Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, newly returned from tonight's big May the 4th anniversary screening of Return of the Jedi at the Egyptian Theater (the very same theater it premiered at in 1983) as part of Entertainment Weekly's CapeTown Film Festival. I'm nearly done with my write-up of last night's Kurt Russell Q&A after the screening of Escape From New York, but since Mark Hamill made a surprise appearance at tonight's big screening and talked a little about the new Star Wars flicks I figured I'd backburner Kurt for just a few hours and breakdown tonight's events (sorry Kurt! You're the man!)
There were multiple screenings of Jedi today (a 35mm print of the 1997 Special Edition... at least none of that Darth Vader screaming “Noooooo” and Hayden Christensen ghost shit was in it) and those who attended the 6pm and 10pm shows were treated to a surprise appearance by Mark Hamill.
I was lucky enough to watch both Q&As (first one from my seat after watching Jedi and the second off in the special VIP side section since I am totally important) and Hamill was not only a great sport, but seemed to be genuinely humbled by the fans that showed up. He also wasn't averse to talking about the new movies, mostly because nothing much has happened (involving him) yet.
So, let's get to the news bits first, shall we? Apologies for the dark, grainy pictures. I was pretty far away and the theater was dark.
Hamill brought up the meeting with George Lucas last August. Lucas called, wanted to meet with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill to talk some stuff over with them, but didn't tell them more than that. Hamill figured it had to do with the Star Wars 3D re-releases, that Lucas wanted them to do some publicity or something, but was surprised when George instead told them of his imminent retirement. Lucas didn't tell them anything about Disney buying Lucasfilm (he ended up reading about that on the internet when that news broke), but did tell them about Kathleen Kennedy taking over and that discussions with everybody involved in the transition have led to talk of Star Wars 7-9 happening.
Now, Hamill said that he was shocked by this because since way back in 1983 when he wrapped on Jedi he always assumed that if Episodes 7, 8 and 9 happened it'd be without the core three players. He said he had a poker face on, but that Carrie Fisher immediately said “I'm in! Is there a part for Billie (her daughter)?”
He also said since then he's only had one creative meeting with Kathleen Kennedy in which he brought up the desire to have a more balanced approach to the effects. His favorite film is the 1933 King Kong and he loves the way they used all sorts of tricks to pull off the effects and he also believes part of the longevity of the original trilogy is in those effects.
“There's nothing wrong with CGI, but I think you have to have a balance because the camera perceives the width and the depth and the weight of a miniature or a model.” He just said he isn't a fan of the one guy surrounded by greenscreen look and told Kennedy that he'd hate for these new movies to “look like Roger Rabbit.”
While he was the first to admit that any creative decisions involving the new Star Wars Trilogy won't have “Make Mark Hamill happy” as priority #1, he did say that Kennedy agreed with him and already discussed that with George Lucas, citing how Jurassic Park only had a handful of digital shots in the whole movie that are sold by blending the in with practical creatures and other cinema tricks.
Hamill also said that he knows that Carrie Fisher's in 100%, has heard Harrison Ford is onboard, but hasn't talked to him personally to confirm it and that he hasn't yet met with JJ Abrams.
He anticipated the focus of the trilogy to be on the next generation “and that's as it should be.” Hamill doesn't know anything specific, he was quick to remind us, but he suspects the “old folks” will be more like Sir Alec Guinness in the OT. “I want it to be age appropriate, so heavy on the Jedi mind tricks and lighten up on the lightsaber duels. Let the kids do the heavily lifting!”
“Part of me is cautious, saying 'let well enough alone, let everyone keep their nice memories if they have nice memories and don't try to go back and do it again.' But the other side of me, the adventerous side, thinks 'If everyone's in, how could I miss this?” How could you indeed?
