When Mark Hamill was a kid, he loved puppets, magic tricks, comic books, and cartoons. ''I thought I wanted to be an animator, until I got stuck on Charles Schulz and Peanuts,'' recalls the actor. ''Then I wanted to be a cartoonist. A cartoonist creates his whole universe without any input. Charles Schulz had a little workshop, like my pool house,'' he says, nodding toward the backyard of his home in the Malibu hills. ''He never had to leave his house. That really appealed to me.''
But in fifth grade, the kids at school wanted to put on a variety show and needed a host. They chose Mark for the job, because he could do impressions. His Yogi Bear, in particular, killed. ''It was my defense mechanism against getting beaten up: self-deprecating humor and pop-culture references. A handy weapon.'' Still, he was terrified. All those people, looking at him... But he had an idea: He'd cohost the show with his Jerry Mahoney dummy. That way, people would be looking at his dummy, not him. It killed. And he loved it. He realized what he wanted to do was perform -- as long as he could disappear into the act. So he decided to become an actor. ''And it just kind of went from there,'' he says.
Where Mark Hamill's life went from that fateful decision depends on your point of view. The most commonly held one is that after becoming a global icon as a farmboy-turned-Jedi in the Star Wars trilogy, Hamill...disappeared. His attempts at capitalizing on the phenomenon to further his career -- most notably with a starring role in 1978's Corvette Summer and a turn in 1980's The Big Red One -- took him nowhere. Since 1983's Return of the Jedi, the actor, whose boyishly handsome face was damaged in a 1977 car accident, has popped up here and there. Geek stuff mostly. The Trickster in the '90s superhero TV series The Flash. A bizarre, lightsaber-wielding cameo in Kevin Smith's 2001 comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Put simply, Hamill went from being America's favorite action hero to America's favorite Where Are They Now? question.