As Disney prepares to roll out a new Star Wars film every year like the never-ending silhouette of a Star Destroyer, fans prepare for the excitement of seeing which stars will populate the galaxy far, far away with new and interesting characters. As was the case with the original Star Wars trilogy, all of the most popular young actors and actresses auditioned for parts, and many stalwart veteran thespians were brought in to give the films legitimacy alongside them. It’s difficult to see anyone else in the roles because they came to define them for generations. Imagine the mood of scenes with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill if Al Pacino had gotten the part of Han Solo. Or if the great Orson Welles had voiced Darth Vader instead of James Earl Jones?
Cast members of Star Wars are still revered for their performances, sometimes above others in their careers. For some actors today, being in a Star Wars film will be the most significant thing they have ever done, so it’s hard to imagine that anyone ever turned down a chance to be part of it. Learning which stars were so close to portraying our favorite heroes and villains opens up the possibility to imagine a completely alternate saga.
15 LEONARDO DICAPRIO AS ANAKIN SKYWALKER
The part of Anakin Skywalker, who in many ways is the central character in the Star Wars saga, was coveted by just about every young male star in the early ‘00s. George Lucas began an exhaustive search that entailed auditioning hundreds of hopefuls to play Anakin at an age when he was beginning to be swayed to the dark side.
Among those considered was Leonardo DiCaprio, who at the time had already been rocketed to stardom as a heartthrob in Titanic, The Man In The Iron Mask, and The Beach. He turned down the part, however, as he didn’t feel ready to sign on to a multi-picture deal. It may have helped his career, as Gangs of New York came out the same year as Attack of the Clones, and he became known as a gifted dramatic actor.
14 JODIE FOSTER AS PRINCESS LEIA
Dozens of actresses tried out for the part of Princess Leia when Lucas was casting Star Wars: A New Hope, from Cindy Williams (of Laverne and Shirley fame) to Terri Nunn (the lead singer for the New Wave band Berlin), and many unknowns. One young actress was Jodie Foster, who had already made big waves in Taxi Driver, Bugsy Malone, and Freaky Friday.
Jodie would have been 14 at the time of her audition, back when Lucas originally planned for Luke and Leia to be quite young, with Han being a young adult in his early twenties. While ultimately she didn’t get the part, by the time casting concluded Lucas had decided to make the twins older. Carrie Fisher was 21 when she portrayed Princess Leia, and as a result carried a lot more gravitas.
13 TUPAC SHAKUR AS MACE WINDU
Though it sounds like a piece of Star Wars lore that a rapper would be involved in a galaxy far, far away, Lucas did in fact meet several times with the late Tupac Shakur about playing the role of Mace Windu. This was in the mid ‘90s, when development of The Phantom Menace had just gotten underway, and Tupac had demonstrated dramatic acting talent in Poetic Justice, Juice, Above The Rim, and Bullet.
Former chief engineer of Death Row Records recounted many conversations with Tupac before his death in 1996 about his intent to read for the part. Apparently Tupac was very excited about the opportunity and was looking forward to being a part of the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Samuel L. Jackson would get the part and define the role as a strong, determined Jedi Master that doesn’t take any crap.
12 MICHAEL JACKSON AS JAR JAR BINKS
During the mid ‘90s, the King of Pop still had a hold of his crown, and he was touring regularly. Despite his immense fame and demanding schedule, he wanted a piece of Star Wars pie, namely the part of Jar Jar Binks. Now, no one can deny that with the movements Michael’s body was capable of, CGI wouldn’t have even been necessary. And therein was the rub -- he wanted “Thriller” like prosthetics and makeup, and Lucas was leaning firmly in a CGI direction.
It’s just as well, because Jar Jar became a despised character in the prequels, and not because of any one performer, but because of the direction of Lucas. What MJ would have done with the role, we’ll never know, but it’s certain that his iconic status would have transcended the Gungan, and not in a good way.
