For two years, Mark Hamill kept a secret he learned in Orlando.
Hamill was shocked, the 62-year-old actor recalled this week.
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"The idea that he would say, 'We want to do VII, VIII, IX' was the farthest thing from my mind."
Now, with "Star Wars" fever surging following the film's casting announcement, Hamill will make his first trip to Star Wars Weekends, an annual fan event that kicked off at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park Friday. Hamill will come to Central Florida for the fourth weekend of the event, June 6-8.
Hamill and Fisher were in Florida in 2012 for another fan event, Celebration VI, when they lunched with Lucas. Fisher was onboard immediately for the film, Hamill said, but he had reservations.
"I'm sort of settled in my ways," he said. "I'm a character actor in animation, and I don't really do a lot of on-camera anymore. And I'm perfectly happy with that. I'm a man of simple pleasures."
But then he had an "aha!" moment.
"I started thinking: Business decision aside, what would happen if I declined? I would be the most reviled person on the planet."
The movies' fervent fan base played a role in Hamill's decision.
"I'm aware that a lot of people don't care one way or another, but for the UPFs — the ultra-passionate fans — they would come after me like the angry townspeople with torches in the old Frankenstein pictures," Hamill said.
On April 29, the first photo was released of the cast, including Hamill, Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew (who plays Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3P0) and others. On Twitter, Hamill posted: "Finally I can officially say: I'M IN!!!"
The original trilogy of films, which started in 1977, still resonates with people, whether they saw the movies in theaters, TV or DVD, said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor who teaches pop-culture courses.
"It was more than just three movies. It became a lifestyle," Thompson said. "There were the toys, the Halloween costumes … especially if you were a kid, you almost couldn't help inhabiting the 'Star Wars' universe."
Incorporating longstanding characters into the seventh film can boost the franchise and give Walt Disney Co. credibility as the new owner, he said. Disney bought Lucasfilm and the sci-fi franchise for $4 billion in late 2012.
"It's almost like by trotting out these original three actors, you're giving it the fact that, OK, this is the legitimate bloodline," Thompson said. "There's a royalty quality to bringing them in."
Hamill had heard rumblings about Disney buying LucasFilm in the 1980s, he said, so he wasn't surprised when the deal was announced.
"It just seems like a good fit because of Disney's association with family-type entertainment and their ability to really fire off on all levels in terms of the movies, books, records, theme-park attractions, all of it at once," he said.
Although there's an opening date set for the film — Dec. 18, 2015 — little else is known.
"The amount of secrecy around this thing is intense. It's like working for the CIA," Hamill said. "The only thing they've really announced is that it takes place about 30 years after 'Jedi'," he said, referring to 1983's "Return of the Jedi."
In addition to the returning stars, younger, lesser-known actors — including Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac — are in the cast. Fans have speculated that the film will be a multigenerational story and could involve the offspring of the classic characters.
The collection of talent and hardcore fans at Star Wars Weekends is a draw for Martha MacNeil, who is traveling from Guelph, Ontario, for her sixth visit to the event. She's a die-hard fan of both Disney and "Star Wars," she said. She saw the original "Star Wars" in theaters at age 6 in 1977 and is pleased by the prospect of more films.
"I'm pretty excited that they're bringing the original cast back," MacNeil said. "I was wondering how they were going to do that since they're not particularly young anymore."
Although Hamill has been to Disney World before and has attended other fan events, 2014 marks his debut at Star Wars Weekends.
"It seems to me that if you are a little more particular in choosing what you do, it makes it more special," he said. "Having said that, I didn't mean to wait two decades. Time flies."
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