A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was this actor. This particular actor enjoyed immense success due to his involvement in one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time. But, as with all the other subjects of this column, this actor seemingly fell off the face of the Earth. But did he actually leave our planet in search of galactic conflict in which he could intervene? Or has he just been using the force to remain cloaked and off our radars? Today we activate our tractor beam in the hopes of reeling in Mr. Mark Hamill.
Why We Love Him
Despite having an extensive body of work prior to Star Wars, few actors have ever been so inextricably linked to a single character the way Hamill is associated with Luke Skywalker. Star Wars told an epic adventure story in a wholly unique fashion despite the fact that it was borrowing from everything from American westerns to Japanese samurai films. The characters were legendary and found instant connection with audiences the world over, and heroic young farm boy Luke Skywalker was chief among them.
But it wasn’t just the success of Star Wars that rooted Hamill in that franchise. The first installment in the Star Wars saga marked the first time audiences had seen Hamill on the screen. Mark got his start on television, appearing in series such as The Cosby Show, General Hospital, and The Texas Wheelers. His only other theatrically released film by the time Star Wars hit theaters was Ralph Bakshi’s animated sci-fi flick Wizards to which he lent his voice. Hamill’s success story is the stuff of Hollywood dreams…or nightmares depending on how one looks at it.
What Happened to Him?
While many young actors fantasize about their first film being an instant classic, Hamill found himself struggling to avoid typecasting after the gargantuan success of Star Wars. Right after the first chapter, he starred in the teen comedy Corvette Summer and, in 1980, Samuel Fuller’s war drama The Big Red One. But aside from the next two Star Wars films, the 80s proved professionally frustrating for Hamill and the actor took refuge on Broadway, appearing in a number of productions, including Amadeus and The Elephant Man. He returned to film in 1989, but the caliber of projects available to him had dropped dramatically. His superhero flick The Guyver woefully called into question the use of the word super and Time Runner made us all wish time travel were real…so that we could travel back and tell ourselves not to watch it. It was clear that his star was falling.
Where’s He Been?
It was no accident that Hamill’s first official film was the animated Wizards. As his career progressed further into the 90s, he proved that he was an unbelievably talented voice actor. Hamill landed the voice role of The Joker on the phenomenal Batman: the Animated Series and his shrill, maniacal cackle—seemingly disembodied from the actor himself—became as indelible to the character as any other incarnation; a fan favorite to be certain.
Hamill would go on to portray The Joker in a number of other milieus including Superman: the Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, and several Batman videogames. He also lent his voice to many other successful animated series including Johnny Bravo, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Robot Chicken. In fact, Hamill has not appeared in a theatrically released live-action film since Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001.
As frustrated as Hamill was to be typecast as heroic Luke Skywalker types after Star Wars, he managed to do such a great job reinventing himself through animation that he’s now become frustrated at being vocally typecast as The Joker. He has said that the upcoming videogame Batman: Arkham City will be the last time he plays the role. My hope is that Hamill makes a comeback to the silver screen because, though his voice work is in fact remarkable, his cinematic legacy is profound and he more than deserves the chance to extend it.