A screen capture of Luke Skywalker’s head in the Darth Vader helmet from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’
During his Jedi training in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker has a vision of defeating Darth Vader by slicing his neck with a lightsaber — only to realize that the decapitated head in the helmet is his own. The Dagobah cave scene (watch it below), which foreshadows the reveal that Vader is Luke’s father, still stands as one of the most shocking moments in any Star Wars film. And thanks to actor Mark Hamill, we now know why that severed head looked so eerily real.
“It was my head protruding through an opening in the set floor as I stood below,” Hamill explained to a fan on Twitter yesterday. “My prop head was tested but rejected.”
Watch Luke Skywalker envision his fight with Darth Vader in the Dagobah cave:
You may be asking yourself, how was Mark Hamill able to stand underneath the floor of the Dagobah swamp set? That particular set was unusual in that it was designed to accommodate the Yoda puppet. Puppeteer Frank Oz and his crew had to work from below, so large parts of the swamp set were elevated off the ground. Just an educated guess, but it seems likely that the Yoda setup was what allowed Mark Hamill to hide below the floor while the camera zoomed in on his smoking head.
As for the rejected prop head, it was sent into storage at the Lucasfilm Archive — as evidenced by the video below, which shows special effects makeup artist and Star Wars fan William Forsche playing with Luke Skywalker’s head in the late 1980s. Somehow, I don’t think they let visitors to Skywalker Ranch do this anymore.