No one understands fan culture on the same level as Mark Hamill. The Star Wars hero, who will reprise his role as Luke Skywalker in the upcoming Episode VIII, holds a unique position as both the object of fan idolization and an avid, dyed-in-the-wool pop-culture obsessive. On his new Web series, Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest (available at Comic-Con HQ), Hamill seeks out fellow memorabilia collectors, giving viewers an up-close look at such treasure troves as the DC Comics archive and Bob Burns’s movie prop collection. Inevitably, he encounters touchstones from his own past, including the original Return of the Jedi lightsaber (now in the collection of Prop Store’s Brendan Allinger — watch the clip below). Pop Culture Quest is a delightful binge watch for geeks of any stripe (there are even car and sneaker collectors in the mix) — though every passing glimpse of a Princess Leia doll now brings to mind the heartbreaking loss of Carrie Fisher, Hamill’s longtime friend and co-star. Hamill spoke with Yahoo Movies about losing Fisher, aging along with Star Wars, and the joys of bonding with fellow pop-culture nerds.
Watch Mark Hamill reunite with his Return of the Jedi lightsaber in a clip from Pop Culture Quest:
Yahoo Movies: Pop Culture Quest seems like a natural extension of the role that you’ve taken on as a sort of ambassador to fan culture. How did that end up happening?
Hamill: I think it just was a natural progression, because I was a Famous Monsters magazine kid. I loved reading about science fiction and fantasy. My favorite movie as a kid was, and probably still is, the 1933 King Kong. So I think the fans understand that I’m one of them. I’m not a poseur. I was going to these conventions before I ever worked with George Lucas. When I was in college I saw in the college newspaper they were showing silent films like Metropolis and M, films that I’d read a lot about, at the Ambassador Hotel at the [comics] convention, and that started it all up, because I went for the films, and then I started seeing all these comics I had as a kid. And it got me into that whole scene.
You know, there’s a collector’s item out there — I was on a soap opera one time and one of the actors who came in to do a storyline arc was Kerwin Mathews, who played Sinbad in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and I just freaked out! I was so excited. I was just peppering him with questions all day long about Ray Harryhausen and the skeleton fight, and he was really a sweet guy but he said, “Mark, I really have to concentrate on this scene, there’s so many lines. If you want to talk about this, we should get together outside of work.” So I said, “Oh, yeah, great, can I bring a tape recorder?” So we got together over the weekend and I spoke to him for a few hours. And I don’t remember how it happened, but it wound up being printed in a fanzine called FXRH: Film Effects by Ray Harryhausen. And this would have been, like, ’72, I’m guessing. It’s gotta be a collector’s item — I have a copy somewhere, I haven’t seen it in God knows how long; I don’t know where it is.
But that’s sort of my thoughts as to why I’ve gone and taken on that de facto role as ambassador for nerd-dom. Because you know, I was always the one that was most excited about the merchandising aspect. Harrison and Carrie didn’t really care — Carrie got a kick out of some of the stuff, Harrison was his usual eye-roll and aloof self. I’d be the one that would come running in saying, “Hey, you guys, I’m a mask on the back of Frosted Flakes!” or whatever it was. [Laughs]
Carrie did collect some Star Wars merchandise. I just watched the HBO documentary about her and Debbie Reynolds —
Oh, yeah, I’m not ready. Did she have a lot of Princess Leia stuff?
She had the life-size animated Princess Leia statue that we saw in the episode of Pop Culture Quest where you visited [the toy company] Gentle Giant. She called it a sex doll.
[Laughs] Well, she had a wonderful collection of really oddball things. I remember how — you know, she’s the queen of impulse buying. We were at kind of a flea market situation in London on one of our days off, this was back on the first film, and she saw these, the seven dwarves — not statues, but they were cutouts, like fiberboard. I don’t know, they might have been used in a movie theater when the movie first played. And she just immediately said, “Oh, I’ll take them!” And I thought, “Wow.” First of all, it was so impractical. And I loved the fact that she liked it, she got it, and she didn’t even think about “Where am I going to display these things?” Well, of course they’re on her wall now, in her house in the canyons.
You know I still think of her very much in present tense. It’s hard to accept that she’s not with us anymore.
Your lives have always been entwined in this very unique way —
You shared an experience with her that other people don’t have any reference for.
[Pause] It’s true. Well, you know, I don’t know. It’s sort of cast a pall on — I mean, I thought, Episode VIII will have an air of melancholy about it that it doesn’t need or deserve. And I thought, selfishly, I just wanted her around because she was so much fun to be with. Now, there were long gaps where I didn’t see her for years. As I told Billie [Lourd], her daughter, if it weren’t for us going back and doing the new films, I would have been robbed of getting back with her and reestablishing contact. Because, I mean, we’d talk on the phone or my wife would go over and get charity items signed. But as often happens with friends, you must know yourself, “Oh, we’ve got to get together!” You say that and years go by. But in this case, we were able to get back together. And I think she found it comforting, because I was a constant in the fact that I didn’t really change and she could rely on me and she could confide in me.
