By Ken Stone
Brad Sir of Castleton Drive in Clairemont turned 42 Sunday and invited friends and family to a “Star Wars” themed birthday party.
It’s not like you can ignore that film franchise when Mark Hamill shows up in your front yard.
With 1,000 neighbors and Luke Skywalker fans cheering, the street where Hamill lived in the 1960s between ages 8 and 12 was formally unveiled as “Honorary Mark Hamill Drive.”The process took 75 seconds. The red fabric that covered the sign got stuck and wouldn’t budge.
“Luke, use the Force,” fans shouted.
La Jolla artist and actor Christopher Canole — dressed as “Dude Vader the Laugh Jedi” with a a fan-cooled helmet on a humid day — offered his golden lightsaber.
But the police force took another tack. When an officer with a nightstick couldn’t do it by himself, San Diego police Lt. Dan Grubbs used a green toy lightsaber to lift the balky cloth off the sign.
The 65-year-old actor, introduced by Councilman Chris Cate and Clairemont Town Council President Eden Yaege, was grateful, charming, funny and nostalgic in his hourlong appearance, which included a Q&A session MC’d by KUSI’s Lisa Remillard of “Good Morning San Diego.”
“I can’t tell you how great it feels to be back in my old neighborhood,” Hamill began — only five houses down from his two-story home during the early 1960s.
Recalling how he attended nine schools in 12 years — his father being a career naval officer — Hamill said his four years in Clairemont was the longest stay he had in any city. He’d later move to Virginia and then Yokohama, Japan, where he graduated from high school.
“If I could pick a hometown, it certainly would be San Diego,” he said to cheers. “They probably remember me as that goofy kid that was always doing puppet shows and magic tricks and imitating cartoon characters.”His dream during the Clairemont years was to be a performer, he said, but “I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want them to make fun of me” at Hale Junior High or Madison High School.
Although Hamill’s sister Terry lives in Fallbrook and he’s been back for Comic-Con, it was the first visit to the neighborhood by Marilou, Hamill’s wife of nearly 40 years, she told Times of San Diego.
The block party also served as a Castleton Drive reunion, with Linda Vigil, known as Linda Berzins when she lived next door to the Hamills, visiting with 63-year-old Beverly Hunter, a block resident since 1962.
Hunter recalled playing with Hamill’s sister Jeanie.
“I don’t remember him at all,” Hunter said. “We used to have picnics. … We’d put out the blanket.”
Bob Wilcox, 54, said his older brothers would play hide and seek with Hamill in the front yard — as late as midnight.
“Now you wouldn’t dream of doing that,” he said. “I just remember bits and pieces. In fact, I tell my friends: Ah, I used to play with him when I was a kid. Lived right next door. They were like: ‘Oh yeah. Sure.’”
“There’s a shortage of inventory, so you never know,” he said, figuring the Hamill house would be priced “anywhere from $625,000 to $700,000,” depending on square footage. “It takes a little longer, but it’ll sell.”
Hamill recalled his reaction when first told of the street-name honor: “I thought they were pranking me.”
The city could have chosen an author, philanthropist or ex-president, he said.
“But this is especially meaningful for me because even though I’ve been an electric toothbrush … a pair of Underoos [and] a sleeping bag — those are all Luke Skywalker things. This is Mark Hamill, so that’s extraspecial, right?”
After thanking Cate, who delivered the original news, Hamill said: “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you, by the way.” Cate presented Hamill a framed city proclamation of July 30 as “Mark Hamill Day.”
“So this is really, really special to me,” he said during his 3-minute remarks. “I’ll never forget it. And hey, the Force is strong with all of you. I love you all! Thank you!”
During a Q&A — answering questions submitted to Cate’s office via Twitter — Hamill confessed: “I didn’t want to leave San Diego, and for them to welcome me back this way is just beyond my wildest dreams.” (He added: “It’s hard to process. It’s just crazy. I’m still mad at the [Chargers] football team. Those traitors.”)Questions included:
What did you love about San Diego?
Hamill listed the zoo, Pacific Beach, riding his bike.
“They say the ‘Star Wars’ films are about family — a dysfunctional family but a family nonetheless. And that’s really important to me. The sense of community I had here. That house I lived in was where I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, where I wept openly when they canceled my favorite TV show ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’”
What do you like about social media?
“You can be yourself,” said the star with 1.89 million followers. “There’s a lot of things I say on Twitter. Ya know, look I’m just another crank on Twitter. Don’t listen to anything I say.”
California Burrito or fish taco?
“I gotta go with the burrito,” he said to beefy cheers.
He drove the crowd crazy by reciting lines from his videotaped audition with actor Harrison Ford as Han Solo: “But we can’t turn back. … [The Empire’s defense is] largely directed toward a large-scale assault.”
“I’ve never been able to forget it in 40 years,” he said.
After leaving the stage, Hamill hugged fans across a barrier and signed autographs with his left hand, including a book proffered by 9-year-old Carter Parkhill of Kearny Mesa, who had been waiting since 7 a.m. for the 2:15 p.m. ceremony.“It was awesome,” said the Chesterton Elementary School youngster.
What does Carter like about Hamill?
“I like [him] because it’s cool how he plays as Luke and he fights all the bad guys,” said Carter, who first saw “Star Wars” at age 5.
Between visits with fans, Hamill did one-on-ones with local TV and other media outlets, even taking a question from the fan group and charity Rebel Legion of 501st: “We want to know: What’s your favorite ‘Star Wars’ costume?”
Hamill noted the functionality of all his outfits, but “the one on Tatooine was the easiest to wear.”
He was asked about the late Carrie Fisher, his “Star Wars” sister as Princess Leia.
“It’s sad that she’s not here because she made everything more fun,” he said. “She deserved to be in [the upcoming] Episode IX.”
He said he missed her Sunday, especially, since “she’s not around to flip me the bird, which she’d be doing today.”
Asked about the turnout at the intersection of Castleton and Mount Abernathy Avenue, Hamill said: “It’s just amazing. I thought: Maybe they think they’re coming to see Mark Harmon or John Hamm. Not me.”
Councilman Cate and Town Council leader Yaege didn’t have a solid plan for how the brown sign would be protected against theft.
Yaege called it a “good question.” Cate said he hoped neighbors would keep an eye on it.
John A. Robles, whose house faces the sign from the west, didn’t think anyone would take it. “I hope not,” he said.
Across the street, four-year homeowner Brad Sir — who called himself a “Star Wars fan my whole life” — had another idea for guarding the potentially priceless keepsake.
He said perhaps the Force would be with the neighborhood.
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