On Saturday, FilmEdge attended a benefit screening at Paramount Studios of STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI introduced by Lando Calrissian himself, actor Billy Dee Williams, and followed with a Q&A by Luke Skywalker’s alter ego in our galaxy, Original Trilogy star Mark Hamill. The screening opened the second annual California State Parks Starring in Hollywood film series, hosting movies which all were shot in part within our State Parks, opening with JEDI.
For those who hadn’t heard, the forest moon of Endor and home of the mighty Ewoks is actually Grizzly Creek Redwoods and the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks with their towering trees filling the landscapes of California reserves. Fans will recall that George Lucas, director Richard Marquand, co-stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels and the STAR WARS crew filmed on these locations under the fake production title Blue Harvest in an attempt to preserve their secret with the locals as long as possible. The lush expanses of old forest growth, a treasure to California’s ecosystem and state park lands, made the perfect green world upon which the Ewoks and Rebels finally defeated the forces of the Galactic Empire.
Mark Hamill reminisced and answered questions with attending fans for nearly an hour, expressing his appreciation and support of California’s state parks and the role they played in JEDI’s production, as did Williams in his opening introduction to today’s screening.
Hamill also offered a few of his own insights into being such a key part of the STAR WARS universe, a role he continues to enjoy today.
Getting exact transcripts of his comments was tricky but here are a few of Hamill’s stories and opinions on the Saga, starting out by answer the question he ducked for years: does he have a favorite film in the Original Trilogy of STAR WARS movies he worked on?
I would have to say it’s EMPIRE. The reason that I say that is STAR WARS [Episode IV] was a revelation: it took pirate movies and cowboy movies and so many things that resonate from being children and being told fairy tales. That’s how I look at it, as a fairy tale where we’re traveling in spaceships instead of on horses or draw carriages. It was much more fantasy/fairy tale than traditional science fiction. The novelty and the originality of cobbling together all these other things was everything old is new again.
With EMPIRE, what I like about it was that it was darker, it was more serious, it was more cerebral, it was more spiritual with Yoda. And to have just like in an opera with Act II, the protagonists get their fannies kicked hard. It would have been easy to have it all happy and they live happily ever after, but because it was the second part of a three-act epic, we weren’t able to do that. And for that reason I really, really loved it.
Hamill then addressed the transition from EMPIRE to RETURN OF THE JEDI and how they served two very different functions in the STAR WARS Saga:
With this particular movie, I thought it was anti-climactic when I read it. EMPIRE was so dark and it’s so surprising, the twist ending an all of that, that I was set up in the wrong way. With my one black glove, I thought it would be great in the third one I would be the villain, or at least I’ll go to the Dark Side and maybe wound or kill Harrison. Harrison always wanted to die: he wanted to be killed in EMPIRE, then he said he should be the one who saves my life in the third one and dies in the process.
I said to George it seems so pat in JEDI, it’s so perfect and all tied up in a bow and everyone lives happily ever after. And he said you forget that these movies are made for nine-year-olds, they’re for children, and all fairy tales have nicely tied up [endings]. I guess I was set up in the wrong way because EMPIRE was so… you’re so gobsmacked to find out Vader’s my dad, I get my hand cut off. It was just shocking, I loved it because the audience was really surprised. I never would had dreamed that a sequel to STAR WARS wouldn’t have that feeling of elation at the end of the picture.
Hamill wistfully likened filming RETURN OF THE JEDI to one of life’s rites of passage:
With this movie we had a lot of mixed feelings. You knew at the end that we wouldn’t see each other again. It was a joyful experience but it was but it was tinged with sadness because it was all going to be over.
He also addressed decades of fans asking the same question since Episode VI capped off the Original Trilogy:
“How come there’s not going to be any stories about you after [JEDI]?” It’s like if they told the story about James Bond got his license to kill and didn’t give him any missions, that would be the end of it. That would end the series.
Of course Hamill has no answer to offer fans, but the compare-and-contrast to the Bond franchise is fairly apt. Will George Lucas ever finally explore Luke Skywalker’s later “missions” as the last surviving Jedi Knight after the Empire falls in RETURN OF THE JEDI? You may get better odds bullseyeing a romp rat with your T-16, but as the Original Trilogy films live on (with their eventual debut on Blu-ray a little over a year away) and universe-expanding projects like THE CLONE WARS animated series keeping the Skywalker saga alive with new fans, the STAR WARS galaxy continues growing today. As Master Yoda put it so wisely: always in motion is the future.
Mark Hamill seems ready and willing to report for duty if George Lucas ever calls.
FilmEdge thanks Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Elizabeth Goldstein and Manuel Grace from the California State Parks Foundation, Lucasfilm and Paramount Studios for their hospitality and participation at this special STAR WARS event.