"Attention. Air raid alert," the voice says with a Jedi Knight's gravitas. "Proceed to the nearest shelter." It's a surreal moment in an already surreal war: the grave but calming baritone of actor Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker of Star Wars, urging people to take cover whenever Russia unleashes another aerial bombardment on Ukraine. The intrusion of Hollywood science-fiction fantasy into the grim daily realities of war in Ukraine is a consequence of Hamill's decision to lend his famous voice to "Air Alert"—a downloadable app linked to Ukraine's air defense system. When air raid sirens start howling, the app warns Ukrainians that Russian missiles, bombs, and deadly exploding drones may be incoming. "Don't be careless," Hamill’s voice advises. "Your overconfidence is your weakness."
When the dangers from the skies pass, Hamill announces via the app that "the air alert is over," then signs off with: "May the Force be with you." The actor says he's admired how Ukraine has "shown such resilience ... under such terrible circumstances." Its fight against the Russian invasion, now in its second year, reminds him of the Star Wars saga, he says—of plucky rebels battling and ultimately defeating a vast, murderous empire. Voicing over the English-language version of the air raid app and giving it his Star Wars touch was his way of helping out. "A fairy tale about good versus evil is resonant with what's going on in Ukraine," Hamill—who's also raising funds to buy reconnaissance drones for Ukrainian forces on the front lines and has autographed Star Wars-themed posters to be raffled—tells the AP. "It's impossible not to be inspired by how they've weathered this storm."
Although the app, which has been downloaded more than 14 million times, also has a Ukrainian-language setting, voiced by a woman, some Ukrainians prefer to have Hamill breaking the bad news that yet another Russian bombardment might be imminent. On the worst days, sirens and the app sound every few hours, day and night. Some turn out to be false alarms. But many others are real—and often deadly. Bohdan Zvonyk, 24, a Star Wars fan who lives in the repeatedly struck western city of Lviv, says he chose Hamill's voice-over rather than the Ukrainian setting because he's trying to improve his English. Olena Yeremina, 38, who lives in the capital of Kyiv, says Hamill's "May the Force be with you" gives her strength. "I wouldn't say that I feel like a Ukrainian Jedi, but sometimes this phrase reminds me to straighten my shoulders and keep working," she notes. (Read more Mark Hamill stories.)