Star Wars is arguably the biggest media franchise in cinematic history, spanning across film, television, and video games, as well as merchandise and theme parks, and it’s also one of the only huge franchises to be an original production (read: not based on any pre-established work).
George Lucas’ original 1977 Star Wars film (later subtitled Episode IV – A New Hope) launched an empire that continues to grow to this day, and each new installment further expands the overarching narrative whole introducing audiences to new elements they haven’t seen before.
So far, hundreds, if not thousands, of actors and actresses have brought new Star Wars chapters to the big and small screens, and there are plenty more movies and TV shows on the way, so hundreds more may soon find themselves traveling to the distant galax. But not actor our there actually wants to appear in a Star Wars movie, as strange as that sounds.
Although millions of people around the world would give anything to appear in a Star Wars movie, even in a cameo role, many actors and actresses have actually turned down the opportunity to take up residence in a galaxy far, far away.
Here are 15 Actors You Didn’t Know Turned Down Star Wars Roles.
15. Al Pacino (Han Solo)
Now, it seems difficult to imagine someone like Al Pacino in the role of Han Solo, but in the ’70s, every major Hollywood studio wanted the actor in their movies, and Lucasfilm was no different.
George Lucas offered Han Solo to Pacino, and The Godfather actor turned down the part. He had nothing against the smuggler or the film; he just had too much on his plate at the time, too many projects to choose from, and Star Wars wasn’t high on his list.
Pacino told MTV News: “It was at that time in my career where I was offered everything. 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 added: “I remember not understanding it when I read it. Another missed opportunity.”
14. Benicio del Toro (Darth Maul)
Casting Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was an arduous process for all the producers involved, especially since every actor and actress wanted in on the new Star Wars trilogy, including Benicio del Toro.
The actor was reportedly set to star in The Phantom Menace as the Sith apprentice, Darth Maul, but he ended up exiting the project shortly after landing the gig when most of his lines were cut and his screen-time reduced. Ray Park ended up joining the production as Maul, with Peter Serafinowicz providing the character’s voice.
While del Toro didn’t end up starring in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy, he did get another chance at a galactic adventure by appearing in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.
13. Leonardo DiCaprio (Anakin)
Leonardo DiCaprio became the king of the world after James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic. Major studios were looking to cast the actor in their biggest movies, and Lucasfilm was no exception.
George Lucas approached DiCaprio for the role of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Although he met with Lucas to discuss the role, DiCaprio has said that he never screen-tested for the role and ultimately passed on it because he felt he wasn’t ready for that type of role at the time.
What’s interesting, DiCaprio avoided any major blockbuster film around that time. He didn’t just turn down a role in Star Wars, he rejected roles for both Robin in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin and Spider-Man in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
12. Rooney Mara (Jyn Erso)
Rooney Mara got her breakout role in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, playing the titular character, Lisbeth Salander. Her transformation and performance as Salander were remarkable enough to garner her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Ever since then, she’s been approached for numerous roles, ranging anywhere from indie films to blockbuster productions – but she doesn’t take everything that comes her way.
Mara met with director Gareth Edwards for a role in Rogue One, presumably for Jyn Erso, but she ended up turning down the part. She 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.”
11. Gary Oldman (General Grievous)
George Lucas has always had issues with unions and guilds in Hollywood, and so when he approached Gary Oldman for the role of General Grievous in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the actor turned down the part because he couldn’t do what Lucas had done years before.
What’s interesting about Oldman’s case is that he didn’t have any scheduling conflicts and he actually wanted the part. Unfortunately, as Oldman’s representative pointed out to IGN, Revenge of the Sith was “being made as a non-SAG (Screen Actor’s 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.”
10. Ryan Phillippe (Anakin)
George Lucas looked to many young, up-and-coming actors in the ’90s and early ’00s to play the major roles in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. When Lucas and the other producers started casting for Anakin Skywalker, virtually every white male actor between the ages of 13 and 30 was considered for the role, including Ryan Phillippe. Of course, the part eventually went to Hayden Christensen, who played the Jedi turned Dark Lord of the Sith in Episodes II and III.
It’s unclear if Phillippe actually turned down the role or was passed over, but he recalled being the frontrunner for the part and said the reason things didn’t work out was because he may have been too old to play Anakin Skywalker opposite Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala.
9. Toshirô Mifune (Obi-Wan)
George Lucas based the Jedi upon the samurai – mainly their culture and fighting styles. So, when the time came to cast A New Hope‘s only Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the filmmaker turned to Toshirô Mifune. The Japanese actor had appeared in several Akira Kurosawa films, mostly as a samurai, and Lucas wanted Mifune to bring his skills to a galaxy far, far away. Mifune, however, didn’t feel the same way about the Jedi as Lucas did, and he turned down the part.
Mifune’s daughter, Mika Mifune, told THR in 2015 that the acclaimed actor refused the role because “he was concerned about how the film would look and that it would cheapen the image of [the] samurai.” Mifune perspective is definitely understandable, especially long before Star Wars became a global phenomenon.
8. Sylvester Stallone (Han Solo)
Sylvester Stallone appeared in a handful of small films early in his career, prior to hitting the big time with his 1976 movie, Rocky, which he wrote and starred in and was subsequently nominated for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, all in addition to winning Best Picture. Needless to say, Stallone was on top of the world, and the film catapulted him into stardom. But one year before the film hit theaters, Stallone was auditioning for numerous roles, including Han Solo.
