The Star Wars saga has spread over 40 years and eight movies, meaning there has been a tremendous amount of actors who have auditioned for roles in the franchise – many of them becoming household names in their own right.
It’s a difficult thing, imagining different actors portraying the characters we’ve come to know and love. But, as with all jobs, there is a selection process, which means the actors that have become synonymous with the parts they played, were once just one candidate among many – all fighting for the same part.
Harrison Ford for example, was not first choice to play Han Solo and in fact, wasn’t originally in contention at all. The actor had previously worked with George Lucas on the director’s previous film American Graffiti and was hired to assist the casting process by reading out lines with the many audition hopefuls. Lucas was so impressed with Ford’s performance during the reads – and unimpressed with the auditions – that he decided to cast him as Han Solo.
So who did Lucas originally have in mind to play Solo and was there anyone who could have done a better job as Anakin Skywalker. To find out, read on to learn about 15 Actors Who Almost Starred In Star Wars.
15 Paul Walker - Anakin Skywalker
Many actors were considered for the part of Anakin Skywalker in Episodes II and III, including the late Paul Walker. A couple of years before Walker would gain fame with Fast & Furious series, Walker met with the Star Wars casting director and taped an audition which was submitted to Lucas for consideration.
Unfortunately for Walker, he was passed over for the role as Lucas considered him too old for the part – which makes sense considering that Walker was eight years older than Natalie Portman, whose character is supposed to be a few years older than Anakin.
When asked if he was disappointed about missing out on the part, Walker expressed his disappointment and even said he'd want to name his son after Luke.
14 Orson Welles
Although Darth Vader was portrayed physically by David Prowse in the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas made the decision during post-production to use a different actor dub Vader's dialogue. He deemed Prowse's strong West Country accent unsuitable for the role.
James Earl Jones is the man who provides the iconic voice of Darth Vader, but it turns out that he wasn’t Lucas’s first choice for the part. In an interview with BBC News, Jones confessed that George Lucas's first choice for that role was Orson Welles. However, Lucas eventually concluded that Welles' voice was too well-known and that audiences might not be able to distinguish the actor's voice from the character – leading to Jones getting the part instead.
Jones initially refused a credit for the role, reasoning that he was part of the special effects and shouldn’t be given credit. But by the time Return of the Jedi was released, the character had become so identifiable that Jones had a change of heart and accepted a credit for the role.
13 Kurt Russell
Disney buying Lucasfilm in 2012 may have been a monumental deal but it wasn't the first time the Micky Mouse company shared a link – albeit a tedious one – with Star Wars. In the late sixties, Kurt Russell signed a ten-year contract with Walt Disney Company and reportedly became the studio's highest paid actor of the seventies.
Russell auditioned for the role of both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (footage of which is available on the internet) but withdrew from the running for either part before he learned whether he was successful or not. He chose instead to take a part in the western television show The Quest.
Russel maintains that he has no regrets over pulling out of Star Wars and why would he? The veteran actor has gone on to maintain a healthy fifty-year career in the industry – with his latest outing being a return to form in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
12 Jodie Foster
Despite only being a teenager, Jodie Foster was already an accomplished actor by the time the auditions for Star Wars came into being. Making her acting debut as the Coppertone Girl when she was only three years old, Foster made a name for herself starring in a number of Disney movies throughout the early seventies.
Before going to Carrie Fisher, George Lucas initially offered the part of Princess Leia to Foster but due to scheduling conflicts – Foster was filming Taxi Driver at the time – she had to turn the role down. Foster would have been around 14 years old when the filming for A New Hope took place, which would have meant that the character would have been approached in a completely different way. If you think Leia kissing her brother was bad, things could have been a whole lot creepier.
11 Benicio Del Toro
Not only was Benicio Del Toro once nearly in Star Wars, he is actually going to be in The Last Jedi when it hits cinemas in December this year. However, Del Toro was also originally supposed to star in a past Star Wars movie, when he was cast as Darth Maul in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Originally, Darth Maul was supposed to be a more fleshed-out character with a lot more dialogue. After George Lucas cut the majority of the lines out of the script, the Oscar winner became disillusioned and decided to pull out of the movie – being replaced by martial arts supremo Ray Parks.
While Parks did a great job as Maul – particularly in a physical sense – it’s hard to imagine that a more talkative version of Maul, as played by Benicio Del Toro, would have been anything other than awesome.
10 Tupac Shakur
This is undoubtedly one of the more surprising entries on this list but it has been reported that Tupac Shakur was considered for the role of Mace Windu. Rick Clifford – an ex-Death Row Records sound engineer – stated that before he died, Tupac had told him that he had an audition for a new Star Wars movie in which Pac was to play a Jedi. Whether or not Shakur actually attended an audition is unclear but ultimately the part ended up going to Samuel Jackson, following the untimely death of Shakur in 1996.
While some may roll their eyes at the thought of the West Coast rapper appearing in the Star Wars franchise, others will remember that Tupac – an ex stage-school student – had proven himself as a very capable actor in several movies such as Poetic Justice, Above the Rim, and Gridlock’d.
9 Sylvester Stallone
It might sound like one of those silly what-ifs thrown in for laughs but Sylvester Stallone was among the many actors who auditioned for the part of Han Solo. Before the eighties action star had laced up his gloves and introduced the world to everyone's favorite underdog – Rocky Balboa – Sly attended an audition with George Lucas himself, which didn't exactly go well.
Stallone told the story of how he auditioned for the role of Han Solo to Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, stating that George Lucas appeared to dislike him for the part straight away and wouldn’t even look him in the eye. The bad vibes prompted Stallone to put an end to the audition before it even started.