Hamill wrapped up his new trilogy talk with this gem:
“I'm one of you, I feel like you're one of us. I'll be in there fighting and trying to be as honest as I can be about what I think it is made these movies so special in the first place. It always starts with the script and that's why I'm so encouraged by Michael Arndt's involvement because I respect his writing so much. He's a big fan of these movies, so hopefully we can make something that doesn't make everyone want to find us, cut off our heads and throw it right in our faces.”
Like I said, he seemed genuinely ready to fight the good fight and humbled to be a part of this series that has had such a huge cultural impact.
Now here's some bullet-points from the rest of the Q&A, straight from Hamill's mouth:
-Hamill said he talked to Lucas back in the day about why he started with the middle trilogy. First off, Lucas originally wanted to do 4 trilogies (12 movies), but pared it down to 3 trilogies (9 movies). Why start in the middle then? “Even then I realized that if these things were to go forward that the technology would improve and that by the time we had gone back in time the special effects would give it away, that they were much more technologically advanced than what we were doing. He said, 'Well, this trilogy is the most commercial.' I said, 'Oh, okay.'”
-Because the Star Wars films aren't set in a recognizable era, Hamill says a lot of kids get weirded out when their parents point him out. In their minds these movies were made 2 weeks ago, so Hamill now is in the habit of saying, “Relax, I'm Luke's grandfather.”
-Hamill says he's entered into the old recluse side of his career, with his typical Saturday night being SNL and old TV show reruns on Svengoolie. His favorites are Combat, Thriller, Twilight Zone, Car 54 Where Are You and Sgt. Bilko.
-His initial reaction to the Star Wars script was that it was at the very least a cult hit, even if it didn't hit at the box office. “I saw (the possibility of) endless midnight screenings with that pungent smell in the air because it was a fantasy with a sense of humor.” He's talking about weed, folks.
-He also said that while the cult status was assured, he was also positive the movie would be huge. He predicted it would be bigger than Planet of the Apes. Lucas needed the movie to make 2 ½ times its $7.5 million budget in order to get a greenlight on the sequel and Hamill said he was not only sure they'd get that, but that they could hit at least $25 million. Big laughs.
-Hamill's impersonation of Harrison Ford's Han Solo was amazing and I wish I had the ability to share it with you. He also was asked to do the Joker's laugh and complied, so that's a special extra bit for the folks who were fortunate enough to have been there.
-He also had a few knocks to throw at Jedi, despite his obvious admiration of the film and the work of everybody involved. Hamill was brought in to do wardrobe tests before he read the script and he noted he was wearing all black. He considered the fact that he's got a robot hand, they're putting him in all black outfits... he thought Luke was going to fall to the dark side and that was how they were going to top the big reveal at the end of Empire, but showing Luke severely tempted by the dark side (maybe even to the point of killing one of the group), but coming around at the end. “I thought a great fake-out would be to make the audience believe that I went awry and at the last possible moment save either Carrie or Harrison from death and that would be the twist. So I was disappointed when I read (the Jedi script). I was like, “Really? A second Death Star? Really? That's the plot?”
- “To be fair, if George had known from the beginning he was going to do three movies he would have saved the destruction of the Death Star for the third movie.”
- Hamill was discussing Empire and Jedi, calling them “2 and 3” and then stopped and remembered their episode numbers within Lucas' grand scheme. He laughed it off. “From my perspective, the prequels have a beginning, a middle and an end and take place before I was born, so I'm not required to know anything about them.” Cue applause.
-Hamill was never invited to the set of the prequels. He would have gone, but didn't want to impose and be the old guy telling the new cast “You know, back in my day we did it this way...”
-Empire Strikes Back is Hamill's favorite Star Wars film and told the story about how the script and line-readings on the day of the big reveal were “Obi-Wan killed your father.” Only Lucas, Irvin Kershner and Hamill knew the real ending and Hamill only knew when Kershner pulled him aside to tell him. It was a good thing they did that with the on-set line reading because 2 days after they shot the scene the UK's The Sun had a front page headline that read “Guinness Head Baddie In Star Wars 2.” Even Harrison Ford didn't know until the premiere.
