VANITY FAIR – Star Wars devotees who can’t wait for December need look no further. With exclusive access to writer-director Rian Johnson, plus interviews with Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, and others, V.F. presents the ultimate sneak peek at The Last Jedi—and Carrie Fisher’s lasting legacy.
I. “We’re Going Back?”
The first trip to Skellig Michael was wondrous: an hour-long boat ride to a craggy, green island off the coast of Ireland’s County Kerry, and then a hike up hundreds of stone steps to a scenic cliff where, a thousand years earlier, medieval Christian monks had paced and prayed. This is where Mark Hamill reprised his role as Luke Skywalker for the first time since 1983, standing opposite Daisy Ridley, whose character, Rey, was the protagonist of The Force Awakens, J. J. Abrams’s resumption of George Lucas’s Star Wars movie saga. The opening sentence of the film’s scrolling-text “crawl,” a hallmark of the series, was “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Atop Skellig Michael, at the picture’s very end, after an arduous journey by Rey, came the big payoff: a cloaked, solitary figure unhooding himself to reveal an older, bearded Luke, who wordlessly, inscrutably regarded the tremulous Rey as she presented to him the lightsaber he had lost (along with his right hand) in a long-ago duel with Darth Vader, his father turned adversary. It was movie magic: a scene that, though filmed in 2014 and presented in theaters in 2015, is already etched in cinematic history.
The second trip to Skellig Michael? Maybe less of a thrill for an aging Jedi. Contrary to what one might have reasonably expected, that Abrams would have kept rolling in ’14, recording some dialogue between Luke and Rey in order to get a jump on the saga’s next installment—especially given that Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with access limited to the summer months, and only when the weather is cooperative—once Hamill and Ridley had nailed their epic staredown, that was a wrap. It fell to Abrams’s successor, Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, the eighth movie in the saga, which opens this December, to painstakingly re-stage the clifftop scene, with the two actors retaking their places more than a year later.
“When I read the script for Episode VIII, I went, ‘Oh my God, we’re going back?’ Because I said I was never going back,” Hamill told me when I sat down with him recently at his home in Malibu. He wondered, in vain, if they could drop him in by chopper this time, “which is so clueless of me, because there’s no landing pad, and it would mar the beauty of it all,” he said. Hamill is a youthful 65 but a sexagenarian nevertheless; whereas the fit young members of the crew were given 45 minutes to get up to the now iconic Rey-Luke meeting spot—carrying heavy equipment—Hamill was allotted an hour and a half, “and I had to stop every 10, 15 minutes to rest.”
None of this was offered up in the form of complaint. Hamill just happens to be a rambling, expansive talker—in his own way, as endearingly offbeat a character as his friend and on-screen twin sister, Carrie Fisher, who passed away suddenly and tragically last December. Like Fisher, Hamill was put on a diet-and-exercise regimen after he was reconscripted into the Star Wars franchise. (Harrison Ford was under less obligation, having retained his leading-man shape because he never stopped being a leading man.) Over a spartan snack plate of carrot sticks and hummus, the man behind Luke held forth at length on this subject.
“You just cut out all the things you love,” he said. “Something as basic as bread and butter, which I used to start every meal with. Sugar. No more candy bars. No more stops at In-N-Out. It’s really just a general awareness, because in the old days I’d go, ‘Well, I’m not that hungry, but oh, here’s a box of Wheat Thins,’ and you don’t put the Wheat Thins in the same category as Lay’s potato chips, and yet I would sort of idly, absentmindedly eat these things while watching Turner Classic Movies, and ‘Oh, I ate the whole box!’ ”
Hamill had been dieting and training for 50 weeks before he learned, via the Episode VII script he finally received from Abrams, that he would not appear in the movie until its last scene, and in a nonspeaking part at that. On this, too, he has a lot of thoughts. Though he grants that the delayed-gratification reveal of Luke was a narrative masterstroke, he’d have done things differently if he’d had his druthers. Han Solo’s death scene, for example. Why couldn’t Luke have made his first appearance around then? In the finished film, the witnesses to Han’s death, at the hands of his own son, the brooding dark-side convert Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), are his longtime Wookiee co-pilot, Chewbacca, and the upstart Resistance fighters Rey and Finn (John Boyega).