While we can all agree this was probably a bullet dodged, it is amusing to contemplate what Han Solo would have been like had the Italian Stallion got the part – "Hey yo Leia, we did it!"
8 Saoirse Ronan
When Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, the search began to find actors to inhabit the roles of the new characters. Saoirse Ronan – a star of Atonement, Hanna, and Brooklyn – was one of many considered to play Rey in The Force Awakens but ultimately lost out on the role in JJ Abrams' Star Wars film after she publicly revealed details of her audition.
The Irish actor admits she regrets divulging the information, stating in an interview with The Playlist "I just shouldn't have said anything. I just auditioned for it, like everyone else did. To pretend that you have a lightsaber in a scene is always very exciting. It would be great. But it's something that everyone's gone up for."
While a bit of an amateurish move on her part, you can’t really blame her for getting overexcited at the prospect of starring in Star Wars, can you?
7 Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne can barely put a foot wrong these days – Jupiter Ascending aside. He won the Best Actor Oscar for The Theory of Everything, an Oscar nomination for The Danish Girl, and received a positive critical reception for his performance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. However, it appears that sci-fi might be the genre that just doesn't suit the actor from London.
Redmayne revealed to Uproxx that he auditioned for Episode VII but it didn’t exactly go to plan, saying "With films that top secret, they don't give you the actual lines, so they give you a scene from Pride and Prejudice, but then they tell you you're auditioning for the baddie. If you're me, you then put some ridiculous voice on."
"That was really a hilarious moment. Because it was Nina Gold, who I have to thank a lot because she's cast me in several films and she was just sitting there and I was trying again and again with different versions of my kind of Darth Vader breathing sound voice. And after like 10 shots she's like, 'You got anything else?' I was like, 'No.'"
6 Michael B. Jordan
The star of The Wire, Fruitvale Station, and Creed (the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise) revealed in a 2013 interview, that he in contention for numerous high-profile projects including Star Wars Episode VII.
The LA native said “I mean, everybody’s going in on this project. They’re trying to figure out what they want. That’s another incredible franchise. It’s pretty crazy! We’ll see how it happens. I don’t know how I can do everything.”
Although Jordan never specified which part he was actually reading for, many speculated that it could have been for the part of Lando Calrissian's son. However more than likely, it was for the part of Finn, which was eventually played by John Boyega – and for which the British actor received critical acclaim.
5 Elizabeth Olsen
The younger sister of the Olsen twins has confessed to being a Star Wars super-fan on more than one occasion. When asked by The Sydney Morning Herald what her favorite movie franchise was, she responded with "Star Wars to me was the ultimate, I remember when they re-released it, that was the most exciting thing in the world to me. I got my brother all six when they came out in a collection, and we watched all six of them in order."
Olsen even publicly lost her mind when she spotted her childhood hero – Mark Hamill – on the red carpet of the Captain America: Civil War Premiere – bursting into tears in the process. We can only imagine the talented actor's devastation at having to turn down J.J. Abrams' invitation to audition for the part of Rey, in The Force Awakens as she already accepting the part of Scarlet Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
4 Rooney Mara
Academy Award nominee – and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star – Rooney Mara was in contention to play the lead role in the first of Disney’s Star Wars spinoff movies – Rogue On. She met with Godzilla and Rogue One director Gareth Edwards to discuss the role, before ultimately declining to submit an audition due to the amount of work she was already committed to.
On the meeting, Mara told Deadline, "I met with the director and I really liked him but then I didn't end up reading for it. I was working, and it wasn't the right thing for me, so I decided not to read for it. I was on a film. I was working six-day weeks and it was just, like, it wasn't going to be possible."
3 Al Pacino
By the time the auditions for A New Hope were taking place in 1975, Al Pacino had already made a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s finest actors. Known for playing mafia boss Michael Corleone in Francis Cappola’s Godfather films, and the titular character in the American crime drama Serpico, Pacino was riding the success of Dog Day Afternoon – which gained the American actor his fourth Academy Award nomination.
Pacino was sent the script for Star Wars but turned the picture down, confessing to MTV that the sci-fi genre was alien to him and he had trouble getting his head around the script. “I remember not understanding it when I read it. 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.”
2 Leonardo Di Caprio
In the late nineties, Leonardo DiCaprio really was "king of the world." Following some standout performances in a number of indie films – such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries – Leo was cast in the titular role of Baz Luhrmann's 1996 re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet and went on to star in one of the highest grossing movies of all time – Titanic.
DiCaprio was approached by George Lucas about playing Anakin Skywalker in the second and third installments of the Star Wars prequels but turned down the role as he felt he wasn't ready to take on a project that big, despite already being an accomplished actor at that point.
Although Star Wars fans would no doubt have lost their minds had Lucas cast an international heartthrob as Anakin Skywalker – we have to wonder just how different, and most likely better, that performance of the character could have been.
1 Michael Jackson
That’s right, the King of Pop was almost in Star Wars. Well, he really wanted to be at least - and worse of all he really wanted to play Jar Jar Binks. The Gungan character is without question the most loathed aspect of not only the Star Wars prequels but the franchise as a whole.
Jackson desperately wanted to bring the character to life using a mix of special effects and prosthetic make-up but Lucas put an end to MJ’s dream – deciding to create the character using CGI instead. Lucas hilariously didn’t have the heart – or bottle – to break the news to the pop legend. Opting instead, to take Ahmed Best – the body and voice actor for Jar Jar – backstage at a Michael Jackson concert and introduce Best to Jackson as “Jar Jar” – in the hope that he got the message.
Whether or not Jar Jar moonwalking away from the droid army would have improved the character is anyone’s guess but it couldn’t have been any worse than what we got – can it?
Would have preferred any of these potential Star Wars casting? Let us know in the comments!