Mark Hamill caused a disturbance in the fandom last September when he posted a photo of himself sans the beard he has dubbed his “contractually obligated facial foliage”. As this was right around the time that principal filming began on The RIse of Skywalker it lead many fans to wonder why he would be clean shaven while major filming was taking place if he was required to have a beard for the role.
One possibility is that he was simply taking part in one of his favorite pastimes: trolling Star Wars fans. In this theory, Mr. Hamill knew that he wouldn’t be filming any scenes until later in the fall so he decided to post a picture of himself sans beard to make the fans freak out while he knew full well he would have plenty of time to regrow it before it was time to film his scenes.
There is, however, an interesting piece of evidence that this wasn’t the case. Several other pictures of Mark Hamill were taken and posted in early September by Flora Moody and subsequently posted to social media. Flora Moody might not be a familiar name to many in the fandom, but IMDB lists her as Daisy Ridley’s hair stylist and make up artist for both the Last Jedi and the Rise of Skywalker.
It would seem a bit odd for Daisy Ridley’s hair and make up artist to be visiting Mark Hamill in Prague, where he was filming the TV series Knightfall at the time. It makes far more sense that Mark Hamill would be in London while filming was in progress for a movie he was cast in.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he gave while on set for Knightfall, Mark Hamill said he spent about a week on Episode IX previously but that he had yet to shoot most of his scenes and would return for more shooting amid his Knightfall schedule.
Could that first week of filming have been in early September when Flora Moody posted the pictures?
Mr. Hamill heavily implied in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel (3:50 below) that he needed to have a beard to play Luke in Episode IX.
This would fit with the filming schedule that he outlined in the Entertainment Weekly interview. He filmed for a week early on clean shaven and then filmed the rest of his scenes later on when he had had time to grow his beard back. So why would he film for a week without the beard when Luke has had a beard in the previous two films?
A possible answer comes when you consider an interesting pattern that has appeared in the more recent Marvel films. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) is the special effects studio for both the Marvel films and Star Wars. Recently they have perfected the effect of digitally de-aging actors. This effect first appeared as a very short scene in Captain America: Civil War (2016), but has progressed to where Nick Fury has been de-aged for the entirety of his major role in Captain Marvel (2019). Please note that while the older versions of Tony Stark, Dr. Pym, and Nick Fury all have facial hair, the de-aged versions are all clean shaven.
The reason why the younger versions would need to be clean shaven likely has to do with how the de-aging effect is created. The special effects team wants to make sure that the de-aged version looks like a younger version of a beloved character, not some unholy denizen of the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley describes a phenomenon where unrealistic depictions of humans (such as human characters in cartoons) and footage of actual actors don’t generate a sense of unease from the audience. However, between the two, as an artificial depiction becomes more and more realistic it enters a range where it looks almost lifelike but there is something off about it that generates a sense of deep unease in the audience. One way that a depiction of a face can enter the uncanny valley is if micro-expressions of the face are absent or in some way unnatural. If the special effects team wants the de-aged face to stay out of the uncanny valley they need to be able to track even the most minute movements of the face. Facial hair could block the special effects team from seeing those facial movements, which could result in the micro-expressions being off and risks putting the de-aged face in the uncanny valley. Working with an actor that is clean shaven completely resolves this issue.
Given the success that ILM has had with this effect in the Marvel films, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that they could do the same thing with Luke Skywalker in Episode IX.
So what would a scene featuring a young version of Luke Skywalker look like? The Force Awakens featured Rey having visions of the past that featured Luke and The Last Jedi featured flashbacks to the night Ben destroyed Luke’s Temple. Given that so much about Luke’s story between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens is unknown, using a flashback or a Forceback to show some of his story in The Rise of Skywalker would be quite appropriate.
One possibility is that J.J. Abrams will pick up an idea he had for the Rey’s Forceback in the Force Awakens. In both the adult novelization and the junior novelization Rey hears a voice during the Forceback that says “I’ll come back, Sweetheart. I promise.” Notably she didn’t hear this line during the part of her vision where she sees her younger self being left on Jakku. Nor does this line sound like something a filthy junk trader would say to their daughter just before selling her for drinking money. Also this line being in both the adult and junior novelizations heavily implies that it was in an early draft of the script not something the authors came up with on their own. Putting the conversation that follows Rey’s Forceback in the context of that line appears to hint at the speaker.
Unknown speaker: “I’ll come back, Sweetheart. I promise.”
–Rey’s vision ends–
Rey: “What was that?”
Maz: “That lightsaber was Luke’s and his father’s before him and now it calls to you!”
Rey: “I have to go back to Jakku.”
Maz: “Han told me. Dear child, I see your eyes. You already know the truth. Whomever left you on Jakku, they are never coming back…but there is someone that still could.”
Maz: “The belonging you seek is not behind you it is ahead”
Maz telling Rey that there is someone who could still come back is a call back to the voice in the vision, a foreshadowing that that promise will be kept. Rey tells us who that voice belongs to: Luke.
A scene featuring a de-aged Mark Hamill as a younger Luke Skywalker could be used to show the scene where that he says that line to a very young Rey. Instead of simply having an “I am your father” moment, Rey could have another Forceback that would lay out in detail not only who Rey’s parents are, but also the tragedy of how she was separated from them, and how she came to be abandoned on Jakku.
The basic outline of our theory is that Ben Solo did something that led to an attack on Luke’s family. Luke promised Rey he would come back while hiding her to keep her safe (likely so that he could go try to save her mother as well). Rey’s mother is killed in the attack and Rey is taken. Luke has reason to believe that Rey has been killed as well (and doesn’t realize that she’s still alive until 14 years later during the sequel trilogy). Rey is eventually left abandoned on Jakku. Luke starts his temple and Ben begins to descend into darkness. Luke notices and decides to look into Ben’s mind while he’s asleep to see why, as we saw in the Last Jedi. When Luke looks inside he sees that Ben was in some way responsible for the death of his wife and the “death” of his daughter and in a moment of instinct drew his lightsaber.
It would be easy to set up a Forceback where Rey would see this all play out in a montage that would feature an extended scene of Luke as a younger man the day he lost her. The audience would also have many of the lingering questions from the Force Awakens and the Last Jedi answered in a way that was both succinct and poignant. The scene could also be used to resolve one of the more controversial moments of the Last Jedi, not by ignoring it or undoing it but by applying additional context that would make Luke’s motivations more understandable. A short emotional scene that shows rather than tells, answers questions, resolves controversy, and gives the audience more time with a beloved character would likely be very well received. Will J.J. Abrams do it? Well he did say he wanted this movie to be satisfying.