Every once in a while here at Screen Rant, we like to hop into the ol’ wayback machine and wonder what would happen if a popular movie or franchise were cast at a different time in history. This time we’re going to pose this question to 1976 George Lucas, who in real life was casting and shooting the original Star Wars: A New Hope: What if you were casting The Force Awakens instead?
This is just a fantasy exercise. There are definitely elements of The Force Awakens that would be problematic if it were the first Star Wars movie. And if it actually was the seventh movie in the series, it’s hard to imagine what A New Hope would’ve looked like if it had come out 38 years before 1976, which would’ve made it more a contemporary of The Wizard of Oz. C-3P0 (Tin Man) and Chewbacca (Cowardly Lion) might've been pretty good fits there, by the way.
Get ready to imagine some contemporary veteran actors in their youth, and some Golden Age of Hollywood stars wielding lightsabers, as we ponder: What if The Force Awakens Had Been Cast in the 70s?
12 AL PACINO AS POE DAMERON
We have no shame about making this an all-star dream cast. Come on, tell us how a 36-year-old Al Pacino would not be a perfect fit for the cooler-than-cool hotshot pilot, Poe Dameron. Dare we say, he’d be even better than Oscar Isaac, who was pretty awesome in his own right in the actual The Force Awakens? Imagine Pacino, who had already turned in some of the most immortal roles of his career in The Godfather, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, throwing his trademark bombast into Poe, telling Finn, “I can fly anything,” and coolly asking a threatening Kylo Ren, “So who talks first? I talk first? You talk first?"
We did have a couple of runners-up for Poe, of course. Burt Reynolds would’ve done a great job in his own unique way. Mid-70s Reynolds was all about that sneaky-smooth coolness, with a hint of trouble. He was a spry 40 in ‘76, and still a year away from his iconic turn in Smokey and the Bandit. A relatively unknown Erik Estrada, who was close to starring in CHiPs, could’ve brought something interesting to Poe as well.
11 DIAHANN CARROLL AS MAZ KANATA
Of course, we know that in the actual 2015 The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata was entirely a motion capture performance played by Lupita Nyong’o, who looks nothing like the quirky and wise little 1,000-year-old alien. Obviously, that technology didn’t exist in 1976, so we’re going to have to go with practical effects here. George Lucas could’ve gone the route he took with Yoda a few years later and tabbed Frank Oz to voice a puppet created by Jim Henson’s company.
But we’re going to go with a real-life woman with some fancy makeup and costuming: Diahann Carroll. She was not an old woman at the time, in her early 40s, but was a well-known and respected singer and actress. She has a gentle and wise sounding voice that would fit the part. And, hey, if she’d appeared in a 1976 version of The Force Awakens, at least her bizarre appearance in the hilariously baffling 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special would make some infinitesimal amount of sense.
10 FRED GWYNNE AS CHEWBACCA
It would be an insult to Peter Mayhew, who has filled out the Chewbacca suit from the beginning, to say that it doesn’t matter that much who would play Chewie in this mid-'70s The Force Awakens. You do have to have someone who can make that massive pile of fur believable and lovable and even fearsome. And they have to be unusually tall.
What they don’t have to be is a recognizable face. But it would be no fun for anyone if we threw some anonymous 6’9” stuntman in here for the role, would it? Or even Mayhew himself, at the same time he was cast in real life. So we’re tapping good ole Herman Munster, Fred Gwynne, for this role. Thanks to his most famous role, we know he’s got the physicality for the part and, at 6’5”, the height is there, too. If producers wanted to go a bit bigger physically, 7'2" Richard Kiel (best known as the Bond villain, Jaws, and for playing Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore) would have been fun as well.
9 KIRK DOUGLAS AS HAN SOLO
But we think Kirk Douglas would be about as perfect a fit as you’re going to get. He was very much the Harrison Ford of his time, and at this point would’ve been an even 60. His roles in 50s cowboy movies like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral prepared him perfectly for the gun-slinging scoundrel. Douglas was overflowing with the leadership and charisma necessary for the part, and even had some sci-fi experience in films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Saturn 3, which was released near the same time, in 1980.
8 PAM GRIER AS CAPTAIN PHASMA
Like with Chewbacca, we have the issue with Captain Phasma that we never actually see her face. How do we really know Gwendoline Christie was inside that sweet chrome Stormtrooper armor? At least with Phasma you have the voice, though. And it’s entirely possible that she’ll play a bigger and more useful role in upcoming films.
So for our 1976 version of The Force Awakens, we’d need an actress of that era who can handle some action and authority and who is at the very least not petite. There was only ever one possibility in our minds: Pam Grier. Though not Christie tall (Christie is 6’3”, Grier is 5’8”), the Jackie Brown star had the action pedigree, having already turned in her iconic, vengeful role in Foxy Brown in ‘74. She could bust people up like no other, and hopefully she’d at least get to show off those skills in Episode VIII. But at the very least, she could deliver lines to strike fear into her troopers and foes alike. A largely unknown Sigourney Weaver (5’11”) would be our backup.
7 SAMUEL L. JACKSON AS FINN
Here’s an interesting question to ponder: What if Samuel L. Jackson broke out in this movie, playing Finn, rather than waiting until the 90s to become a star with Pulp Fiction? We know that he got the role of Mace Windu in the prequels because he was very vocal about wanting to be in a Star Wars movie, so he was certainly attracted to that world. There’s no doubt he would’ve been a fantastic Finn, playing five years younger than his actual age at the time, but we’d be taking a chance on an actor who didn’t yet have any film credits worth writing home about.
