The Force Awakens was not a "missed opportunity"
Mark Hamill just called the ending of The Force Awakens “a great missed opportunity”. Here’s why he’s wrong.
Hamill has always been honest and open about his desire to play a larger role in The Force Awakens, and at Star Wars Celebration on the weekend, he spoke about his disappointment that Luke Skywalker didn’t enter the story earlier.
“When I was reading [the script], I thought if Leia’s trying to mentally contact me and she’s not successful, she’ll still rush to his [Han Solo’s] aid,” he said.
“She’ll get close to him and then get into some dire situation and then that’s when I show up for a big ‘Yay!’, save her life, and then we rush to Han and then we’re in the same position that Rey and Finn and Chewie are — too late to save him, but witnesses.”
Hamill believes this ending would have had more resonance than the finished film, and would have provided a better lead-in to The Last Jedi.
“Because it carries so much emotional resonance in to the next film,” he explained.
“For us — his wife, his best friend — to witness [Han’s death], instead of two characters who’d known him, what, 20 minutes?
“I thought there was a great missed opportunity.”
This isn’t the first time Hamill has shared his vision for an alternate version of The Force Awakens. At last year’s Star Wars Celebration, he suggested that it should have been Luke Skywalker, not Rey, who caught the saber in the snow.
“Where I thought I came in, I thought I came in when the lightsaber flies off [in the snow],” he said, before sharing the surprise he felt when he continued reading the script.
“What? Rey caught it? She hasn’t even finished her training!”
Here’s the thing — when I first saw The Force Awakens, I thought Luke was going to catch the lightsaber, too. But I was wrong, and believe it or not, so is Mark Hamill.
It’s natural that Hamill would want Luke Skywalker to have a bigger role — not just because, well, he is Luke Skywalker, but because we’re all used to Luke Skywalker being the hero of the saga.
And that’s exactly why he needed to stay on the sidelines.
“Early on I tried to write version of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass,” screenwriter Michael Arndt explained at a post-screening Q&A in 2015, via Entertainment Weekly.
“It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012.”
The reason it never worked was simple — Luke Skywalker, as iconic a hero as they come, couldn’t help but upstage young Rey.
“It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over,” Arndt said.
“Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f**k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’”
Even after JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over screenwriting duties on The Force Awakens from Arndt and beefed up Han and Leia’s roles, they wisely chose to leave Luke on the bench.
With The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm and Disney weren’t just looking to create a blockbuster — they were playing the long game, and looking to put the pieces in place for a sustainable run.
They couldn’t simply rely on trotting out the old gang to bring in audiences one last time; instead, they had to establish new characters and a new hero’s journey for the audience to fall in love with.
It made sense for Han Solo, who has always been a supporting character despite Harrison Ford’s immense fame, to step into Obi-Wan Kenobi’s shoes as a mentor for our young heroes, and for Leia to fill the role of General.
But reintroducing Luke before Rey could be established as the lead character of the sequel trilogy would have undermined the whole exercise, and to have him actually show up at the last minute and save Rey, effectively turning her into a damsel in distress, would have been tantamount to character assassination.
Instead, by giving Rey her sword-in-the-stone moment, the franchise got a formidable new lead — and set the stage for her to meet the legendary Luke Skywalker in the sequel.
It was also the right choice for Rey and Finn to be there for Han’s death, and not Luke and Leia, because we had seen the younger duo grow and bond with Solo over the course of this film.
By Hamill’s logic, Luke, Han and Leia shouldn’t have been present for Obi-Wan’s death in A New Hope – after all, Luke and Han had only known him for “20 minutes”, and Leia barely knew the guy at all. Perhaps Kenobi’s old pals Bail Organa and Dexter Jettster should have been there instead?
Even ignoring the narrative demands of the sequel trilogy, it made sense, from a marketing perspective, to hold back on Luke in The Force Awakens.
The powers-that-be at Lucasfilm would always have known they were only getting Harrison Ford back for one film, and that his star power would be enough to generate a powerful wave of nostalgia. It was a smart call to keep the Skywalker card up their sleeve to guarantee fan interest in The Last Jedi, even after Ford moved on.
Episode VII is not a perfect film, but even people who hate it will usually admit that it did a good job of establishing Rey, Finn and Poe as our new leads. I’m glad they didn’t do anything to sabotage that in favour of placating older fans.
With The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams and co. had an opportunity to welcome lapsed fans back to the franchise while simultaneously putting the saga on track for a promising future.
The success of the film at the box office — I mean, it was no The Fate of the Furious, but it did alright — and the intense anticipation for The Last Jedi would seem to indicate that they made the most of the opportunity.
Or, as Hamill himself said during the panel for The Last Jedi at this year's Star Wars Celebration, “It’s not Luke’s story anymore”. And that’s okay.
Luke Skywalker will always be our hero, but we’ve got a new hero now, too — and she deserved the opportunity to stand alone.