Star Wars Was Harrison Ford's First Experience With Anything Science Fiction

Between "Blade Runner" and the "Star Wars" saga, Harrison Ford may very well be one of the first actors you think of when someone talks about science fiction films. It's hard to believe now, but Ford actually wasn't a sci-fi fan in his early acting days. You may have heard that Ford started in summer stock theater then moved to Los Angeles to become a contract actor for a while at Columbia Pictures, all while working a day job as a carpenter. In fact, he was doing that even after his first film with George Lucas, "American Graffiti."

In a Rolling Stone interview from 1980, back when "Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back" was released in theaters, Ford spoke about his start. Over 40 years later, Ford is starring in the TV series "1923" with Helen Mirren and "Shrinking" with Jason Segel, with "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" set to come out this June. But back before "Star Wars," he was struggling to support himself, and his then-wife and child. 

In the interview, Ford explained, "I had no experience with science fiction beforehand. And I didn't go to those 'Buck Rogers matinees,' either. In fact, I have never been much of a film fan." Odd as that is to read, he had other things on his mind back then.

'They sent me to get my hair pompadoured like Elvis'

Ford told Rolling Stone that after working in summer stock in Wisconsin and flunking out of college right before he graduated, he first considered being an actor for a living. He said he flipped a coin to decide between New York and Los Angeles as destinations for his new career, then flipped it again so he could go to L.A. because "I wasn't gonna starve and freeze." Solid reasoning right there.

He got a contract with Columbia Pictures, but he said they were paying very little and were trying "to re-create stars the way it had been done in the '50s. They sent me to get my hair pompadoured like Elvis Presley, all that s*** for $150 a week." He was let go a year and a half into his seven-year contract — not that this stopped him from performing. He just began working as a carpenter to support his family, building his own home, and even making a recording studio for Sergio Mendes. At the same time, he did films like "The Conversation" with Francis Ford Coppola and the TV movie "The Court Martial of Lt. Calley." 

As I mentioned, he continued with carpentry, even after working with George Lucas in "American Graffiti." Ford told an audience at a 2014 Cinequest panel that he turned down the first "American Graffiti" salary offer because building things paid better. Oddly enough, the very non-sci-fi work in carpentry was part of his getting the role of Han Solo. 

Making history with George Lucas

It's not quite the rumor you might have heard, the one where he was working on a carpentry project when Lucas "discovered" him. He told Cinequest that he already knew Lucas didn't want to use "American Graffiti" actors (a project he had to audition for) in "Star Wars." However, he said he was actually "installing an elaborate portico entrance to Coppola's offices at Goldwyn Studios" (at night so it wouldn't confuse people who knew him as an actor) when Lucas popped in to do auditions for "Star Wars." He asked if Ford would read with the other actors who were trying to get parts. He said: 

"No indication that I might be considered for a part in the film, but would I sit with all of the other candidates and read the few scenes that anybody could see since they were closely guarding the full script. Everybody got a couple of pages of dialogue, and I was meant to explain to them what the movie was about and to read with them. I read with about 300 actors. Weeks or months later, they asked me if I wanted to play Han Solo."

Obviously, that was a turning point for Ford, and the rest is history. One final note from the 1980 Rolling Stone interview, where he was talking about "The Empire Strikes Back." Ford said the film "is the first time I've ever seen anything I've done that I'm happy with." I'd call that a win for sci-fi. 

All the "Star Wars" films are currently streaming on Disney+. "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" will hit theaters on June 30, 2023.