For the second Five Films column, let’s take a look at Mark Hamill. Best known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, he’s been appearing in various films and TV productions for over 40 years now. And remember: if you liked Hamill in any films not mentioned below, make sure you speak up in the comments below.
Hamill is an exceptional voice artist, and it was a side to his career that he was developing all the way back here in the 1970s. Hamill plays Sean, the leader of the elves, in this inventive animated fantasy from writer/director Ralph Bakshi. This isn’t my favourite Bakshi film (that would still be The Lord of the Rings), but it’s still highly enjoyable.
Mark Hamill plays one of a squadron of young American soldiers during World War II, and its amazing to see the contrast in character between this and The Empire Strikes Back, which came out the same year. This is a superb war film, written and directed by Samuel Fuller and partially based on his own war experiences. It’s far more realistic than most war films that preceded it, and very emotionally effective. Lee Marvin plays the squad leader in a typically talented fashion. In 2004 a restored cut of the film was released, which repaired the many cuts made by the studio against Fuller’s wishes. The full restored version is easily the best one.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Of course Hamill played Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back before he played the role for a third time here, and of course both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are better movies. On the other hand, Hamill gives the best performance here, and I think the character of Luke is at his most interesting here too. I like the fact that, once Han Solo is rescued at the end of the first act, Luke essentially becomes the star of his own film opposite Darth Vader, while the rest of the cast run around with the Muppets on Endor in almost completely unrelated movie.
Steven Lisberger’s follow-up to Tron, and to my mind a far superior film. Mark Hamill plays a hard-edged bounty hunter on the trail of a mysterious fugitive (played by Bob Peck). It’s a nice little post-apocalyptic science fiction film which got widely overlooked by a lot of people when it was released. Nowadays there isn’t even a proper DVD available, just a bargain-bin edition made from an old VHS master.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Of all of the animated characters that Mark Hamill has voiced, it’s as the Joker in Batman that he’s made the biggest impact. For a lot of people, Hamill’s performance makes him the best Joker of all time. I’m not sure I entirely agree (Heath Ledger was awfully good), but I appreciate the sentiment. Hamill does a wonderful combination of funny and scary. Interestingly, he was the second choice: an earlier take with Tim Curry as the Joker was dropped because the producers found it not funny enough and too frightening for children by far.