-panned Star Wars prequels that hit theaters from 1999 to 2005. He expected to do the same when Lucas approached him in 2012 to tell them that a new trilogy was in the works.
"We figured we had the middle three,” he told the NYT. “It was over.” But when Fisher and Ford both agreed to join, he wasn't about to be the one left out.
Originally, Hamill expected to have a large role in The Force Awakens. “Luke in scuba gear with Rey, discovering the underwater remains of the destroyed Death Star – there were all these situations,” he told PEOPLE.
But that story didn’t go the way he thought. “I didn’t know I’d be a literal cliff-hanger, actually standing on a cliff,” Hamill says of Luke’s Force-ful face-off with Rey right before the credits rolled. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise because I could have all the fun of participation without the pressure of any heavy lifting."
The Last Jedi Standing
** Spoiler Alert **
With Fisher's untimely death in 2016, and Ford's onscreen death in The Force Awakens, Hamill is the only memeber of the original trio still participating in the franchise.
“He’s the last man standing,” Ford told the NYT.
But filming the final trilogy has been therepeutic for Hamill in grieving Fisher's loss, especially with her daughter, Billie Lourd, taking a large in the films.
"I love that," he told ABC News of Lourd's increasing role. "She was having second thoughts about doing Episode IX ... I said, 'You be the decider but I'd love if you could be in IX. I see so much of Carrie in her, she's wonderful."
He added, "The way the world is today, we want to forget our troubles and go to that galaxy far far away -- it's therapeutic."