Forty years after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford playing the space-gallivanting trio of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. But when director George Lucas was casting the movie, there were a number of other notable names up for the now-iconic roles.
As the galaxy far, far away franchise has expanded, more and more high-profile actors have pursued the opportunity to make an appearance in the saga. Of course, some of these audition stories may just be rumors or one person’s interpretation of what happened, but they still provide an interesting backdrop to the worldwide phenomenon that is Star Wars.
Here are 20 stars you may have never known were almost cast in the series.
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Although Hayden Christensen was eventually chosen to play Anakin Skywalker in the second two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the role was apparently originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. However, the actor, who was still riding the wave of his Titanic fame, apparently wasn’t in the right state of mind to turn to the dark side.
DiCaprio told the Shortlist in 2014 that he met with George Lucas to discuss the part, but turned it down. “[I] just didn’t feel ready to take that dive,” he explained.
Paul Walker was supposedly eager to star in Episodes II and III, but didn’t end up snagging the role of Anakin. The late Fast and the Furious actor was apparently unhappy about the rejection.
“I was really bummed out that I didnt get the part of Anakin,” he told Teen Movieline in 2000. “But there were rumors circulating, so I don’t know how close I came to actually getting it. Josh Jackson was apparently in talks to play Anakin, too. You can’t say anything, but a part of me was thinking…’You’d better not get it over me!’ At the same time, you’d be happy if he does get it rather than Hayden Christensen, some no-namer from Canada.”
Following his turn as bad boy Sebastian Valmont in the 1999 cult classic Cruel Intentions, Ryan Phillippe was in the running for the lead in Attack of the Clones. But he was ultimately deemed too old to play the 19-year-old Anakin.
“There is a part of me that really wanted the role. And I got pretty far down to the final cut,” he told WENN in 2001. “I got to test with Natalie Portman, who is Princess Amidala. In real life, I’m seven years older than her, which was dubbed too old. At age 29, I was an over the hill Anakin.”
According to Rick Clifford — who worked as an engineer at Tupac’s label, Death Row Records — Pac reportedly read for the part of Mace Windu in the early stages of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. However, following the rapper’s death in September 1996, the role of the Jedi master went to Samuel L. Jackson.
“Pac found out that I worked for Brian Austin Green, who was on 90210, then he found out I [worked on] some movies, so we always talked about his film career and stuff,” Clifford told the website 2Pac-Forum. “He was telling me that he was supposed to read for George Lucas and them. They wanted him to be a Jedi. I’m serious. Samuel L. got Tupac’s part. [Tupac] said [to me], ‘Old man, keep your fingers crossed.’ He said, ‘I’ve got three movies coming up. One of them, I’ve got to read for George Lucas.'”
It’s hard to imagine the menacing tones of anyone but James Earl Jones emanating from the mask of Darth Vader. But when George Lucas was considering actors for the voice role, Jones reportedly wasn’t his first choice. Jones told BBC News in 2011 that Lucas settled for “a guy who was born in Mississippi and stutters” after coming to the conclusion that the voice of Orson Welles was too recognizable.
Lucas, on the other hand, has a different view on the matter. “I created a villain . . . I knew the voice had to be very, very special,” he said at the 2015 American Theatre Wing Gala honoring Jones, according to Page Six. “And I had to make a choice — a choice that was a tough choice, but an easy choice, really — between Orson Welles and James Earl Jones . . . [Jones] won hands down.”
Michael Jackson reportedly threw his name in the ring for the role of Jar Jar Binks while George Lucas was casting The Phantom Menace. But the King of Pop apparently had a take on the character that didn’t match the director’s vision. In a 2015 interview with Vice, Ahmed Best — who voiced and provided motion capture for the widely-disliked and often criticized character — shared his thoughts on why Jackson was passed over for the role.
