Mark Hamill: Part of the fun is escaping the drudgery of real life

Star Wars actor is not only a pop icon but a huge fan and collector of pop culture memorabilia, as his new web-based show reveals

Being the hero of a blockbuster entertainment franchise, you might expect Mark Hamill to be far removed from the sort of merchandise-obsessed fans who probably own five different plastic re-creations of his lightsaber-wielding Jedi, Luke Skywalker all of course still in their original packaging. But as it turns out, Hamill is, and always has been, one of them.

He now looks more like Obi-Wan than Luke thanks to the greying hair and beard, but in his new web-based docu-series Pop Culture Quest we see the happy hoarder of toys, comics and other assorted geekery Hamill has been for decades.

Hamills show on the subscription streaming service launched by uber-fan gathering Comic-Con this year finds him probing a different kind of galaxy. Its one populated by aficionados of popular culture who, like him, seek out all kinds of oddball prizes from rare monster toys to pinball machines.

In it Hamill seeks out and chats with those collectors. Theyre as idiosyncratic a set of characters as youd find in a Mos Eisley cantina, yet theres also something compelling in the interaction between them and Hamill as he explores the motivations behind their obsessions. That goes for the star host too, some of whose prized possessions include comics he keeps in storage, a prototype of the original unused Chewbacca mask that George Lucas didnt like and decided to let Hamill keep, and Beatles model kits that Hamill has never opened.

Pop Culture Quest is a look at the nature of fandom and, as Hamill tells the Guardian, the escapism it provides..

Part of the fun of all this is escaping the drudgery of real life, Hamill says. Whether youre having a difficult time at work or youre not achieving career goals theres things that make you personally happy. And collecting is a way to sort of express your personality. To show appreciation for the things that you value.

In a way, Im in a really trivial business. I have a brother whos a doctor, and to me thats something thats a really tangible skill that helps people. But he was saying to me, you know, that entertainment and diversion is really important for peoples wellbeing overall. They need that escape mechanism from how harsh life can be.

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Mark Hamill, left, as Luke Skywalker during the filming of the first Star Wars movie. Photograph: Allstar/Lucasfilm

Pop Culture Quest is many things in one. It might be a celebration of frivolity, yet theres also a subtext of innocence and even melancholy of a natural urge to chase the illusion of permanence. The movie ended, the TV show was eventually cancelled, the hero got the girl, but by collecting the mementoes and trinkets, in a way the show doesnt end.

Its a common language, pop fandom; a thing to pass down. Mapping the topography of a persons life invariably meanders to their diversions and individual tastes. We are the things we love.

And of course, a lot of people love Star Wars. I dont take it for granted, Hamill says about the passion of Star Wars fans. In this business, you want to make people happy. And the fact so many people get such joy out of it and pass it on to their children to be a part of peoples lives like that is something Ill always be grateful for.

Speaking a few days before the franchises latest instalment Rogue One hits cinemas, Hamill admits to not knowing as much about it as fans might expect, but he shares their anticipation.

What I think is exciting about the standalone films is since they dont have to follow that three-act structure of a trilogy, they can really get in, establish the story, and get out and leave you wanting more, Hamill says. And each standalone film can have its own identity.

[Rogue One] looks like a gritty second world war film, in a way. It looks hyper-realistic. When they do the young Han Solo film, hes a rogue and a womaniser, and it could be much more of a comedic thing. The swashbuckling rogue. But thats whats exciting about the standalone films. They can be vastly different in style and still within the Star Wars universe.

Next years various Comic Con events around the world, which will attract hordes of fans dressed as their favourite sci-fi or fantasy characters, will almost certainly see its fair share of outfits inspired by Rogue One. But Hamills show and the new streaming service it airs on called Comic Con HQ are part of an attempt to tap into that fandom on a more regular basis..

Seth Laderman, the services executive vice-president and general manager, says the idea is to make Comic-Con a year-round situation, with Pop Culture Quest central to the project.

I asked the guys who created Comic-Con: how did you make this so successful? And they said: We programme an event for us, because we are the fanbase, he says. I think our goal is to try to be a complement to some of these other platforms out there. Were not trying to compete with Netflix. Were trying to hit that real passionate audience and programme stuff specifically for them.

Laderman wont give audience figures but says the response since Comic-Con HQs launch in May has been resoundingly positive. At the moment, the service is only available in the US via the web, iOS and Android devices, Amazon Channels, Roku and AppleTV. Fans around the world can for now stream individual Comic-Con HQ series on other platforms such as Vimeo. Comic-Con HQ original series are also available for download in select territories via services such as iTunes and Google, and on games consoles.

Hamills show is an example of what the service wants to offer fans content programmed for them, that in a way also celebrates them. Not that its an easy hill to climb, launching a service into a media landscape chock-a-block with competition.

The biggest players such as Netflix and Amazon have deep pockets and reach, and other niche services keep emerging, like <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/13/bbc-and-itv-to-launch-britbox-on-demand-service-in-us” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>the new streaming service BritBox a partnership between BBC Worldwide and ITV.

The answer for Comic-Con HQ is to look for well-known talent such as Hamill and turn them loose.

Were in a lot of conversations for our next shows right now, Laderman says. Were working with people and brands that have pre-existing audiences attached to them. One of our goals is to allow innovators like Mark the opportunity and platform to create and bring their own ideas to life.

And for Hamill, that idea is straightforward: pop culture is a way for people to gravitate to brands and ideas and tangible things to communicate through what you love.

Hamill loves, among other things, pinball machines. And he points to one episode of his show that sees him visit a man with a warehouse full of them. The collector can talk about their histories, which ones are rare and valuable. But the joy of the show, Hamill explains, is that you dont have to be as enthusiastic about pinball machines to appreciate his passion.

That appreciation of pop culture and collections is, he says, the connective tissue behind all the episodes of our show. And given the number of toy Luke Skywalkers appreciated by fans the world over, its a topic he is almost uniquely suited to explore.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/18/mark-hamill-part-of-the-fun-is-escaping-the-drudgery-of-real-life

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