And we both had trepidations about coming back — like, is this the right thing to do? I mean, it should be about the young generation. We had our fears. But she was really candid about the fact that, you think it’s hard for men to age in this business, it’s 10 times worse for women. Where they feel like they’re not useful after 50, which is crazy! I don’t know. It was wonderful to see her be able to reemerge the way she did.
It seemed like it meant a lot to her to be able to show people that she could age and still be Princess Leia.
That’s the thing too. We had the pro and con columns as to whether to come back or not, and I thought, one of the things in the pro column is the fact that young people will be able to see us as we are, and the natural aging process. Because you have these 6-year-olds being goaded on by their parents who are much more excited than the kids are, pushing them towards me going, “Look who it is! It’s Luke Skywalker!” And you’d look at this 6-year-old and he’d be aghast, because he saw Star Wars and thought it was made two weeks ago, and he’s looking at me and thinking, “Oh, my God, this guy really let himself go.” [Laughs] So it’s healthy. I think it’s nice for people to see us as we are.
I told my 9-year-old son I was going to talk to you, and he said, “I’m wondering if he’s going to be active in the next movie. Because at the end of The Force Awakens, it looked like he hadn’t done anything in a while.” I think he’s worried you’re going to pull a muscle.
[Laughs] Oh, yeah, yeah, I know. Plus, just the way I’m this isolated hermit, you expect me to pull the hood down and say, “Get off my lawn!”
Are we ever going to get to see your collection on Pop Culture Quest?
Well, that’s an interesting thought. It’s sort of all over the place in terms of what I collect, and, really, I look at the show as a way to extend my collecting. Because my wife was saying, “Look, there’s no more room anywhere.” We ended up getting storage space an hour and a half from our house, which is ridiculous. I mean, as I was closing the door I’m thinking, “I’m never gonna see this stuff again! Why am I even bothering?” So this is a way for me to keep the feeling of collecting alive in my life, because I’m looking at other people’s things. But I sure would think about showing some of what I have, if we do more episodes.
I love that you have a puppet sidekick, by the way.
I wanted somebody to talk to! You know what, I wanted a real kid at one point. I thought, we should get a real kid who’s a collector. But then you get into, you know, his availability and the hours and what I’m saying was, it seemed to me that it was more of a logistical thing. And I loved the idea of having this little guy but never acknowledging that he is a puppet. He’s very real to me, what can I say, Gwynne?
And voiced by Greg the Bunny himself, Dan Milano!
Dan Milano, exactly — who’s from Greg the Bunny and Warren the Ape, which I’m telling you, was one of my favorite comedies ever. And I’m always sorry when things I like go away. I feel like I’m a jinx. And I don’t get over them very quickly. I’m still mad they canceled Square Pegs 30 years ago! [Laughs] You know, everything I like gets canceled.
I think a lot of fans feel that way. We take things personally.
You talked in one of the episodes about how collecting is so different than it used to be — you can go on eBay and search for things you used to have to find at flea markets or swap meets. Do you think the kind of collecting that you’re documenting has a future?
For me, part of it is the thrill of the hunt: Knowing there’s an item out there that you haven’t seen, it’s like Ahab looking for the white whale. But nowadays, the Internet makes it much more convenient, but for some reason the challenge is dissipated. I just don’t want to turn into that cranky old guy that says [cranky old man voice] “You know in my day, we actually had to go to flea markets and garage sales!” But it’s true. That was part of the fun. And what I love is finding out the people behind the collections. Like, I looked at the breakdowns and I said, “Are we really going to do a show about collecting shoes? I mean, who cares?” [Laughs]
And that turned out to be a really fascinating collection!
Well, he turned out to be a really interesting guy, and when you hear these stories — anybody who collects anything can relate to the mentality, regardless of what the item is. You don’t have to be a Barbie and Ken collector to understand the person who’s been looking for this one specific item for 20 years. It’s a universal feeling. So hopefully, since collecting has made me happy over the years, making a show about collecting will make others happy as well.
You have just the one son?
I have a 9-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.
Oh, my gosh. I, of course, am desperately jonesing for grandchildren. I went to see the Peanuts movie and my wife didn’t want to see it, and I said to my daughter, we should go borrow some kids! And we did — we found a 5- and a 7-year-old that were [children of] friends of ours, and when we went to the theater, I thought, “Wow, they might not even know who these characters are!” As it turns out, they hadn’t heard of any of them, but they loved the movie. And the parents don’t let them watch very much television, so I emailed them when A Charlie Brown Christmas was on TV. [Laughs] So keeping things alive for future generations, that’s another aspect of the show.
My son got a Snoopy Sno Cone machine for Christmas, so that’s still around.
Oh, wonderful! I love that — the Easy-Bake Oven, the snow-cone maker, anything where you wind up with a little treat at the end has gotta be a great collectible.
Listen to Mark Hamill’s Harrison Ford impression: