15 Surprising Actors Considered for Star Wars
It’s been more than 40 years since George Lucas and director Brian De Palma opened their communal casting sessions for Star Wars and Carrie, pooling their resources in a combined search for actors who could carry either Lucas’s space opera or De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel.
Obviously, the Lucas cast—led by Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher—worked out just fine. But those inaugural sessions led to a line of performers in the next decades who either auditioned or were strongly considered for roles across the multi-part franchise. With the eighth feature film, Rogue One, arriving in theaters this week, we're taking a look at 15 performers who once had a chance at co-starring with a Wookiee.
1. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN
Droll, droopy-eyed character actor Christopher Walken first garnered notoriety for 1978’s The Deer Hunter, where he played a psychologically immobilized Vietnam veteran. Prior to that, he was one of several actors who visited with Lucas to read for the part of Han Solo, by some accounts doing so well that at one point Lucas narrowed his choice to between Walken and Ford: Ford, who had been in Lucas’s American Graffiti and was helping feed lines to auditioning actors, got the part.
It wouldn’t be Walken’s only flirtation with sci-fi: Decades later, his name was batted around for the part of James Kirk’s great-great grandfather in a Star Trek prequel film project that never got off the ground.
2. AL PACINO
Already a huge star thanks to a string of 1970s hits including The Godfather, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino apparently had the luxury of being offered the role of Solo without having to audition. “Star Wars was mine for the taking but I didn’t understand the script,” Pacino admitted in 2013.
3. JODIE FOSTER
Jodie Foster's role as a teenaged prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver apparently impressed Lucas enough that the 15-year-old actress was brought in to read for the role of Princess Leia. Discounting the awkwardness of any possible flirtation with a 30-something Solo, she was passed up in favor of 19-year-old Carrie Fisher, who had only one movie credit (Shampoo) to her name at the time.
4. ORSON WELLES
Although Lucas needed a complete cast assembled for the start of principal photography in 1976, he had the comparative luxury of deliberating on how best to personify respirator enthusiast Darth Vader. David Prowse was in the suit on set, but his lines could be dubbed over later. For a time, mercurial director and former radio star Orson Welles was considered. Deciding Welles’s voice was too recognizable, Lucas opted for James Earl Jones instead.
5. MEL BLANC
As with Vader, Lucas was free to mix a physical performer with a voiceover artist for the role of C-3PO. Unlike Vader, he opted to use one man to accomplish it. Anthony Daniels voiced the chirping droid, although animation legend Mel Blanc was considered for a time. It was Blanc who told Lucas that Daniels had a better take on the robot.
6. ROBERT ENGLUND
Before landing the part of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Robert Englund tried his luck at auditions for the role of Han Solo. He didn’t get it, but he did tell his roommate about the space film that was about to start shooting, and that he should try out for a part: Mark Hamill decided he was right and paid Lucas a visit.
7. JIM HENSON
After conceiving of a wizened old Jedi who would train Luke Skywalker in the squalid swamps of Dagobah for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas asked Muppet creator Jim Henson to perform the Yoda puppet for his cameras. “I thought he was the best puppeteer,” Lucas once said. But Henson’s schedule didn’t allow for it, so the job went to a colleague at the Muppet Workshop, Frank Oz, instead.
8. GARY OLDMAN
The brooding British actor has been in some of the biggest franchises of the past 20 years, including Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the Harry Potter films. Lucas wanted him to voice General Grievous in 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Oldman was apparently agreeable—until he found out that Lucas was shooting the movie as a non-union project. In a press release, Oldman’s management company stated that the "snag that made it impossible … is that this film is being made as a non-SAG (Screen Actors Guild) film. George Lucas and gang agreed to hire Gary Oldman if he in fact would become a union buster, and perform work illegally overseas. As a resident of America, and also a member of SAG, out of respect and solidarity with the other members, he could not and would not consider violating his union's rules."
9. SYLVESTER STALLONE
During auditions for the original Star Wars, Lucas seemingly had few reservations about who he might consider for the roles. Fatigue, however, would sometimes get to him. At one point, Sylvester Stallone walked into the room and walked right back out after assessing that a tired Lucas wasn’t going to be a receptive audience. “Guys in space don’t have this kind of face,” he said. “I get it.”
10. LEONARDO DICAPRIO
Leonardo DiCaprio had just come off starring in the then-highest-grossing film in history, Titanic, when George Lucas approached him to a play a young Anakin Skywalker in 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He declined. “I just didn’t feel ready to take that dive, at the time,” he said. The actor might have struggled a bit with the decision, since he’s an avowed fan of the series who once auctioned off a toy collection valued at over $100,000. He was even in line at 1 a.m. for the release of Phantom Menace figures in 1999.
The 1990s boy band *NSYNC is an anomaly on the list, in part because they were more than just considered for small roles in Star Wars—they actually filmed them. Lucas’s daughters were so enamored with the group at the time their father was shooting Attack of the Clones that he invited them to the set to appear as background characters. Justin Timberlake and Lance Bass declined, but Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, and JC Chasez showed up for fittings. All three played Jedi Knights during the battle on Geonosis. The parts were cut for reasons unknown, although fan backlash may have played a part; Fantone’s family later insisted he could still be seen during the fight sequence.
12. MICHAEL B. JORDAN
In 2013, Creed and Fantastic Four star Michael B. Jordan told press that he had gone on an audition forEpisode VII: The Force Awakens. Jordan had previously worked for Lucas in 2012’s Tuskegee Airmen drama Red Tails, but the creator was not involved in the Disney-produced sequel.
13. TUPAC SHAKUR
Although it hit theaters in 1999, filming on The Phantom Menace began in 1997, with pre-production and auditions taking place in 1996. That’s reportedly when rapper Tupac Shakur pursued the role of Mace Windu, the Jedi Knight role that ultimately went to Samuel L. Jackson.
14. EDDIE REDMAYNE
Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar in 2015 for the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, but that honor didn’t do him much good during auditions for The Force Awakens. Aspiring for the part of Kylo Ren, Redmayne says the production was so secretive that he really had no idea who the character was or how he fit into the story. To compensate, he tried doing a Darth Vader imitation. “That’s a childhood dream crushed,” he told Moviepilot.com earlier this year.
15. MICHAEL JACKSON
As the most contentious character in the entire Star Wars saga, bumbling Gungan sidekick Jar Jar Binks has been a mixed blessing for Ahmed Best, the actor cast for his voice and motion-capture work in 1999’s Episode I: The Phantom Menace. According to Best, though, Jar Jar could have been even more infamous. Discussing the role with Vice in 2015, Best said Lucas had taken him to a Michael Jackson concert and told him that Jackson was toying with the idea of playing the alien. “[Lucas] said, ‘Well, Michael wanted to do the part but he wanted to do it in prosthetics and makeup like Thriller. George wanted to do it in CGI. My guess is ultimately Michael Jackson would have been bigger than the movie, and I don't think he wanted that.”
All images courtesy of Getty Images.