Mark Hamill: The next generation's doing the heavy lifting in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
As Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives in cinemas, Carrie Fisher's last performance in her role of Princess Leia is unveiled. The film's stars Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega discuss life without her, dealing with fame and taking the franchise forward
THE famous score is playing, the logo is flashing, the opening crawl is scrolling across the giant movie screen and, just like that, Star Wars is back, as if it had never been away.
It's been two long years since The Force Awakens, the seventh instalment in the beloved franchise, reunited fans with heroes Han Solo, General Leia Organa and, for the briefest of tantalising moments, Luke Skywalker.
It also introduced audiences around the world to a new generation of fighters to root for – Daisy Ridley's Rey, John Boyega's Finn, and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron.
While 2016's spin-off Rogue One might have filled the Star Wars-shaped hole in our lives, it is the arrival of an all new episode in the Skywalker story – this time Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – that will really sate our appetite for new adventure.
Partially filmed, like its predecessor, in Ireland, it will also answer those lingering questions about how the film will pay tribute to Carrie Fisher, who died aged 60 shortly after completing her final scenes as Leia and just shy of a year before the film hits cinemas.
Mark Hamill, who has played her brother since the 1977 original, promises the latest instalment will be a fitting send-off.
"She's wonderful in the movie," he says. "She was such a integral part of the Star Wars family, there is no replacing her. We will always miss her, but I do know she would want us to enjoy it, she would want us to be laughing."
Leaning forward earnestly, he adds: "I know she would be moved by the outpouring of emotion around the world because everybody reacted to it like a loss in their own family but you're going to love her in the movie and I just wish she were here because we would be laughing right now if she were.
"I will never stop missing her."
Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed the film, is also anxious the movie is a fitting tribute to a woman he admired so much.
"It's an extraordinary performance," he says reassuringly. "She's so beautiful in the movie. Obviously, we didn't know it was her last performance as Leia when we did it but I think it has some emotionally resonant things in there that I hope are really going to mean something for the fans."
Johnson is also committed to providing some twists and surprises for those fans, who are anxious to see how the saga plays out.
While Hamill's aged Skywalker appeared only fleetingly in The Force Awakens, when he met Ridley's Rey on an isolated outpost in the middle of the ocean in the dramatic climax, he will feature more prominently in The Last Jedi and will return to the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.
"He says in the trailer 'This is not going to go the way you think', so expect the unexpected," Hamill warns. "I was shocked. What could have traumatised him? What could have happened that he would wind up being this bitter elderly recluse?
"It's really surprising – but just the fact that they could surprise me is credit to Rian Johnson's storytelling ability."
Johnson, best known for helming the film Looper, will soon be overseeing a new trilogy of Star Wars films that will explore far away corners of the galaxy unrelated to the Skywalker saga.
It is unlikely those films will include Ridley and Boyega, who have become international stars since they were cast as unknowns in The Force Awakens. While they will both appear in the as-yet-untitled Episode XI, Ridley says: "I think in my mind I've already moved away from it.
"It just so happens I come back because there are a few of the films, but I did an awesome documentary and a Studio Ghibli [animated] film and Murder On The Orient Express just came out so I feel very very lucky that people are giving me the opportunity to do other things."
Life has changed beyond recognition for the star, now 25, who adds it can be difficult to live up to the expectations of Star Wars fans: "The distinction can become blurry for people and ultimately that is a character, that is not me.
"Occasionally when I'm walking down the road and I'm very much not that, I'm like arrgh [screams], and you feel you have to be a certain way to fulfil some kind of expectation.
She continues: "I try and be brave and do all the things that Rey does but probably don't succeed as well. I'm sure it will gets easier."
However, she adamantly denies reports that she wants to quit the role.
"When I signed up, it was for three films and that's where I sort of saw the story ending, JJ [Abrams, director of The Force Awakens] said the same thing. I think everyone has perhaps taken that as me going, 'I don't want anything to do with it', which is vastly untrue because this is awesome."
For Boyega, also 25, it's his timetable and travel schedule that have changed most since he became Finn.
"It's the schedule side of life that's a tad bit more busy," he says, in what must be a dramatic understatement. "Commitments I do have are not at home, they are always in different countries and that is something that takes getting used to."
But being a megastar certainly didn't stop him from showing off his moves at the Notting Hill Carnival earlier this year.
"I do my thing there and then go back into my hole," he laughs.
One thing that unites these young actors is the shared experience of the Star Wars universe – and the fact they have all adopted traits that were once the defining qualities of Luke Skywalker.
Hamill muses: "What is weird is you get to see portions of your character being divvied up amongst other characters. I used to be the hotshot pilot and now Oscar Isaac is; I used to be sneaking around dressed up as the bad guys on the Death Star and now Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega are.
"What about the orphan who is discovering mystical powers that he had? That is now Daisy Ridley.
"It's good, it's the next generation, they should do the heavy lifting."
And heavy lifting is what they will do.
:: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas from Thursday December 14.