The Decades-Old Rumor About How Mark Hamill's Face Changed 'Empire Strikes Back'
You may not be aware, but Mark Hamill's face actually remains the subject of a pretty longstanding debate. The actor suffered facial injuries in a car wreck between the filming of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and some fans believe the wampa attack scene (the Hoth Yeti) was written as a direct result of Mark Hamill's car accident. Carrie Fisher seemed to think so, but others involved in the film disagreed. Frustratingly, some behind-the-scenes photos build solid arguments for both sides.
So what really happened to Hamill's face? Did it always look like that, or was he hideously disfigured in a car crash to the point that filmmakers had to rewrite part of Empire's script? Dive into the mystery behind Mark Hamill's accident to try and determine whether or not it changed . . . anything at all.
It All Started Before Anyone Knew Who Mark Hamill WasPhoto: Eight is Enough / ABC
Mark Hamill's car accident took place in January of '77, four months prior to the release of Star Wars. Given the timing, no one really knew who Mark Hamill was as he hadn't been in anything noteworthy to that point. In a 1978 Gossip magazine interview, Hamill admitted he thought his career was over after seeing the injuries to his face.
Fortunately for him, the movie that later acquired the contextually perfect name A New Hope proved to be a mega-success.
George Lucas Claims The Wampa Scene Was Unrelated To The AccidentPhoto: Amanda Cogdon / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
In the commentary on the Blu-ray of The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas discusses Hamill's accident and his changed appearance in relation to the Wampa scene:
"My feeling was some time had passed, they've been in the Rebellion fighting, that kind of thing, so the change was justifiable. There's a scene in the film where Mark gets beat up by the [Wampa], which helps even more, but that wasn't really the meaning of why we wrote the monster in the beginning. We needed something to keep the film suspenseful at the beginning while the Empire is looking for them."
And He Privately Told Hamill As MuchPhoto: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
In a 1999 interview with Starlog, Hamill says he asked Lucas in private if the wampa scene was indeed meant to cover his facial damage, and the director told him it was not. While that's not definitive evidence, it is rather convincing as it doesn't seem there would be much motivation for Lucas to lie at that moment (unless he thought his star was a diva).
That being said, the fact that Hamill too questions the nature of the wampa scene shows even those involved in the production wondered about it.
Carrie Fisher Claims The Wampa Scene Was Definitely Related To The AccidentPhoto: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope / 20th Century Fox
In the same Blu-ray commentary, however, Fisher literally states the opposite:
"It was a really bad accident. Miraculously his teeth didn't shatter. But his nose did. He had to have some of his ear put into his nose. So they adjusted the film with this snow monster to right away in the movie scratch his face to account for his looks being different."
A Deleted Scene Would Have Shown Luke Getting His Face RepairedPhoto: Lucasfilm
Despite Lucas's claims to the contrary, there is some evidence backing up Fisher's comments In The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, filmmakers reveal a scene in which Luke gets his face treated by a droid was shot, but later cut from the film.
Lucas also admits that he knew that Hamill "was going to look a little different than he was in the first film" in the commentary of The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas is consistent with his story, but it looks like there were options on hand for the final edit.
The Car Crash Itself Was Somewhat Of A Mystery
For all the questions it raised, the accident remains hard for Hamill to recall. In his Gossip magazine interview, Hamill recounts the events leading up to the accident, speeding down a desolate highway in a sports car, but cannot be sure what actually caused the accident.
He believes he was going too fast for an off-ramp and rolled the car in a field.