A 13th Dimension STAR WARS WEEK Special: Writer/photographer Seth Kushner’s terrific tale of meeting his idol … and the profound change it had on his life!
(NOTE: Writer and photographer Seth Kushner wrote this piece for us in January 2015 when Marvel launched its new Star Wars comics series. He died just 4 months later of leukemia at the age of 41, leaving behind his wife, Terra, and young son, Jackson.
Seth was beloved by his friends and colleagues and I’ll always be indebted to him for his early support of 13th Dimension. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens out this week, I wanted to make sure as many people as possible got a chance to read this. With Terra’s blessing, we re-present Seth’s lovely recollection of his very meaningful encounter with the one-and-only Luke Skywalker…)
By SETH KUSHNER
In my imagination, a cloaked figure entered the second floor Times Square location of Midtown Comics, gliding over to the front counter and waving his finger at the clerk.
“You will take me to the photographer now.”
That’s how I like to remember Mark Hamill’s entrance. In actuality, it was a middle-aged guy in a leather jacket and scarf who entered the store that day. Over 20 years had passed since he last portrayed Luke Skywalker, but he still resembled the young Jedi, and that fact alone made the situation nearly as exciting as my initial fictional description.
One chilly November day back in 2004, I found myself with a dream job. I was assigned by a now defunct magazine to shoot actor Mark Hamill at Midtown Comics. The location was chosen because Hamill had just directed a fun but forgettable direct-to-DVD mockumentary titled, Comic Book: The Movie.
Just to put these events in perspective as to where I was in my life, I was single, lonely and depressed, having been broken up with my girlfriend over a year previous. I had been corresponding with a girl I had met on a trip to Boston a few months earlier, and although I liked her, I felt 200 miles was just too far a distance to pursue a relationship. The holidays were looming and I felt down-in-the-dumps, but a meeting with my childhood idol was just the thing help to perk me up.
Although I was familiar with Midtown Comics, as I am with most every comics store in NYC, I got there early to scope out the place for possible locations for the shoot. I was by the racks checking out the new releases when I heard Luke Skywalker himself asking the guy at the register for ME.
“Hi–I’m here to meet Seth Kushner.”
I excitedly walked over and introduced myself to my childhood hero. He looked…old, and I couldn’t believe how much much shorter he was than me – and indeed a little short to be a Stormtrooper, as the Princess had suggested. Also, clearly evident were the scars on his face, which he received in an auto accident right before the filming of The Empire Strikes Back. It was why the Wampa attack scene was written into the film, as means of explanation.
I discovered Mark Hamill is a huge comics fan, so I had an amazingly enjoyable experience spending time with him at a comic book store, but I did not have a particularly productive shoot. Mark (as he instructed me to call him) was so full of energy and unabashedly excited by every product in the store that I was barely able to contain him and get him to stand still long enough to be photographed. A shutter speed of 1/60 of a second wasn’t cutting it for this guy. His energy had him bounding around at seemingly lightspeeds. Every couple of minutes he would say something like –
“Wow, look over there, a model of the 1940s Batmobile!” Then he’d run over and pick it up for inspection. His joy would fade a bit after checking the price tag.
“My wife will murder me if I bought this,” he said.
His statement struck me as odd because I’d assumed he had plenty of money. I mean, didn’t this guy get residuals every time a Luke Skywalker action figure was sold? Didn’t he have Star Wars money? He starred in the most successful film franchise of all time, but he was afraid to spend a few bucks on a toy?
More importantly though, he seemed to have an issue with his wife not approving of his hobbies. Relatable? Very. Every ex-girlfriend I’d ever had showed the same lack of amusement to my interests as Mark Hamill’s wife.
“Women never understand this stuff, do they?” I asked him.
“Well, my wife collects antique china, which is even more expensive than toys and golden age comics. It’s the same thing…the right one will understand,” he said.
There you have it, right from the mouth of Luke Skywalker himself.
Before Mark left, I asked if he wouldn’t mind signing my Star Wars one-sheet poster, which I had taken off my living room wall and out of its frame to bring with me. As a rule, I never ask any of my prominent subjects for an autograph, and such things were never important to me, but this was Luke Skywalker, so exceptions were made. Mark was happy to do it. He wrote:
“Hey Seth, FORCE yourself!
Your Pal, Mark Hamill.”
Perhaps it was simply a stock message he wrote to all of his fans, but I’d rather not know that. I took his message as an encouraging affirmation from one Jedi to another. I’d like to think we made a connection.
I returned the now-personally autographed poster back to its frame and back over my couch, displayed for all who might enter my domicile. But, more importantly, where I could see it every time I needed encouragement.
A couple of months later, I was once again in contact with that girl from Boston who I mentioned earlier. I felt a deeper connection growing between us, but I still thought the distance was a deal-breaker. I thought about it, searched my soul, and came up empty. Unable to decide, I looked up on my living room wall, and there on my Stars Wars poster, written in black sharpie —
I decided to close my eyes, trust my feelings and I took the shot.
That girl from Boston is now my wife and the mother of my son.
Thanks, Mark Hamill!
Seth Kushner grew up reading comics and wanting to be an artist. His photography has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Time, L’Uomo Vogue, The New Yorker and others. Seth‘s published books include, The Brooklynites (powerHouse Books, 2007), Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics (powerhouse Books, 2012). His graphic novel memoir Schmuck was released in 2015. Seth died May 17, 2015, at 41.