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Klamath woman takes pride in nephew Mark Hamill’s career

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 31, 2017

Linda Hamill Cooper, an English teacher from Mazama High School, uses The Force on an action figure of her nephew, Mark Hamill, who portrays Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" series. Her late brother, Bill, one of five siblings, was Mark Hamill’s father. (Sean Bassinger / Associated Press)
Linda Hamill Cooper, an English teacher from Mazama High School, uses The Force on an action figure of her nephew, Mark Hamill, who portrays Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" series. Her late brother, Bill, one of five siblings, was Mark Hamill’s father. (Sean Bassinger / Associated Press)
By Kurt Liedtke Herald and News (Klamath Falls, Ore.)

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – It turns out that the galaxy far, far away of “Star Wars” legend is quite close by in the Klamath Basin, as Luke Skywalker’s aunt is alive and living well in Klamath Falls.

Linda (Hamill) Cooper, a teacher at Mazama High School, has lived in Klamath Falls since 1974. Her late brother, Bill, one of five siblings, was Mark Hamill’s father – the famed actor best known for his portrayal of Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” series. As new films are released, including the latest, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” that prominently features her nephew, Cooper takes great pride in seeing family connections become so revered globally.

“I really identify, all kidding aside, with the idea of the force,” Cooper said. “I truly believe there is a connection between us all. The theology of ‘Star Wars,’ taking bits and pieces of various religions, is kind of a good thing.”

The Hamill family is vast, both geographically and chronologically. Bill and Bob Hamill were the oldest, then a nine-year gap followed until Jack and Nancy were born, then an 11-year gap until Linda. Of the Hamill siblings, only Linda and her sister Nancy are still alive. They grew up in Alaska, and after graduating from high school, Bill married his school sweetheart and joined the Navy. Mark was the fourth of seven children, and the family moved around often due to military demands.

“We don’t have any family reunions, the only time that I was together with all of my siblings in one place was at my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary,” recalled Cooper. “We were so widespread. I don’t know if the family has stayed in connection through Mark’s career, but it’s been fun for me to follow.”

Sibling support

At the film premiere for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Mark Hamill was accompanied by four of his siblings as part of a larger group of Hamill family in attendance. Cooper admits she has yet to see the newest film, but plans to do so very soon, and enjoys the odd notoriety that “Star Wars” has given her maiden name.

Cooper thought it an odd choice back in the 1970s when she heard through Mark’s dad of his decision to accept a role on a small science fiction film rather than take a contract role on the popular TV series “Eight is Enough.” Mark had been encouraged to audition for “Star Wars” by his friend Robert Englund, who auditioned for the part, but thought his friend would be better at it. Englund went on to a successful career of his own, most notably as Freddy from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” film series.

“I remember when he was offered this part in ‘Star Wars,’ it just sounded odd, a farm boy on another planet,” said Cooper. “I didn’t understand why he chose the film over ‘Eight is Enough,’ but I guess it turned out OK for him.”

Cooper had never thought about the fact that in the first “Star Wars” film Luke Skywalker’s aunt is killed, but reasoned that it must have been one of Mark’s other aunts. As for the familial ties to the force, detailed specifically in “Return of the Jedi,” Cooper admits she has never had to utilize force powers against unruly students, but wouldn’t hesitate to do so if it comes to that in her classroom. She has, however, repeatedly used in classrooms one famous “Star Wars” line when students say they will give something a try – “Do or do not, there is no try.”

On stage

Due to the family’s distance, Cooper hasn’t kept close contact with her famous nephew. The last she saw him was several years ago when he starred in a two-person play in New York, “Six Dances in Six Weeks,” for which Hamill’s wife acquired several tickets for the family. Her memories of Hamill come mostly from periodic moments of their childhood. Being only six years apart in age, the two occasionally spent time together as kids when Mark’s father was stationed in California. She recalls picnics on the beach, and it still strikes her as odd to think of the world famous Luke Skywalker as anything other than family, even when a 20-foot wide image of her famous nephew is projected on a film screen.

The familial connection has brought its lighter moments, too. While she rarely touts the Hamill name publicly, rumor spread among co-workers and students of her status in the “Star Wars” family, some who quiz her on validity of her DNA claims to the Skywalker genome or relentlessly pester her for insider information.

“Last Friday I had two students I’d never had in class come up to my desk and stand there asking if I was indeed Luke Skywalker’s aunt,” laughed Cooper. “I said, ‘Yes, it’s true, are you here to gather evidence?’ A little while later another came up and just stood at my desk completely silent. I just said, ‘Yes, it’s true’, and they walked away.”

Cooper has enjoyed following Hamill’s extensive career path, both on-screen and as a celebrated voice actor. His role as The Joker on the animated Batman series in the 1990s and subsequent films brought particular notoriety, and repeatedly Cooper has recognized Hamill’s voice on programs without advance knowledge that he was in it. While many voice actors find inspiration from family and friends, she doesn’t believe any of his roles are taken directly from the Hamill family, though perhaps some of The Joker’s anger is from Mark’s dad, Bill.

“Bill was a very strict military man, I don’t know if he really approved of Mark’s choice to pursue a career in theater,” she said.

The dark side

While family connections don’t often come up in daily life, the “Star Wars” saga has brought its share of lighter moments. Cooper recalled when her son first watched “The Empire Strikes Back” when he was 6 years old, and became aghast at the big reveal of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father. According to Cooper, her son immediately stared her down completely horrified, his world shattered, and asked, “Darth Vader is my uncle?”

As rabid of a fan base as there may be for “Star Wars,” particularly noted among her colleagues at Mazama who Cooper says are the biggest “Star Wars” fans she has ever encountered, she doesn’t mind the occasional question, but doesn’t tout the family connection too much. However, for those who doubt her, she simply points to the “Hamill dimple” on her chin, or her “Hamill eyes,” which carry familiar traits to Mark.

“I’m proud to be a Hamill, there’s no doubt about that,” added Cooper. “It’s been great to have a famous person in the family.”

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