Of course, with Jackson, you’d also be faced with the issue of having to cast a different actor as Mace Windu if The Phantom Menace were still released in 1999. If you could see into the future and wanted to avoid that, you might give Carl Weathers a shot, fresh off the set of the first Rocky, though he'd have been stretching it a bit in the age department.
6 JACK PALANCE AS SUPREME LEADER SNOKE
Like Maz Kanata, Supreme Leader Snoke was all motion capture, performed by Andy Serkis. Lacking that technology in 1976, we’d have to put an actor in makeup. Or would we? If we hired Jack Palance to play the mysterious leader of the First Order, maybe he wouldn’t even need extensive makeup at all. Palance looked sinister all by himself. And he had a voice that could send shivers up your spine with little more than a yawn.
We wouldn’t even necessarily have to make him look huge, although the technology surely existed. He could have appeared in the same style hologram that Leia appeared in in A New Hope, but where Leia was made to look small projected out of R2-D2, Palance as Snoke could’ve been made to look as enormous as he was when audiences first glimpsed him last winter.
5 PAUL NEWMAN AS LUKE SKYWALKER
This is a tough casting call, because in reality we have the context of Luke Skywalker going from fresh-faced 19-year-old to wizened and world-weary Jedi in The Force Awakens. Without that context, you just have the wizened and world-weary Jedi. Paul Newman definitely had a fresh face in his youth, but even then he looked less innocent and more confident than Mark Hamill. Still, we think if you took a grey-haired Newman, at 51 in ‘76 (Luke was 53 in the film) and got him to grow a beard, he could pull off the role with ease.
But, would the veteran superstar take a non-speaking role with mere seconds of screen time? It would certainly be a dramatic reveal right at the end of the movie for audiences with no expectations of who Luke was. And folks would eagerly anticipate a sequel with Newman playing a key role. Granted, back then, audiences weren’t conditioned to expect sequels, but we’re playing in a fantasy world here and this movie’s ending wouldn’t work at all if there was no expectation (or knowledge, as we had in reality) of a sequel. All that being said, what about Sir Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan himself, as an older Luke?
4 LAUREN BACALL AS LEIA
Carrie Fisher didn’t have quite as much to do in The Force Awakens as she did in the original trilogy, but there were still signs of the Leia we knew and loved in there. She was caring, she was brave, she was smart, and she even had a little of her trademark snark. Not many actresses can bring all of that to the table.
But Lauren Bacall may have been able to do it even better. She often burst with all of those qualities — as one of the most iconic and mesmerizing actresses ever to hit the silver screen — at her peak in the 40s and 50s. Leia is 53 in the movie, and Bacall would’ve been 52, so she would’ve been ideal; that is, if we could coax her into it, since she didn’t work much in the ‘70s. If she refused, we’d try Elaine Stritch or even Angela Lansbury.
3 CHRISTOPHER WALKEN AS GENERAL HUX
Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson was a fantastically intense General Hux in our real-world The Force Awakens. But you know who else is a fantastically intense actor? Christopher Walken, of course. Seriously, how has Christopher Walken never played an Imperial or First Order officer in a Star Wars movie? He was built to wear the severe military duds of these officers.
Just imagine the fiery intensity in his eyes as he delivered that explosively maniacal speech to the troops on Starkiller Base, bellowing, “Today is the end of the Republic!” Okay, Walken’s accent is so distinct it would be difficult to imagine him doing the typical British accent of a Star Wars baddie, but there’s no denying that he can do menacing like no other, British accent or not. Gene Hackman would be our exceedingly capable backup.
2 JEREMY IRONS AS KYLO REN
At the age of 28 in 1976, Jeremy Irons was still primarily working at home on British productions. Which is actually perfect, because Star Wars movies are always at least partly shot in the U.K. He's played some truly fascinating villains over the years, cerebral but quietly unhinged. There’s something in his dark, beady eyes that's always threatening to explode if provoked too far – and we all know it doesn’t take too much for Kylo Ren to explode into a childishly destructive tirade.
We do have a backup plan here, though. Are you ready? John Travolta. Think about it: The tall, shaggy-haired breakout star of a TV comedy playing an impetuous, somewhat conflicted villain in The Force Awakens. That was Adam Driver, and it could’ve been Travolta, too, who was starring in Welcome Back, Kotter at the time.
1 CYBILL SHEPHERD AS REY
Obviously, the casting of Rey is integral to the whole film – so much of the plot revolves around her. Daisy Ridley came into this film largely unknown and knocked it out of the park. So it should come as no surprise that this one was tough for us, largely because of Rey’s age, which was 19 in the film. We thought for a second about Jodie Foster. At 19, she would’ve killed this role. But, alas, in 1976 she was just 14 and could not pass for five years older. We even thought about Susan Sarandon, who also would’ve crushed it even in her early 20s, but she was 30 at the time.
So we’re going with 26-year-old Cybill Shepherd. She was already known for her roles in The Last Picture Show and The Heartbreak Kid, as well as for her modelling career. She received critical acclaim for those roles, even a Golden Globe nomination for The Last Picture Show, her first film. We know, though, that this is a risky choice. Was she too well known? Could she pull off the action? Again, this was a tough one, but we're sticking to it.
What did you think of our selections? Think you could do better? Leave your personal picks in the comments section.