-Hamill never doubted that Vader was telling the truth like a lot of fans did. He always thought the twist was the real deal. “What I thought was a lie was when they said that Leia was my sister. I said, 'Oh, come on.' I mean, really! This seems like a lame attempt to top the Vader thing, you know what I'm saying? Why not have Boba Fett remove his helmet, shake out some beautiful hair and 'Oh, my God! It's mom! She's been a double agent all these years!'”
-He also had issues with Boba Fett's exit from the films. “It just didn't seem right. They built him up, he was so awesome and he has that great costume and Jeremy Bulloch did such a great job. Really, you just flip a switch on his backpack? It just seemed like it was a missed opportunity.”
-Hamill has never read any of the books or other extended universe stuff. “People say to me, “Dude, you're married to Mara Jade! She's smokin' hot!” I go, “That would have been nice if they had thought of that when I was actually involved! You know, because it's the ultimate good news/bad news joke. The good news is there's an attractive woman in the universe, only one, the bad news is she's your sister.”
-Hamill remembers finding a memo to Lucas from the Fox execs on the first film suggesting he put a pair of lederhosen on Chewbacca. “They said, 'Do you realize he has no pants on?' I said, 'Wow, if that's what they're worried about we're in serious trouble.' And they didn't like the title Star Wars. They said 'We've done polls and 38% of women ages 18-49 don't like films with the word “Wars” in the title.'”
-Hamill talked about David Lynch almost getting the directing gig on Jedi and thought it would have been perfect. “It's like Lennon/McCartney. You have the sweet with the sardonic. You would have had that mainstream commercialism of Star Wars with that really skewed view. I think he might have chaffed at the idea of someone looking over his shoulder and this was really George's baby. I didn't understand at the time why he didn't direct all three, but I came to love Irvin Kirshner and I came to love Richard Marquand.”
-One important bit of “homework” Hamill did for all the Star Wars films was spend a lot of time in the art department looking at the designs of what would later be special effects or big sets, like the Snow Walkers (AT-ATs) or Death Star. That way he had a very developed image of what he was looking at when told to stare at a piece of tape and react.
-Told an Empire story about feeling uneasy about hurting the Wampa too badly. The focus on Luke in that sequence (hanging upside down, reaching for the lightsaber, etc) was all second unit. “I said to them 'Look, when I make this swipe camera right with my saber, I'm just nicking this creature, right?Because he's not evil, he's just hungry! I don't want to hurt him. He's like a big grizzly bear or something.' They said, 'Yeah, yeah. You're just nicking him and he'll back off.' Nine months later I'm in a theater and not only do I hurt him, I cut his arm off! They completely lied to me about that!”
In between the two Q&As I got to move over to the VIP section so I could catch the second talk. That also happened to be the area where they hid Mark Hamill before introducing him to the second audience, so there I am, celebrating May the 4th as a Star Wars kid who had Ralph McQuarrie's original Star Wars and Empire concept art on his walls as a kid and up walks Luke Skywalker. He sees a couple of us talking as he walks in, strolls past and gives a wave before taking his place by the front of the section, waiting for his introduction. I'm pretty sure he didn't Jedi mind trick me, but I'm sure those pig guards thought the same thing after he passed, so who knows?
What's really messing with my brain is that a few minutes later, Hamill engaged me in a brief conversation about Man of Steel and started wondering out loud why all the superheroes are played by foreign actors, what that means about American actors, etc. It didn't occur to me until about 30 minutes later that I actually got to hear the Joker complain about Superman and Batman
So that was my night. After hearing the DTS sound rumble the balls off of the entire packed house at this massive, amazing theater, witnessing the vast appeal these movies still have with an audience that ranged from ages 6 to 66 and seeing the spark in Mark Hamill's eye as he talked about Star Wars old and new I gotta say I'm even more pumped to see what JJ Abrams has to deliver.