— -- After more than four decades carrying the "Star Wars" torch as Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill says it's time for a new generation of heroes to take his place in the "galaxy far, far away."
Hamill, 66, admits he was "shocked" when he read the script for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which hits theaters today, especially the scene promoted in trailers and other clips released, where Luke says the Jedi "must end."
"I thought, 'Are you kidding me? Jedi don't quit,'" he said during a recent visit to the set of "Popcorn with Peter Travers."
But Hamill has learned, especially after having only one part in "Last Jedi's" predecessor "The Force Awakens" that "it can't be the way it was in George [Lucas's} original movies ... it's the next generation, and I have to accept that."
In a wide-ranging interview that covered Hamill's fond memories of the late Carrie Fisher and his thoughts on younger stars like Daisey Ridley and John Boyega, he opened up about the past, present and the future of "Star Wars."
Hamill admits that while clips have shown the old Jedi Luke as downtrodden and morose, he couldn't help "but become a little possessive of your character and say, "'I wouldn't do that or I wouldn't say that.'"
But he said he's happy "Last Jedi" director Rian Johnson pushed him out of his comfort zone. While clips of his character training Ridley's Rey show him as an Obi-Wan type instructing the younger student, Hamill says only the legendary Alec Guinness could have been that character.
"My color is contemplative and morose," he said, not like the wise, hopeful Obi-Wan, who still believed in the Jedi and in Luke.
But that doesn't mean personally he didn't learn from Guinness four decades ago while shooting "A New Hope" knowledge that he could pass on to Ridley, the new protagonist in the franchise.
"He was so generous with his advice and stories he would tell," he said of working with the late acting legend. "I stayed in touch with him and have letters from him when he was England."
Now, it's his turn to mentor Ridley and even step aside in films like "The Force Awakens," in which he didn't even have a single speaking line. Instead, Ridley's Rey tracks him down at the end to return his old lightsaber. Hamill's only role in the film was to turn around and accept the gift.
"It's the most elaborate entrance of my career," he said, evidently proud that in the 2015 film the characters talk about Luke as the stuff of legend. "Any actor loves it when the other characters talk about him ... There's got to be more than 40 references."
He added about shooting this now iconic scene, "I remember the last day ... I said 'Well I'm never coming back here again!'"
But here we are again!
"The Last Jedi" picks up right where "Force Awakens" left off, and more. Fans will get to see Rey and Luke train together and how that partnership works out.
Hamill stresses that "it's no longer Luke's story ... it's Rey's story."
"People say, 'You own that character,' and I don't, I'm the host body," he explained. "They rent that character out to me ... I can't control my own fate ... otherwise Luke would have had a girlfriend!"
That doesn't mean that Hamill didn't in the new film put his all into the character he's been synonymous with for 40 years, including in Luke's back story for the years between "Return of the Jedi" in 1983 and "Force Awakens."
"There are 30 years that are unexplained. I said to Rian [Johnson, the director], I have to have a back story for my own self," he said, keeping most of the details of where Luke has been to himself for fear of spoilers. "Rian listened and if he heard anything wrong, he pointed it out ... I must fill in this blank, that's for my own self"
Hamill apparently couldn't be happier after seeing the final product in "The Last Jedi."
"There's so many emotional colors, my story is much more somber," he said. "John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran are hilarious ... there's suspense, all the creatures and character relationships ... it's just wonderful to see it all put together."
he continued, "It's the longest 'Star Wars' movie, at two and a half hours, but it doesn't feel that way ... it's like a bat out of hell, it takes off and never [slows down]."
Goodbye to a legend
But "The Last Jedi" also marks the final film for the iconic Carrie Fisher, Hamill's "space twin," who once again plays Luke's sister, Leia. Fisher died about a year ago and Hamill says it's still tough to say goodbye.
"She brought so much light to the truth of mental illness," he said of Fisher, who documented her struggles with the illness in her books. "She was brilliant and fiercely honest about herself ... I couldn't believe how brutally candid she could be."
He recalled when the duo went to dinner to get to know each other after they were first cast four decades ago.
"Within 20 minutes, she was telling me these hair-raising stories about Debbie and Eddie [her parents], I was like, 'Should I be hearing this?'" he said. "She was so funny ... I loved her so much."
Hamill said over the years, he wouldn't even dread press tours because he knew Fisher would be there to make him laugh and smile.
"It was impossible not to have fun around her," he added.
As the franchise continues with standalone films and the upcoming "Episode IX," Hamill takes solace in seeing Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, continue in her footsteps. She was featured in "The Force Awakens" and has a bigger role in this film, Hamill says.
"I love that," he says. "She was having second thoughts about doing "Episode IX" ... I said, 'You be the decider but I'd love if you could be in "IX."' I see so much of Carrie in her, she's wonderful."
"The way the world is today, we want to forget our troubles and go to that galaxy far far away -- it's therapeutic," he closed.
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" hits theaters nationwide today!
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