Some actors are just synonymous with a character they play on screen. To many, Sean Connery will always be James Bond, William Shatner will always be Captain Kirk, and Harrison Ford simply is Han Solo.
However, it could have gone a different way. Ford was initially rejected for the role by George Lucas, and actor Christopher Walken has revealed that he was under consideration for the part.
When Star Wars: A New Hope was in its casting phase, Lucas wanted to bring in new faces, and Ford didn’t qualify because they’d already worked together on American Graffiti in 1973. But Lucas did ask Ford to come in and work with the other actors auditioning for the role, reading lines with them and explaining the concepts behind the scenes.
The list of actors considered to play Han Solo is a who’s who of Hollywood talent that includes Kurt Russell, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Jack Nicholson and Burt Reynolds. However, perhaps the most surprising name under consideration was Christopher Walken.
Walken, who consistently threads the line between hilarious and utterly terrifying, would undoubtedly have made a very different Han Solo than the roguishly charming Ford. Speaking to the Financial Times in a recent interview, Walken said that he didn’t believe he’d done very well at the casting stage.
"I did audition [for Star Wars], but I don’t think I came remotely close to getting the job. About 500 other actors auditioned, so it wasn’t as if it was down to me and somebody else."
Eventually, Ford’s performance in the auditions won Lucas over. He relented, casting the actor in the part that truly made him a Hollywood megastar.
The many other options for Han Solo
“Anybody who was up-and-coming at that point was certainly brought in,” casting director Dianne Crittenden told Premiere Magazine back in 2001. “I remember there was one day we had in Nick Nolte, Richard Dreyfuss. John Travolta was one of the guys. And we talked about Robert De Niro. We actually didn’t really audition people [initially]; we just brought them in to meet George.”
And De Niro wasn’t the only gangster movie icon under consideration; Al Pacino also received the script. He turned it down, joking later that it was “another missed opportunity.”
“I remember not understanding the script] when I read it,” Pacino told MTV at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014. “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.”
Pacino’s Godfather costar James Caan was also up for the role. He was cutting about it in 2013 on The Howard Stern Show. “They didn’t want an actor, that’s why they got Harrison Ford.”
Given some of the recent movies that James Caan has made, it’s unlikely that Ford will care too much.
Another actor in contention, Sylvester Stallone, didn’t like George Lucas’ vibe. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did [audition for Star Wars],” Stallone told Ain’t It Cool, “and it didn’t meet with much approval since when I stood in front of George Lucas, he didn’t look at me once.”
However, Stallone had no hard feelings, adding that “it all worked out for the best since I don’t look good in spandex holding a Ray gun.”
It’s hard to guess what effect having another actor play Han Solo would have had on Star Wars. Our familiarity with the character makes it impossible to see anyone but Harrison Ford in the role. In the end, it was one of the best pieces of casting in cinema history, with Lucas undoubtedly making the right choice.