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Mark Hamill, 'Star Wars' characters cheer up sick kids at hospital

As Luke Skywalker in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, actor Mark Hamill resisted joining forces with Darth Vader, but they appeared to make amends earlier this month, when they teamed up with other volunteers to cheer up kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill visited Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

Hamill, who's in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" but conspicuously absent from or hidden in its trailers, proved to be a far more dynamic presence on Dec. 4, when he and costumed volunteers from the "Star Wars"-centric 501st Legion visited the hospital. According to the mission page of the 501st Legion's website, that group was founded as a "Star Wars" fan community and later embraced putting "its resources to good use through fundraising, charity work, and volunteerism."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Volunteers in "Star Wars" costumes paid a visit to the rehabilitation floor, pediatric intensive-care unit and other venues at Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

Owen Lei, a spokesman for the hospital, was part of a team that captured many of the event's sweetest, funniest and most touching moments through photographs and a CHLA Facebook video that's been viewed almost 8 million times and collected more than 77,000 likes since it was posted Friday.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Mark Hamill and costumed "Star Wars" characters' visit to Children's Hospital Los Angeles was part of the franchise's "Force for Change" initiative, whose official mission for the visit was to "promote healing through creative inspiration and collaborative innovation."

"Over and over again, I heard from a lot of the parents and a lot of the staff, 'Wow, there's so much energy. The kids are so happy!' And it wasn't just the kids, it was the parents, too," Lei told TODAY.com. "And, to be honest, a lot of the staff were excited, too."

Hamill, who talked with young patients in hospital rooms and a meeting area, seemed just as pleased to be a part of the festivities.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Mark Hamill's public Facebook page stated the "Star Wars" actor felt the "pure joy and exuberance" of the kids he met while visiting Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4.

"Thank YOU Children's Hospital Los Angeles!" reads a response posted Friday on the actor's public Facebook page. "Feeling the pure joy & exuberance of those children up close & personal is a gift to cherish."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Mark Hamill chats with a young patient at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

The event also was part of the film franchise's "Force for Good" initiative, whose eight hospital visits kick off efforts to "promote healing through creative inspiration and collaborative innovation."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill, against the wall in the back, gets reacquainted with a light saber during a visit to Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

The event allowed kids to practice their lightsaber skills with Hamill, who's done this sort of thing before, and helped them relax and heal through breathing exercises, according to a hospital press release.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill signs autographs at Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

In addition, Hamill signed autographs that day alongside "Star Wars Rebels" voice-over artist Steven Blum, who also volunteered his time.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill and "Star Wars Rebels" voice-over artist Steven Blum sign autographs for fans at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Although actors and athletes often visit patients at the hospital, something about the "Star Wars" interactive experience excited patients in new ways.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Darth Vader (OK, a 501st Legion volunteer in a Darth Vader costume) visits Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

"While we were taking those fun [photos] of Darth Vader just roaming the hallways, we had some of the medical staff coming over and saying, 'Hey! This kid can hear [Vader's] breathing! He wants to meet Darth Vader!'" Lei recalled. "Or, 'We've got to bring R2-D2 over here!' We literally were hearing them over and over again, 'Bring the characters over here to meet the kids!'"

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
R2-D2 visits sick kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 2015.

Happiness, Lei added, is an important factor in the recovery process. "We think the psychological component of making a kid happy is just as important as the medical component," he said. "I've never seen a response like the one to the 'Star Wars' characters."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Costumed characters from the "Star Wars" volunteer group 501st Legion interacted with kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Hamill, 64, resonated with children who were born well after he starred in the original "Star Wars" trilogy, and there's evidence of this in the YouTube video. Noted fellow hospital spokesperson Marlen Bugarin, "We were able to find some patients who are huge fans. As you can tell from the video, it was pretty amazing."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill sits with a therapy dog and chats with a patient at Children's Hospital Los Angeles during a visit on Dec. 4, 2015.

Lei agreed, adding that Hamill, too, seemed to revel in the entire saga.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles
"Star Wars" star Mark Hamill joins a group of volunteers dressed as characters from the film franchise in visiting sick kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

"It felt like every time the kids came up to him," Lei added, "he was just beaming."

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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