Mark Hamill in Tokyo

[Tokyo Flashback] Mark Hamill in Japan for Star Wars: A New Hope

Bill Hersey was one of the few chosen ones in Japan to meet the original Star Wars crew when they visited Japan, including Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. Bill was the mastermind behind a secret screening he organized for the Star Wars crew with no other than legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Read Bill’s impressions on Luke Skywalker in Japan in the summer of 1978*.

Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the box office smash “Star Wars,” has been in Japan twice since 1977 . . . once last November for a few days’ rest after a European and Australian promo tour on the film and a few weeks ago for the film’s opening in Japan. While showing Mark and his group around during their two visits here, I was able to gather a few impressions and information about this remarkable young man. He was aware that I planned on writing an article, so this portrait in no way betrays his trust and friendship.

First, he’s one of the most pleasant, outgoing people I’ve ever met. An amazing memory, a great sense of humor and the kind of person who really goes out of his way to be nice to everyone. What’s more, he just never seems to run down.

The first time I met him was in his suite at the New Otani last November. He attended high school here in Japan and has a special fondness for the country, so he wanted to stop by a few days after his Australian promo tour. Mark’s 26 now and he was here with his family. His father is a career Navy man, here during the Vietnam conflict at that time. At our first meeting Mark was wearing faded Levis, a cotton flannel shirt, boots and an old felt hat. Full of energy, he was constantly fingering his hair or getting up, rearranging the furniture, or just moving around.

Mark Hamill for an exclusive interview with Bill Hersey.
Mark Hamill for an exclusive interview with Bill Hersey.

Acting, he said, was built into him: “I somehow always knew I would be an actor. From the time I can first remember, I geared everything toward that goal.” He always loved movies, and in addition to seeing everything at the theater he stayed home and watched reruns on TV while others were out playing baseball.

For his part as Luke Skywalker, Mark explained that he responded to what actors refer to as a “cattle call.” This means going in with other actor hopefuls, standing in front of the producer and director and telling them about yourself. You have no idea what film they’re going to do, the picture’s plot or what kind of a part you’re trying out for.

Mark was among those called back for a screen test and was given six pages of “Star Wars” script to read. Director George Lucas didn’t tell him or the others what he wanted; they didn’t know if it was a camp sci-fi, something really serious, or a fairy tale fantasy. Mark says he almost camped up one of the lines but felt if he had, he might not have landed the part. He believes Lucas chose him because he has many of the same traits as the character, Luke Skywalker. The other two leads, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, put the stamp of individuality on their parts, too, and somehow it all worked out great, “We’re really like a family now,” he added.

In talking about the film’s phenomenal success, Mark said it was a matter of perfect timing. “There was no great message in the film, and in many ways it was a return to what films were originally meant to be—an escape. Still, there’s plenty of intellectual stimuli, and children and adults both can enjoy it at their own level.” In contrast, he considers “Taxi Driver” a great film but not one you’d watch for fun or relaxation.

Mark Hamill and Bill Hersey meeting songstress Debby Boone at the Tokyo Music Festival reception.
Mark Hamill meeting songstress Debby Boone at the Tokyo Music Festival reception.

Mark has attended three premieres of “Star Wars” and seen the film five times. “It’s a galaxy fairy tale, and you just can’t see it all at one time.”

What did he like best about doing “Star Wars”? The whole adventure of making the film, he said, was like a dream come true, but it was especially fun to rescue the princess. His favorite character in the film was the robot, CP 30. “He was always so loyal and so polite. Then, of course, there was the chance to work with Alec Guinness, who, believe it or not, was always my favorite actor.”

Here are a few of his comments on “Star Wars” and happenings during the filming.

•“It took four years to complete “Star Wars.” The studio work was done in London and location work was done in Tunisia (the desert), Guatemala (the jungle) and Death Valley.”

•“Stanley Kubrick, who did ‘2001—A Space Odyssey’ saw the film and was amazed at the technical developments since he had done that film 10 years ago.”

•“Some of Japan comes out in the film. Darth Vader’s mask is patterned after a 14th century samurai. Also, the idea of the old man’s teaching Luke Skywalker the use of the sword and the morality behind it is very Japanese.”

I told Mark I hated the monster whose eyed tentacle comes out of the filthy water and pulls him under. (The audience never sees the monster). Mark said Lucas had actually had a monster created but after it was built “it looked like a huge jelly bean-shaped turd.” He was sure that when it surfaced, the audience would crack up laughing, so he decided they would only show the tentacle and leave the rest to the viewer’s imagination.

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher meeting the great Akira Kurosawa for a special screening.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher meeting the great Akira Kurosawa for a special screening.

