A wiser Mark Hamill is still having galactic fun as old Luke in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Brian Truitt

Luke Skywalker was silent two years ago when audiences saw him in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So now he’s got plenty to say about a bunch of things, starting with a literal cliffhanger.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is a wiser but more somber version of his old self in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.'

The new Star Wars: The Last Jedi (officially opening Friday, though theaters will show it Thursday night) opens as Force Awakens ended, with old Luke (played by Mark Hamill) being found on an island by young heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), who hands him his lightsaber from long ago. A dramatic scene, no doubt, and a visual pun that Hamill in retrospect adores.

“I was actually standing on a cliff,” he says. “Now, I suggested we print ‘To be continued’ on my forehead but they said no!”

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Hamill, 66, is living it up in the galaxy far, far away yet again, just as he did in George Lucas’ original trilogy that began in 1977. That Luke was a farm boy with an eye for adventure alongside Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia — this Luke is a lot wiser, feeling responsible for mentoring young Ben Solo (Adam Driver), who has turned to the dark side as Kylo Ren.

And when Rey shows up with some serious Force power, Luke is worried yet again. “For him to say it’s time for the Jedi to end, what could have happened that would put him in a place like that?” Hamill says.

Mark Hamill (center) holds court with director Rian Johnson and co-star Daisy Ridley at a news conference for 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi.'

Not that he’s going to answer that question yet. But USA TODAY did chat with him about the original movies, the new films and being a part of a young-leaning cast again.

Q: In playing Luke now, do you think of old Alec Guinness’ Ben Kenobi from the first movie?

A: Absolutely, of course. That was Luke’s major male role model — there was Uncle Owen, but he was a farmer, and I didn’t want to be a farmer.

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Q: Did you feel an ownership of Luke back then?

A: You have to have an audience eye. I remember having silly things happen, like on the Death Star (in the first Star Wars) when we were rescuing the princess. Han was really hitting on her — and it really bugged me! It was competitive the way Harrison and I were competitive for Carrie’s affections. I went over to George and said, "I just don’t think that’s right." He was reassuring me: “Look, Luke doesn’t care about that. Luke is completely focused on saving her.”

Luke (Mark Hamill, far left), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han (Harrison Ford) attempt to escape the Death Star in 1977's 'Star Wars.'

Q: So what happened?

A: I realized he was right and I was wrong, and that was the origin of a very famous phrase that I learned is deadly to say in front of Star Wars fans. (Harrison and I) had this argument, and George says, “Come on, guys, let’s just shoot it. It’s only a movie.” I said, “It’s only a movie” at a Star Wars Celebration, and I thought they were going to rush the stage and strangle me. They were really offended by that.

Q: Do you feel invigorated by the youngsters in The Last Jedi?

A: I’m just having fun. If you can’t have fun making a Star Wars movie, there’s something wrong with you, even though my story is much darker and more somber than the old days when I was running around the Death Star swinging with the princess. But you look at all the other characters that have absorbed those qualities: Oscar Isaac is the hot-shot pilot; Daisy is the young person from nowhere that discovers these mystical qualities; and John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran are going behind enemy lines. I get nostalgic looking at all the new cast.