11 EDDIE REDMAYNE AS KYLO REN
If you’re Eddie Redmayne, accomplished dramatic actor appearing in The Danish Girl and The Theory of Everything, and you’re auditioning for the role of a villain in Star Wars, you instantly try about ten different weird voices until you exhaust your options and the casting director waits for you to be done. Apparently he was so desperate to be part of Star Wars that he gave it everything he had, even though they didn’t give him much to go on (he was given a page of Pride and Prejudice to read from to protect insider secrets).
He’s usually accused of overacting or being just too much, which is ironic, considering the Kylo Ren we got with Adam Driver. We may not have got Eddie in The Force Awakens, but we WERE treated to his appearance as another space villain, putting on a weird voice, in Jupiter Ascending, so there’s that…
10 SAOIRSE RONAN AS REY
As is the case for any Star Wars film, the search for the lead was exhaustive and prolific, since everyone wants to be a part of one of the greatest cinematic franchises of all time. The hunt for Rey was nothing less, and hundreds of young up and coming actresses were considered, from the well known to the noob. One finalist was Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who had dazzled critics in Atonement and Brooklyn, both of which garnered her Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress Oscar nominations, respectively.
Lucas has used Oscar winners to populate the Star Wars universe before, with notable thespians like Alec Guinness giving dramatic reverence to their characters. Ultimately, Daisy Ridley got the part, a relatively unknown actress in keeping with the trend of A New Hope and introducing audiences to new faces that would come to define the lead roles and make them their own.
9 RICHARD DREYFUSS AS C-3PO
Like the intergalactic neurotic angel perched on your shoulder, cautioning you against every reckless action and backing it up with a laundry list of facts and figures, the galaxy’s most fussy droid C-3PO has been both loved and hated by fans (and Han Solo) for decades. As much as he is a pain in a Bantha’s backside, no Star Wars movie would be complete without him (and he’s managed to be in all 7 current episodes AND Rogue One).
Apparently Lucas didn’t care much for Threepio’s voice when actor Anthony Daniels was in the suit, and he was considering going with someone else altogether; that someone was Richard Dreyfuss. Don’t feel bad for him though; he went on to win an Oscar just a year after Star Wars: A New Hope came out.
8 AL PACINO AS HAN SOLO
Before all the young bucks in Hollywood would be courted to play Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, the stud to be was Han Solo, fast-talking, fast-drawing smuggler and one of the best pilots in the galaxy. Lucas had an idea of the sort of swaggering, sarcastic, scruffy looking nerf herder he wanted Han to be, and a lot young actors auditioned for the part, including Robert Englund (that’s right, Freddy Krueger).
Given Han’s characteristics, it’s a bit hard to see the blowhard theatrics of Al Pacino as suited for the role. Nevertheless, the part was offered to him and he turned it down because he couldn’t wrap his head around the plot or comprehend the dialogue (a factor in Alec Guinness’s reservations as well, but he put his robe on and got with it). He got another Godfather sequel and we got the greatness that is Harrison Ford.
7 ORSON WELLES AS THE VOICE OF DARTH VADER
You may remember Orson Welles for his stirring performance in Citizen Kane, a film that routinely gets listed on critics’ Top 100 Films of All-Time lists, but he was also well known for a certain alarming radio broadcast that inspired Steven Spielberg's remake of The War of the Worlds, in which he convinced America that Mars was attacking. People actually began evacuating in mass hysteria. That sort of commanding voice might make a pretty good voice for a villain, or so Lucas thought when he approached Orson to be the voice of Vader.
Ultimately, it was decided his voice was too well known, and his distinctive timbre to be too distracting. Taking away from Vader’s character as a whole. Lucky for us, he went with relatively unknown Shakespearian actor James Earl Jones, who would give us one of the most iconic vocal performances of all-time.
6 WILLIAM KATT AS LUKE SKYWALKER
As it so happens, the auditions for the original Star Wars and the movie Carrie were going on right across the hall from each other, and so herds of actors and actresses were being ushered back and forth in front of casting directors. If they weren’t a fit for one movie, hey, they might be a fit for the other. Sissy Spacek read for Star Wars but wasn’t chosen, and so did her male co-star, William Katt.