“Me, Natalie Portman and George [Lucas]’s kids – we were at Wembley arena at Michael Jackson’s concert,” he said. “We were taken backstage, and we met Michael. There was Michael and Lisa Marie [Presley]. George introduced me as ‘Jar Jar,’ and I was like, ‘That’s kind of weird.’ Michael was like, ‘Oh. OK.’ I thought, ‘What is going on? After Michael had driven off, we all go back up to a big after-party. I’m having a drink with George, and I said, ‘Why did you introduce me as Jar Jar?’ He 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.”
Harrison Ford has said that when he agreed to help George Lucas audition actors for Star Wars, he never thought there was a chance he could end up in the movie. But when it came time for Lucas to make his final casting decisions, the last man standing in his way was apparently Christopher Walken.
“I read with more than a hundred actors,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015. “The story that I know is that there were two threesomes that they narrowed it down to, and I was in one of them. I had no idea that that was a potential situation. They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ You know who the other choice was…Chris Walken.”
The tape of Kurt Russell’s audition to play Han Solo shows the smuggler-turned-Rebel-hero that could have been if Harrison Ford hadn’t caught George Lucas’s eye during the screen tests for Episode IV. But there was also another factor in play. During a 2017 interview with USA Today, Russell explained that he took himself out of the running when Lucas was having trouble making up his mind.
“[I was] interviewing for the part of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. On tape, it exists,” he said. “I didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. Something about a Death Star and a Millennium Falcon. I was actually pretty [close], in the final running, but I needed to give an answer to ABC to do a western show. I asked George, ‘Do you think you’re gonna use me?’ He said, ‘I don’t know if I want to put you with him, or those two guys together.’ I got to go to work, so I did the western. Clearly, I made the right choice.”
Sylvester Stallone, on the the other hand, didn’t even make it past the casting call for the role of Han. During a 2010 online fan Q&A on Ain’t it Cool News, the Rocky star revealed that George Lucas didn’t give him a second glance when he tried out for A New Hope.
“Yes as a matter of fact I did [audition] and it didn’t meet with much approval since when I stood in front of George Lucas he didn’t look at me once,” Stallone explained. “Then I said ‘Well obviously I’m not the right type.’ But it all worked out for the best since I don’t look good in spandex holding a Ray gun.”
“Star Wars was mine for the taking, but I didn’t understand the script,” Al Pacino told the London Evening Standard in 2013 when asked about parts he had turned down during his career.
Pacino later elaborated that the opportunity to play Han Solo came after his Oscar-nominated portrayal of mafia crime boss Michael Corleone. “It was at that time in my career when I was offered everything,” he told MTV at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. “I was in The Godfather. They didn’t care if I was right or wrong for the role, if I could act or not act. ‘He’s in The Godfather. Offer him everything!’ So they offered me this movie. And I remember not understanding it when I read it. Another missed opportunity!”
Despite the fact that she was only in her early teens at the time, Jodie Foster was reportedly one of Lucas’s top choices for Princess Leia. However, Foster declined the role — supposedly due to scheduling conflicts with Taxi Driver — and doesn’t seem to regret it. “I don’t think I’m going to be on my deathbed going, like, ‘Damn! I didn’t do Star Wars,’” she told Empire in 2007.
Carrie Fisher was well aware of the stiff competition she beat out for the part though. “Jodie Foster was up for it,” she told The Daily Beast in 2015. “That one I knew the most. Amy Irving and Jodie. And I got it.”
Cindy Williams was apparently given the last-minute ax after making it far enough in the Princess Leia audition process to shoot a screen test. But with Laverne & Shirley premiering in January 1976 — less than two months before production on A New Hope was scheduled to begin — the timing probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.
Benicio Del Toro
Benicio Del Toro appears as an “enigmatic” new character in The Last Jedi, but he was reportedly almost introduced to the galaxy far, far away saga at a much earlier date. According to Screen Rant, Del Toro was originally cast as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace but chose not to pursue the role after George Lucas cut much of the Sith Lord’s dialogue. The part was then given to martial artist Ray Park.
During a 2017 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Billie Lourd — the daughter of the late Carrie Fisher — revealed she met with J.J. Abrams to discuss playing Rey in The Force Awakens, but ultimately ended up with a smaller role.
