How Mark Hamill’s Messed Up Face In The Empire Strikes Back Led To A Three Decade Mystery

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 Was

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 his damaged 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 Accident

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 Much

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 Accident

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.”

If The Wampa Scene Had Nothing To Do With The Accident, Why Did Lucas Shoot A Scene Where Luke Has His Face Fixed?

Despite Lucas’s claims to the contrary, it appears Fisher’s version of events make more sense. 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.

And, Lucas admits¬†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. It sure sounds like he had the accident in mind.

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.

Legend Says Hamill Drove A Corvette At The Time

Mark Hamill says explicitly he drove a BMW at the time of the incident. However, rumors abound that he actually drove a Corvette. Nobody really knows why the car model was in question, but some speculate it might be a bit of a marketing ploy. During the same year as his accident, Hamill filmed another movie called called Corvette Summer.

Hang On, If His Face Was Supposedly All Messed Up For ‘Empire,’ Wouldn’t That Have Been True For Corvette Summer?

Considering Hamill shot¬†Corvette Summer¬†after his accident but¬†before¬†he shot¬†The Empire Strikes Back, it appears¬†that any significant facial trauma should be quite plain in¬†Corvette…¬†And yet, none was. It’s therefore unlikely his face was really that messed up to begin with. That said, people thought the damage was extensive. Why?

The Extent Of Hamill’s Injuries Varies Depending On The Source

Carrie Fisher obviously thought Hamill’s face looked¬†pretty messed up given what she said¬†on the Blu-ray commentary, and even Lucas thought there was a noticeable difference. Yet, as Hamill tells it, it only required¬†minor reconstructive surgery on his cheekbone and nose.

He¬†later said¬†that¬†cartilage had to be taken from his ear¬†to reconstruct his nose, though, so it’s possible¬†the change is at least slightly visible.

One Piece Of Anecdotal Evidence For Hamill Suffering ‘Significant Damage’ Came From The Star Wars Holiday Special

The¬†Star Wars Holiday Special¬†is a notoriously bad made-for-TV musical that came out in the winter of 1978. Some believe Hamill¬†wore¬†heavy make-up¬†due to his injuries almost two years earlier. Others¬†point to Hamill’s weak performance, suggesting the actor¬†was drugged up on painkillers.

(Interesting side note: Boba Fett’s first appearance was in this dumpster fire of a film.)

The Script For ‘Empire’ Was Written A Year Before Shooting The Film

Not only was¬†Leigh Brackett’s¬†script¬†for¬†Empire¬†written a year prior to shooting, it was written a year¬†after¬†the accident. What does this mean? It’s hard to say. One could make the argument that filmmakers saw a¬†significant difference in Hamill’s appearance and decided to write in the wampa scene.

One could also argue¬†his wounds surely should have healed by the time the script was written, so they would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no such “explanation” for his differing appearance was needed.

So Is There Actually A Noticeable Difference In Hamill’s Appearance Between ?

No, not really. If there is any difference in Hamill’s¬†appearance, it’s slight¬†and could easily be explained by aging. Regardless, the changes seen in Hamill’s face hardly look drastic enough to require a scene where his face gets mauled.

The Answer Lies In When The Theory Was Born

To really determine if the theory of Mark Hamill’s face bares out, one¬†needs to know if it was posited¬†before¬†news of his car accident came out. In other words, unless someone watched¬†Empire Strikes Back,¬†and said, “Why does Luke’s face look so messed up?”¬†without¬†knowledge of the car accident, it seems highly unlikely that the theory is anything more than a retroactive notion.

What is far more likely is¬†people learned of¬†Hamill’s¬†accident, and then convinced themselves¬†his¬†face looked different in¬†Empire, leading them to conclude¬†the wampa¬†scene was written as a cover-up.