Stallone recounted his Han Solo audition on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, admitting to it not going well. Instead of waiting for what he believed was an inevitable rejection, Stallone made the decision for George Lucas and the producers and took himself out of the running. He didn’t believe someone like him belongs in space… or, at least, a space movie.
7. Jim Henson (Yoda)
Jim Henson is an industry icon who made a name for himself by creating the Muppets in the ’50s. When his company was working on The Muppet Movie in 1978, Lucasfilm was in pre-production on The Empire Strikes Back across the street. The two production companies collaborated with each other on their respective films, with Lucasfilm seeking Henson’s expertise on creating Yoda using practical effects.
George Lucas ended up offering Henson the Jedi Master’s role Episode V, but since the master puppeteer couldn’t fit the movie into his schedule, he recommended Lucas approach his fellow collaborator, Frank Oz. Oz accepted the part and is now known for playing the green Jedi in the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies, as well as in The Force Awakens.
6. Burt Reynolds (Han Solo)
Like many prolific actors, Burt Reynolds has turned down his fair share of major roles over the years, including Han Solo. The actor was originally offered the part, but he told Good Morning America that he passed over the project due to a scheduling conflict, but also said that he wasn’t too busy that he couldn’t have found a way to take the captain’s seat on the Millennium Falcon.
Reynolds also admitted that, at the time, he accepted roles based on their shooting locations, and potentially spending months filming in remote regions such as Tunisia didn’t jive with him, so he turned down the job. As it turns out, Reynolds had another film release mere days after Star Wars hit theaters that still went on to be a critical and commercial success: Smokey and the Bandit, so it seems everything worked out in the end.
5. Christopher Lee (Grand Moff Tarkin)
Christopher Lee is as iconic of an actor as anyone can be, appearing in films such as Dracula to Lord of the Rings, and even Star Wars.
The actor appeared in so many movies each year in the ’70s and ’80s that it seemed he said yes to every project that was tossed his way… except for Star Wars. Lee reportedly turned down the part of Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope. Though, of course, he eventually did join the Star Wars franchise by appearing as the Sith Lord Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Considering that his prolific career as an actor, it doesn’t seem Lee missed out on anything by turning down Grand Moff Tarkin in the first place. Plus, it allowed audiences a chance to see yet another memorable Peter Cushing performance on-screen.
4. Lindsay Anderson (Emperor)
The Emperor first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back before making a full appearance in Return of the Jedi, and then was featured throughout the prequel trilogy as Chancellor Palpatine. Although many actors played the character throughout the saga, Ian McDiarmid is primarily known for portraying the evil villain, which he’s done four times on-screen (and an extra time via the 2004 DVD releases). The thing is, Chariots of Fire actor Lindsay Anderson was originally supposed to play the character in Return of the Jedi, but he turned down George Lucas’ offer due to scheduling conflicts.
Anderson mentions in The Making of Star Wars Return of the Jedi: The Definitive Story: “Unfortunately, I couldn’t it because we’ll still be working on Britannia Hospital,” a 1982 film which he directed.
3. Hugh Quarshie (Captain Panaka)
Hugh Quarshie played Captain Panaka in The Phantom Menace, but he refused to return for the sequel, Attack of the Clones, because he wasn’t allowed to read the script, and he realized he wasn’t of much value to the producers.
Quarshie told Manchester Evening News in 2010: “I regret that I wasn’t in Attack Of The Clones, not because they didn’t ask me to be in it – they did. … They were asking me to do it blind, without seeing a script. I think if you’re going to ask an actor to do that, you should make it worth his while, and they weren’t prepared to do that. It wouldn’t have taken very much to persuade me. A call from a producer would have been sufficient. But one realizes that you’re as important in the great scheme of things to them as, I imagine, a grape picker is to a vineyard owner.”
2. Kurt Russell (Han Solo)
Kurt Russell is another well-known actor who once auditioned for the role of Han Solo. In fact, he auditioned for Luke Skywalker, too, but before he could hear back from the producers, he accepted a part in The Quest TV series, and, like Sylvester Stallone, walked away from the role.
While promoting The Hateful Eight (around the time The Force Awakens released), Russell told Vanity Fair that he doesn’t have any regrets from passing on Han Solo: “As an actor, you can’t dwell on those things or you’ll go crazy. Things happen for a reason and I’m happy how things turned out in my career. My life and career may have been different, maybe for better or for worse, if I did Star Wars, but you can’t focus on it. You move on.”
1. Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles)
Denis Lawson played Rebel starfighter pilot Wedge Antilles throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, and the character has since become an iconic franchise character, appearing in various media forms, some portrayed by Lawson and some not.
When the time came to get the gang back together for J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm made sure to get Lawson on the line to see if he would be interested in reprising his role one more time. Unfortunately, Wedge wasn’t part of the Resistance’s new war with the First Order.
Lawson ultimately chose not to return for the long-awaited sequel, telling audiences during a Q&A session for his 2013 film, The Machine, that appearing in The Force Awakens would’ve been boring – a notion that may baffle longtime Star Wars fans… and pretty much any moviegoer.
Do you think any of these actors would’ve have been better in these Star Wars roles? Let us know what you think!
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