The grizzled actor is central to History's revamp of the series about the Knights Templar, a real Catholic military order. Hamill plays a battle-scarred, zealous old Templar named Talus who growlingly trains the initiates. In a twist, these include Season 1's fallen hero, flawed but faithful Temple Master Landry (Tom Cullen).
The new season looks to be even more brutal.
Along with the addition of Hamill, producers hope visceral fights and a more historically authentic look and storyline will draw buzz and viewers. "Great effort went into building a living, breathing environment," says executive producer Rick Jacobson as we tour expansive new sets like the Chartres Temple outside Prague. The costumes appear more lived-in (you can almost feel the filth).
There's more gore: "We've done whipping, branding, stitches, fingernails being ripped off, nails hammered into legs," offers makeup and prosthetics artist Davina Lamont. Most importantly, though, the story makes way for higher stakes and bigger clashes — both paramount to new showrunner Aaron Helbing. "We spent weeks preparing epic battle sequences," he says.
This season will focus less on the fight between church and state for the Holy Grail and instead lead up to the fall of the Templars, which happened on Friday the 13th — October 13, 1307, that is — in a monstrous melee with King Philip IV of France (Ed Stoppard). "The feedback from fans was they wanted to see the fall," says History's senior vice president of scripted programming, Arturo Interian. "We deliver. It's the biggest power and money grab in history: the king taking on the world's wealthiest military organization. It's brutal and violent."
Another fan request: to witness the repercussions of Landry's screwup in Season 1, as well as his redemption. In the premiere, Landry is stripped of his title and must start over with the newbie warriors. The disgraced Templar is being punished for breaking his celibacy vows in an affair with Queen Joan (Olivia Ross), wife of King Philip. The lovers conceived a child, but in the Season 1 finale, Philip stabbed Joan as she was about to give birth, making Landry watch. The king rode off, leaving mother and child for dead. Landry gave Joan a sip from the Grail; it didn't revive her, but their baby girl was born alive.
See the 'Star Wars' actor as initiate master Talus for the first time!
Landry feels unworthy of the child (who's sent away for her safety) and of his knightly brethren, so he submits himself to be retrained by the unsympathetic Talus. "Talus thinks Landry is a waste of time. He doesn't want him to make it," says Hamill, who was Helbing's dream get and took the job about three weeks before shooting started. "It's different from anything I've ever done. Luke and Talus are polar opposites in temperament and dealing with people, but similar in commitment and aspirations. I was flattered they thought of me as capable of pulling off such a primal, aggressive character."
Hamill, who's in fighting shape at age 67, pushes his physical limits right off the bludgeon in the premiere as Talus gets in the thick of a struggle during a Templar raid alongside Landry. "The fact that Mark and I are swinging swords together is amazing. It's hard not to make a lightsaber sound," says 33-year-old Cullen, who admits there was a time he watched Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope every day before school. "They've been working us really hard. In one episode I have more fighting than I did in all of Season 1."
As Knightfall winds into darker and darker territory, the complicated master-initiate relationship evolves. "Talus is Landry's nemesis and archangel," says Cullen of the pious drill sergeant. "He breaks and rebuilds him."
Not long ago, in a galaxy of our own, these stars shone bright in their TV roles.
They'll need each other against sinister Philip, who has help from his daughter, Princess Isabella (now recast with Genevieve Gaunt, as producers transition the character into the powerful woman dubbed the "she-wolf" of France), and son, rancorous Prince Louis (Tom Forbes). Other new players include the Knights of St. Lazarus, leper warriors who ally with the Templars.
With the battle lines drawn, History execs hope the bolder, bloodier Knightfall is a ratings and critical success and leads to Season 3. "After the fall, the Knights Templar scattered," says Interian. "There's so much story to tell about where they go next."
Knightfall, Season Premiere, Monday, March 25, 10/9c, History