“J.J. Abrams called me to come in for Star Wars because he couldn’t find someone for the lead,” she explained. “He ended up finding Daisy Ridley, who’s an incredible actress — so talented! But I went in and he ended up giving me this tiny role with a couple lines. I was super excited.”
Unlike many of the young stars who went through the secretive process of auditioning for J.J Abrams’s highly-anticipated reboot of the Star Wars franchise, Saoirse Ronan went on the record about her experience. During a 2015 appearance on the Empire Podcast, Ronan spoke about how much she enjoyed going out for a role in The Force Awakens.
“Yeah, I did [audition for Star Wars Episode VII]… I don’t know whether I should have said that now! I mean, everyone did. Everyone has auditioned for it,” she said. “I’ve gone in and read for it, but I have to say, I think it’s the only time I’ve ever thought, ‘You know what? Even if I don’t get it, I had so much fun auditioning, pretending to take out a lightsaber – out of a bag, kind of inspect it and not know what it is.’ That was…that was great. A lightsaber! Star Wars!”
Gary Oldman reportedly pulled out of voicing droid warlord General Grievous in the final installment of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith, due to the fact that it was a non-Screen Actors Guild film.
“We did urge Lucas to ask SAG for special permission for Gary to do the movie, but they became very annoyed and I know they are still annoyed,” Oldman’s manager, Doug Urbanski, told Variety in 2004. “We’re quite puzzled by the whole thing. But out of respect for and solidarity with the other [SAG] members, he could not and would not consider violating the rules of his union.”
Muppets creator Jim Henson did consult on the building of the Yoda puppet, but reportedly turned down the opportunity to voice the ancient Jedi master because he was preoccupied with Muppets-related commitments. However, he was the one to recommend Frank Oz for the job.
“Jim [Henson] came to me and said Gary Kurtz, who was co-producer of The Empire Strikes Back, had a character and I think they asked Jim first – but with running a company and everything he couldn’t do it, so he recommended me,” Oz told IGN in a 2000 interview. “From then on, I was the one who kind of put all the elements of Yoda together, and although Jim didn’t make Yoda, George [Lucas] and he had an understanding that they would exchange technology information. George would give to Jim and Jim would give some of his people to George to help.”
Although Anthony Daniels had already secured his spot inside the C-3PO suit, George Lucas was apparently initially intent on dubbing over the English actor’s voice. It was then that Mel Blanc — the Man of a Thousand Voices — entered the mix. However, as Daniels remembers the story, it was Blanc who finally convinced Lucas to just go with the talent he already had.
“George was trying to find a voice to replace the one I had done through a radio transmitter,” Daniels reportedly told one of his former personal assistants. “He got bogged down by Richard Dreyfuss, who was one of the people that tried to make a voice. It may have been Mel who said ‘Anthony’s voice is really good, why don’t you keep it?’ And, George kept it. It wasn’t that I was brilliant, it is just that Threepio is Threepio. There isn’t a choice. If they hadn’t used it, I wouldn’t have been a part of the things outside the movies as the voice is an integral part of the character.”
According to his daughter Mika, Toshiro Mifune turned down the chance to play Obi-Wan Kenobi because he was worried that Star Wars wouldn’t depict samurai in the right light. The late Mifune is best known for his portrayal of the Japanese warriors in the films of director Akira Kurosawa.
“I heard from my father that he was offered the role of Obi Wan Kenobi,” she reportedly said at a 2015 event to announce the first Tokyo Comic Con. “But he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of samurai, on which George Lucas had based a lot of the character and fighting style.”
Although Michael Fassbender never revealed exactly which role he was in the running for in The Force Awakens, it’s rumored that director J.J. Abrams spoke to him about playing Kylo Ren.
“We talked about a role,” Fassbender said during a 2016 ppearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. “We had a conversation. I’m pretty sure I was busy doing something else in the summer he was kickstarting that.”