In 1978, Star Wars opened in Japan a year after it had made its debut Stateside, continuing its journey around the globe to become a worldwide phenomenon. That movie introduced Mark Hamill to Japan, but Japan had already been introduced to Hamill, as he explained to huge crowd assembled at the digital stage at Celebration Japan today.
“I went to high school in Yokosuka,” said Hamill. ”My father was in the Navy, so we moved around every few years. But we never stayed longer than about three years in any place. And we were living in Virginia, and he was working in Washington D.C. and he got transferred to Yokosuka. Where is Yokosuka? Well, it’s in Japan. Japan? Do they have the Beatles in Japan? That was one of my first questions.”
Star Wars was Hamill’s first theatrical motion picture, coming on the heels of much television work. ”I thought, this will be one of those movies hardly any people are going to see, so I can learn, and if I make any mistakes, no one will ever know,” he joked. In actuality, Hamill often seemed the lone person in the production that had any faith in the film’s ability to reach worldwide success. “I said, this thing will be more popular than Planet of the Apes! (I was talking about the one with Charlton Heston). So I was the one from the get-go that was telling Harrison and Carrie that this is going to be a winner. They said, ‘are they really going to make parts two and three? Is the first one going to be a success?’ I said, sure! But they didn’t believe me. They said I was crazy.”
It was Hamill’s love of sci-fi and fantasy that allowed him his accurate prediction. “I thought one of the things that was great about it was that it was wonderful fantasy entertainment, and it had a great sense of humor. A lot of science fiction is serious and ponderous, but this really was more like a fairy tale. It had a farmboy, a princess, a wizard, a pirate. I thought, this is hilarious. If they do this right, the way they wrote the script, if they do the movie right, I can’t see how it could be anything but successful.”
During production, signs of success were scarce, as the film was plagued with all manner of technical difficulties and looming deadlines. ”We had a lot of downtime, because we there was so much about the movie that wasn’t working,” explains Hamill. ”So, I’d poke around Stuart Freeborn’s creature shop. If you ever see a creature in the film, I would have crawled inside it. Like a bantha or a dewback or something. Outside the cantina, they had these creatures [jerbas] tethered to the cantina, and I crawled up inside one. Inside, they had built it out of paper mache. I remember looking at it, and seeing all this newspaper. I read a review of David Bowie’s concert in Paris. Now translate that!”
Now thirty years later, Hamill looks back at three decades of being associated with Luke Skywalker. “It’s like anything in life. There’s positives and negatives. But, I’ve always had fun with it. I’m always amazed to be reminded that people still care about it. It’s not something I deal with every single day, but it’s an event like this where you’re just awestruck by how people feel about it.”