Mark’s shooting-star success, of course, has considerably affected his personal life and lifestyle. When he was living in Hollywood, fans actually camped on his apartment house lawn waiting for a chance to see or touch him. “I had to move out in the middle of the night and, even then, do it by going out through my neighbor’s house,” he said. Now he lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Malibu but is already having problems with fans, so he’s planning another move soon. “It’s not me so much as it is my neighbors . . . it really does bother them. This time I’ll follow Henry Winkler’s advice and get an unlisted number under an anonymous name.”

Financially, the film has really set him up. In addition to his salary for acting, Mark said George Lucas surprised the principal actors by giving them each 1/4 of a point on the film, and that has added up to a lot of bread. Out of this he pays an agent, a business manager, a personal manager and his lawyer. That’s all off the top, then he pays about 63 per cent taxes on his earnings. “Star Wars: Part 2” starts filming in February, and he’ll not only get a higher salary for that but also a full point on the film. Meanwhile, his film “Corvette Summer” is doing well in the States (due here next summer) and he’s in Isarel now working with Lee Marvin on “The Big Red One,” a story about the First Battalion in World War II. “Star Wars” was a three-picture contract, so that alone should keep him going awhile.

Bill Hersey and Carrie Fisher in Tokyo.
Bill Hersey and Carrie Fisher.

On his family . . . “Mom and dad are divorced now and he’s remarried a Filipina. My mom, two older brothers, two older sisters, and two younger brothers are all wonderful. They have a marvelous sense of humor and we’ve always had so much fun together. Dad’s the only one who doesn’t have much of a sense of humor.”

Reminiscing about his school days at Nile C. Kinnick High School near Yokosuka, he mostly remembers the warm feeling generated by the Japanese people. “I’m sorry the school doesn’t do more about teaching the Japanese language. It would have been so helpful and we would have gotten to know and understand the people so much more.” He was happy to have the chance to see his school principal while he was here, but disappointed that he wasn’t able to get together with his old drama teacher. He recalled, too, going skiing at Bandai and breaking his leg there. “I had to spend some time in a Japanese hospital—and loved it.”

Fashion-wise, like many young stars, Mark really dresses down. “I don’t buy my clothes any special place. If I see something I like, I buy it. His favorite clothes are jeans, collarless shirts, pegged pleated cotton slacks and loose-fitting tweedy jackets.

His hobbies include a toy collection. “I love Kiddyland and could spend days in there,” Mark said laughingly. He told a Japanese reporter at a press conference that he went into a factory here and saw ‘thousands upon thousands of little me’s’ (the Luke Skywalker dolls).”

Mark admits he’s very forgetful. “I never carry a wallet in my jeans . . . it hurt’s my bum. I’m also great at losing house or car keys.” The other extreme is his retention of movie and Broadway show lines. It’s amazing what he comes up with out of the past. He’s also fantastic at impersonations. During the course of several lunches and dinners with him, I heard Stevie Wonder, Jack Nicholson, Bob Dylan, Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” and Lily Tomlin’s “Edith.”

Bill Hersey, Carrie Fisher and Akira Kurosawa.
Bill Hersey overseeing the Akira Kurosawa’s book signing with Carry Fisher.

As I mentioned, Mark is very easygoing, natural and enjoys being around people. He also “loves to do charity work.” In this respect he related an interesting incident that happened not long ago.

There was a boy in a Long Beach hospital, who was almost completely paralyzed. The highlight of the kid’s day was to lie in his bed and watch “Star Wars” on television. The boy’s father called 20th Century and asked if there was any possibility “Luke Skywalker” might call his son. Mark did so, put on his best Luke Sky-walker voice and talked with the boy 20 minutes. A few weeks later the boy was much better, able to walk and left the hospital. The doctors believed “Luke’s” call had a great psychological effect and played a strong part in the boy’s recovery. Consequently, one of the doctors told the press, and it came out on TV news. A few newspapers like the sensation-seeking “National Enquirer” grabbed it and built it up as a big publicity stunt.

This hit Mark pretty hard, and after spending some time with him and getting to know him, I really believe he just wanted to help the boy, with no intent for publicity. Unfortunately, all too many journalists (even here) take a negative approach to everything and anything, and have a hard time believing there are nice people who help just to help. In a way some journalists are kinda sad, aren’t they?

Mark left Tokyo on June 17 and is now on location in Israel. He hopes to come back again . . . just to get out and really see Japan. He’s a young man who’s already come a long way and is bound to go right to the top. It’s in the “stars.”

*First published in the Tokyo Weekender June 1978.

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