For many fans, the Star Wars mythos has been a constant companion. Generations of fans have followed the adventures of the saga’s memorable cast of characters and the actors who brought them to life have left an indelible impression.
Since Star Wars has occupied a part of the pop culture landscape for so long, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the saga we know and love results from countless creative and technical decisions, as well as some coincidence and circumstance. Nobody can think of Luke Skywalker without thinking of Mark Hamill, but how many fans know the guy from The Greatest American Hero could have played the part instead?
Believe it or not, Star Wars casting lore gets even crazier. Find here some of the highlights.
In one of the more widely discussed alternative castings over the years, George Lucas seriously considered Leonardo DiCaprio for the role of Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Fresh off 1997’s blockbuster Titanic, Leo was, well, king of the world and just about the right age, so it makes sense that Lucas would have sought him out. After meeting with Lucas, DiCaprio declined the role, feeling that it wasn’t right for him at the time. He seems to have done more or less alright since then, though.
Another actor hot on the heels of an epic role, Al Pacino had his choice of roles in the mid-1970s after playing Michael Corleone in The Godfather. The role of Han Solo was his for the taking, he says, but he couldn’t understand the script. Apparently, while George could write the lines, not everyone could say them.
Chloe Grace Moretz
When Disney announced a fresh slate of films after purchasing the franchise from George Lucas, it seemed like the studio had half of Hollywood under consideration for one role or another. Early on, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy met with Matthew Vaughn about directing what would become The Force Awakens. Chloe Grace Moretz was his choice for Kira—the protagonist ultimately named Rey. However, Kennedy disagreed with Vaughn’s darker vision for Episode VII and wanted a broader talent search for one of the sequel trilogy’s leading roles.
Eddie Redmayne already had a Tony Award for his stage work when he auditioned for the role of Kylo Ren. In a 2016 interview with Uproxx, he says he was given lines from Pride and Prejudice and told he was auditioning for a villain. He couldn’t resist an attempt at a voice worthy of the dark side of the Force, with disastrous results. He seems to have a good sense of humor relating to the story and went on to star as the protagonist in the Fantastic Beasts series.
Saoirse Ronan couldn’t resist sharing the news about her possible Star Wars casting for a role in The Force Awakens. That seems relatable because who wouldn’t? She didn’t say which role she auditioned for, but since she mentioned getting to hold a lightsaber, many fans concluded it was Rey. Later, she regretted going public about her audition.
Today, viewers know the late Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner in the Fast & Furious franchise. In the late 1990s, however, he auditioned for the role of teenage Anakin. In a 2000 interview, he admitted to being “bummed out” about not landing the part.
In a late 2016 podcast interview, Michael Fassbender said he had spoken with J.J. Abrams about a role in The Force Awakens. He suggested that scheduling kept him from joining the cast. Although he didn’t mention which role he discussed with the director, rumors included Kylo Ren and General Hux.
Elizabeth Olsen, known for her role as the Scarlet Witch in Wandavision and other Marvel Cinematic Universe titles, was another actor widely believed to be in the running for a role in the Sequel Trilogy. She’s not shy about her love of Star Wars, citing it as her favorite franchise, but her Marvel obligations prevented her from auditioning for Rey. Then again, she’s also suggested that perhaps playing the hero isn’t for her.
Michael B. Jordan
After seeing Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Black Panther, it might be difficult to picture him bombing an audition. In a 2021 appearance on a podcast promoting another film, Jordan said his audition for Finn might have been his “worst to date.” Not unlike Eddie Redmayne, he (and, for that matter, Tom Holland) found the audition script challenging to work with.
A veteran of Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad, Jesse Plemons also read for a part in The Force Awakens. At the time, there were reports he would meet with J.J. Abrams, which he later said was enough for people to start prematurely congratulating him. He never said which role it was for, but some fan theories speculated that it was General Hux.
With roles in Crimson Tide and I Know What You Did Last Summer, Ryan Phillipe could have added Anakin to his resume. In 2008, he told MTV News that he made it as far as meeting with George Lucas and reading with Natalie Portman. He speculates that his age cost him the role since he was older than Portman. Then again, he’s about the same age as DiCaprio, so maybe George just liked Leo better.
An actor since age 12 and one of Disney’s top stars by the early 1970s (including the lead role in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes),Kurt Russell wanted to transition to more adult work. He auditioned for the roles of both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. After not hearing back for a while and needing work, he took a role on The Quest, a Western series.
Charles Martin Smith
Charles Martin Smith, who had already worked with George Lucas on American Graffiti, auditioned for Luke Skywalker. However, at the time, George Lucas hesitated to hire actors from previous projects. Fortunately, Lucas decided to make an exception for Harrison Ford. Twice.
In the pantheon of legendary voice performances, James Earl Jones, as the voice of Darth Vader, must rank near the top. Yet, as Jones said in a 2011 interview with the BBC, someone else almost voiced the Sith lord. According to Jones, George Lucas initially considered Orson Welles for the role. However, Lucas worried that audiences would too readily recognize the voice and instead cast the bombardier from Dr. Strangelove.
William Katt was a relatively unknown actor when he auditioned for Luke Skywalker in a screen test with Kurt Russell. He didn’t get the role, but he caught Brian De Palma's eye and landed a part in Carrie before going on to star in The Greatest American Hero television series.
