Star Wars (NO SPOILERS): Where Have You Guys Been??
It’s been a good long while since the original Star Wars films were released. The main cast, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher, have all gone on to have very different careers. We at Geek Melee have gone through their last few decades and pulled out some highlights. As you prepare for the The Force Awakens to take the movie world by storm, take a peek into their body of work and see what Luke, Han, and Leia have been up to since they took down the Empire all those years ago.
Carrie Fisher has arguably had the least time in the limelight since the end of her run as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars films, but that’s not to say she hasn’t done anything in that time. Much like her costar Mark Hamill, Star Wars was only her second film and it catapulted her into stardom. Her first acting role, two years before the space drama, was in Shampoo, a satirical romantic comedy set during Richard Nixon’s election in 1968. For Star Wars, several other actresses also auditioned for the coveted role of Leia, including Karen Allen, of Marion Ravenwood fame, and Jodi Foster, who actually wound up having to turn down the role because she was already contracted with Disney, ironically, and busy shooting two other films. Fisher eventually won the role and was also asked to lose ten pounds as a condition for her casting.
During the ’80s, she had several supporting roles in big name films, such as a vengeful ex-lover of Jake Blues, played by John Belushi, in The Blues Brothers, and then opposite James Belushi in The Man With One Red Shoe (which holds an interesting sound clip used in an SNES game), making her one of the few to act with both Belushi brothers. Two other big ’80s flicks were The ‘burbs and When Harry Met Sally…, both of which saw her in more prominent roles. From the ’90s forward, her acting parts were usually smaller, but what most people don’t know is she was doing heavy work behind the scenes as one of the most sought after script doctors. She lent her uncredited talents to films like Hook, Sister Act, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Wedding Singer, Scream 3, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith to name a few. She also wrote a semi-autobiographical book titled Postcards from the Edge in 1987, which was turned into an Academy Award nominated film in 1990 starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. She also penned two other novels, Surrender the Pink and Delusions of Grandma.
In the 2000s, she began a recurring role as Peter Griffin’s boss Angela on Family Guy. She had a small resurgence during William Shatner’s roast on Comedy Central where she was one of the featured guests, as well as a judge on the ill-fated filmmaking competition reality show, On the Lot. She wrote and performed a highly successful and well recieved one-woman show entitled Wishful Drinking, which she also turned into a novel and audiobook, which was nominated for Best Spoken Word Album at the 2009 Grammy Awards. She also had an Emmy Award nominated performance in 30 Rock where she spoke the line “Help me Liz Lemon! You’re my only hope!”
With the announcement of The Force Awakens and that Fisher would be reprising her role as Leia, now a General, she embarked on what would be one of the weirdest press tours I’ve ever seen. Not only is she almost always accompanied by a bizarre bulldog named Gary, whose tongue is constantly sticking out to the side in a cartoonish fashion, but she also manages to have fun with every interview, which is impressive seeing as nearly every single one of them asks the same series of questions: How much convincing did it take to get you to come back? Did you have to get back into character again? Is this exciting? How was working with Harrison/Mark again? She turns every answer on its head and keeps them guessing, sometimes to awkward laughs and pauses.
It’s great to see Fisher back out in front again and I can only hope that it continues. What’s better, her daughter Billie Lourd has an unspecified role in the upcoming Force Awakens film. Hopefully both women will continue to pull more of that limelight their way.
And Gary. More of Gary please.
Oh, Harrison Ford. How we loved you as Han Solo in Star Wars. How we loved you as Deckard in Blade Runner. How we loved you as Dr. Jones (well, at least in the first three movies). How we loved… um… well… At least all of those movies were really good. But recently? Uh… well there was Ender’s Game… no.. uh… Cowboys and Aliens?… no… Age of Adeline, yeah… no… shit. Goddamnit. Maybe The Last Crusade applied to more than just the Indiana Jones franchise.
All kidding aside, if the success of an actor is measured by consistent roles in Hollywood films, Ford would easily be considered the most successful of our three Star Wars protagonists. His role as Han Solo in A New Hope effectively paved the way for roles to continue to be extended to him throughout his career to date. Ironically, Ford was almost passed over for the role by George Lucas, as Lucas didn’t want to reuse the same stable of actors in future movies, and Ford had just acted in American Graffiti. Lucas agreed to bring in Ford for the Star Wars casting call, but only to help read lines for Han Solo opposite actors trying to nab the parts of Luke and Leia, with no expectation of being seriously considered for the actual role of Han. Ford ended up landing the part, however, and his role as Han Solo jettisoned his acting career into A-list status.