He was one of several blonde haired, blue eyed youths that just screamed “Tatooine farm boy”, and he was one of the finalists to play Luke Skywalker. However, he didn’t have the right chemistry with the rest of the cast, but he did get a lead in Carrie, and to star in the popular television series The Greatest American Hero.
5 BENICIO DEL TORO AS DARTH MAUL
Lately, we’ve been treated to Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric acting style as The Collector in the MCU, but it was thought that his perma-grimace could be put to good use as a villain in the SWU. He read for Lucas and was actually given the part, but left the film when script cuts actually took the majority of Darth Maul’s lines from the film. He was further upset by the fact that any “acting” he had done was reduced to the gymnastics and martial movements involved in the combat sequences against the Jedi.
Martial artist and stunt man extraordinaire Ray Park stepped in to portray the menacing Sith Apprentice, though he was considerably shorter than Del Toro and they didn’t end up using his voice for the role anyway. However, his physicality in the combat sequences more than qualified him to leave such a unique character forever in our minds.
4 TOSHIRO MIFUNE AS OBI WAN KENOBI
Any cinephile knows that George Lucas borrowed heavily from acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, famous for The Seven Samurai and The 47 Ronin, for many thematic elements of Star Wars. Darth Vader, whose armor was based on a samurai warrior, who followed a moral code, and had pledged his service to his Emperor, is a prime example.
Toshiro Mifune, who had starred in several Kurosawa movies by that time, was approached to play Obi Wan Kenobi, but was worried that at the time the film would look cheap and not pay homage to the samurai way. When he was offered the role of Vader because a mask would cover his face, he declined it as well. The cred of having Mifune as part of the cast would have been considerable, especially given that he starred in the film on which A New Hope’s plot was based (Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress).
3 CHRISTOPHER LEE AS GRAND MOFF TARKIN
While the intimidating stature, stentorian voice, and impeccable profile of Christopher Lee did eventually make their impact on the Star Wars Universe in the form of Count Dooku, he was originally considered for another villainous role; Grand Moff Tarkin.
He was originally approached by Lucas because of his long and lauded history in horror films, particularly portraying Dracula in several Hammer Studio productions. And while Christopher Lee isn’t known for turning down roles (his film credits are well over 200), he nevertheless declined the role of Tarkin, but did suggest his friend and fellow Hammer Studios alum Peter Cushing for the part. Cushing’s razor sharp cheekbones and staccato delivery stole every scene he was in, and helped shape the image of the Empire as one populated almost entirely by indefatigable Brits.
2 GLYNN TURMAN AS LANDO CALRISSIAN
Though we all love Billy Dee’s dashing smile and swooshing cape, it almost belonged to Glynn Turman. The part of Lando was an important one, because even though there were plenty of alien species running around the galaxy, there was a distinct lack of diversity in the human population, and Lucas had heard audiences loud and clear.
Before Glynn was out for the role of Lando, he inadvertently tried out for the role of Han. That’s right -- Lucas had him read for the part with no preparation, and was impressed with him, but wasn’t willing to deal with the political fallout at the time. A white Princess Leia with a black Han Solo seemed more daunting than blowing up the Death Star, with a lesser rate of success. It’s unfortunate that Glynn wasn’t able to land either roles, but he went on to be in Gremlins and other genre franchises.
1 KURT RUSSELL AS HAN SOLO
You might think that the man that starred in Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China would be perfect to play Han Solo. Kurt certainly has the swagger, the charm, and the roguish qualities. He auditioned for the role of everyone’s favorite smuggler alongside the likes of Al Pacino and Nick Nolte, both of whom would have gone with a much grittier take on the character, even making it far enough in the process to read with the leads. Tapes exist of him running lines opposite Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, but ultimately he lacked chemistry with them.
It would be a few years before he channeled the same characteristics that make Han so appealing, in roles that would make him a household name throughout the ‘80s, and while we can all be glad to have gotten Harrison Ford, he would have been the next best choice.
Which of these castings would you like to have seen? Let us know in the comments!