Already an actor for a decade (and trained dancer), Christopher Walken auditioned for the role of Han Solo (and if it sounds like a lot of people were up for that role, Walken says about 500 actors auditioned!). He didn’t get the part and said it’s probably just as well since he thinks he’d have been awful. Maybe he's right, but some of Han's lines might have sounded pretty entertaining in his unique delivery.
Even the role of Princess Leia, identified so closely with Carrie Fisher, was initially up for grabs. Cindy Williams, who had already appeared in American Graffiti and had earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the British Academy for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for her work in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, auditioned for the part. Like Charles Martin Smith, her established career and previous experience with George Lucas might be why she didn’t land the role. Of course, she would soon appear in Happy Days as Shirley Feeney, an appearance that launched the six-year run of Laverne & Shirley, which premiered in 1976.
Right after finishing Rocky, Sylvester Stallone became one of the many actors who auditioned for the part of Han Solo. As he relates the experience, George Lucas and Gary Kurtz knew before he made it very far that he wasn’t what they had in mind. He bears them no ill will and admits that “guys in space don’t have this kind of face.”
At one point, Carrie Fisher believed she had lost the role of Leia to Jodie Foster. Although even younger than Fisher, she had already appeared in Taxi Driver and—perhaps making an exception to his preference for unknown talent—reportedly ranked atop George Lucas’s casting choices at one point. However, Foster was already making two back-to-back films. She doesn’t regret her choice, noting that it would have made for a very different career.
Not everyone has an equanimous attitude about not pursuing a part in the Star Wars universe. Despite Burt Reynolds having already appeared in several films by then, including 1972’s Deliverance and 1974’s The Longest Yard, George Lucas reportedly offered him the role. Reynolds said the role didn’t seem to fit him then, but later, he wished he’d taken it. Then again, if he had, would he still have been able to play the legendary Bandit?
It’s hard to think of someone other than Samuel L. Jackson playing Mace Windu, but Tupac Shakur reportedly auditioned for the part. In a 2014 interview, Death Row Records engineer Rick Clifford discussed his time working with Shakur, including the late rapper’s prospective movie roles. In one of them, he was going to read for George Lucas. “They wanted me to be a Jedi.” Sadly, he wouldn't get the chance: The Phantom Menace began shooting in 1997, less than a year after Shakur’s murder.
By now, cinephiles know about Akira Kurosawa’s influence (especially 1958’s The Hidden Fortress) on George Lucas and Star Wars. At one point, Lucas even wanted Toshiro Mifune, the star of many of Kurosawa’s films, to play the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi. According to his daughter, Mika, however, Mifune worried the film would cheapen the samurai image.
Jar Jar Binks might be George Lucas’s favorite character, but it’s safe to say that’s not a universal opinion. Even though Ahmed Best’s performance broke ground in filmmaking technology, the character drew a lot of backlash. In a 2015 interview, Best said that Michael Jackson had wanted the role but envisioned wearing makeup and prosthetics instead of Lucas’s plan to use motion capture. Best also notes that Jackson would likely have been “bigger than the movie,” something he suspects Lucas would have wanted to avoid. Talk about the most bonkers Star Wars casting ever.
After a process she called both long and arduous, Jessica Henwick lost out on the role of Rey to Daisy Ridley. After so much time and effort, she told The Hollywood Reporter that she “was a mess at the end of those six months.” Nevertheless, J.J. Abrams found a way to include her in the film, creating a new role for her as an X-Wing pilot. She described filming her scenes in a full-motion rig as “an incredible journey,” which seems an understatement.
Award-winning actor Aaron Paul, best known as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, screentested for the role of Kylo Ren. Later, when rumors ran wild about Star Wars spin-off films, inside info linked him to the role of young Han Solo. While that never panned out, Paul played the role of Luke Skywalker in a one-night-only live reading of The Empire Strikes Back.
Having made an impression as Agent Smith in the original trilogy of The Matrix franchise and Red Skull in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Hugo Weaving certainly had the credentials to play a Star Wars villain. In early 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that, according to two sources, Weaving had met with J.J. Abrams to play “an Imperial commander.” A 2015 Yahoo article concluded this meant General Hux, while other speculation asserted he would have played Kylo Ren. In that line of thinking, as the story evolved and writers established the main antagonist as the son of Han and Leia, the role required a younger actor.
Very early in pre-production for The Force Awakens, insiders claimed that Jennifer Lawrence ranked among one of the early favorites for a starring role in the new trilogy. Having won an Academy Award for Silver Linings Playbook and set a 2015 Guinness World Record for highest-grossing action movie heroine as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games franchise, Lawrence seemed a natural choice. However, much like George Lucas before him, J.J. Abrams ultimately decided against auditioning her in favor of less well-known talent.
Shailene Woodley, another actress that rumor mills connected with the role of Rey, had yet to achieve Jennifer Lawrence's level of fame. She starred in the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager at the time. She later went on to roles in The Fault in Our Stars, Big Little Lies, and The Divergent Series. If anyone from Lucasfilm ever contacted Woodley about a prominent role in Star Wars, let alone auditioned her, she hasn’t let on so far. In a 2015 interview promoting The Divergent Series: Insurgent, she called herself “a total geek” for the original Star Wars trilogy and expressed excitement for the sequels. In a 2020 interview with Conan O’Brien, she (understandably) said she wouldn’t turn down a lead role in Star Wars but also admitted she’d have fun being a Stormtrooper.