The 80s would become what many consider the most successful decade for Ford, encompassing all three films from the Indiana Jones franchise, Blade Runner, and of course, episodes V and VI of the Star Wars franchise. I joked about Ford’s career after The Last Crusade, but the truth is, the 90s action genre was very kind to Harrison as well. Patriot Games, The Fugitive, Clear and Present Danger, Air Force One… these movies resonate deeply with the badass I like to pretend exists within me. Inevitably, however, we reach the 2000s, and things appear to go downhill. While Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was received moderately well by critics, audiences aptly recognized it as a legend that should have been left to our imaginations. Cowboys and Aliens… wh… why did this happen… And as a fan of Ender’s Game the novel, Ford played the most boring, flat, monotone version of Graff I could have ever imagined. Outside of his role as Dodgers GM Branch Rickey in the movie 42, we’ll just skim over the last fifteen years and hope that The Force Awakens will also awaken that suave, charismatic personality that Ford used to charm his way into our hearts as Han Solo so many years ago.
In the meantime, here’s The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978, in which Han tries to get Chewie home to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day. Bask in its terrible made-for-TV glory.
For many fans, it must have seemed that Mark Hamill dropped off the face of the Earth as the credits rolled in Return of the Jedi. However, increasingly we have realized that Mark Hamill never left us. Like Leela’s parents in Futurama, it’s only as adults that we know how Mark Hamill has been beside us all along, entertaining us and teaching us things.
And trying to kill the Batman.
In the mid 1970s, Mark Hamill was not a name known worldwide as the man behind the lightsaber-wielding hero, but was just another unknown actor crashing on a friend’s couch. That friend happened to be Robert Eungland, who would go on to fame in horror movie circles as a certain burnt-up, knife-finger-wielding villain in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
After walking in to an audition for Han Solo, Eungland realized that guy he was getting drunk watching Mary Tyler Moore with would be a great fit for the other major male role in the movie, that of Luke “Starkiller” or “Skywalker” or whatever. One audition reading a painful early script opposite Harrison Ford later [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSjP2GBTr9U] and Hamill was on track to become a superstar!
…Aaand then it was over.
Though Star Wars was only slightly less popular than the sunrise in 1977, Hamill himself struggled to secure his leading man status. By the time the third and (for a while) final Star Wars movie left theaters in 1983, Hamill’s movie work had dried up. When his name came up for the 1984 film adaptation of Amadeus, an executive producer was quick to dismiss him: “I don’t want Luke Skywalker in this film.”
In 1981, between The Empire Strikes Back and Jedi, Hamill had moved with his wife and child to New York City, with the intent of breaking into Broadway. After a disappointing false start with The Elephant Man, Hamill took the leading role in Amadeus in 1983 and kept it for a successful nine-month run (this very run would bring his name into consideration for the film adaptation).
Hamill would go on to two more starring roles on Broadway through the 80’s, but otherwise he struggled to break out of his Luke Skywalker typecast. By 1987 he had returned to TV with Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and not long after that he was playing directly to type with sci-fi films like Slipstream and Time Runner. By the time he was playing the villainous Trickster on CBS’s The Flash in 1991, it seemed that Luke Skywalker, as Yoda would say, would forever dominate his destiny.
A personal anecdote: As a teenager watching a Star Wars making-of documentary, I was stunned when Hamill did his impression of Frank Oz’s Yoda. I sat up on the couch thinking, That was PERFECT. How did he do that?
As it happens, Hamill has always been a skilled voice actor, able to wring an incredible amount of emotion with just his voice (and even, as you may know, his laugh). His first voicework was all the way back in 1973, when he was a minor character in The New Scooby-Doo Movies. More interesting work followed the release of Jedi when Hamill offered his voice talent to two Hayao Miyazaki films, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky.
Starting in the 90’s, Hamill re-engaged with voicework, starting with appearances in The Legend of Prince Valiant and Biker Mice From Mars. His (second) breakout role, though, was his defining voicework for the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series starting in 1992. After a minor role in “Heart of Ice” (the same episode which radically restructured Mr. Freeze), Hamill read for the Clown Prince of Crime – though he was convinced there was no way he would get the part. Despite his reservations, the producers were blown away by his interpretation, which was so different from Jack Nicholson’s in Tim Burton’s then-recent Batman film.
Since then, Mark Hamill has had a spectacular second career as the Joker and other over-the-top villains. Fans have come to more closely identify his colorful voice with Batman’s greatest enemy than perhaps any other actor this side of Heath Ledger. Hamill would even go on to reprise his role as the Trickster in the CW’s new 2014 The Flash series. So thanks, Mark Hamill, for always being around!