Harrison Ford Was Initially Used To Find A Han Solo For Star Wars, But Not To Play Him

Most actors understand the harsh reality that it can be difficult to break typecasting once they become known. That issue doesn't just crop up with the general public and casting directors either — sometimes it's the filmmakers an actor has already worked with who have a hard time seeing them as anything but the role they've played previously.

That's exactly the issue Harrison Ford was facing when his "American Graffiti" director, George Lucas, began casting a weird space fantasy movie called "Star Wars." Although Ford had appeared in Lucas' previous movie and had built a respectable enough resumé by 1975, appearing in films and television since the late '60s, he was neither a star nor a proven leading man at the time.

This is likely why Lucas initially employed Ford as a reader during the "Star Wars" auditions, using him to play various roles with the other actors as they auditioned. Fortunately for Ford, "Star Wars," and cinema history, the actor proved himself to be indispensable for the part of Han Solo, demonstrating once again that typecasting is a thing made to be broken.

'There was just no question about who was the best'

Although Harrison Ford in the role of Han Solo is such a perfect marriage of actor and character that it seems like a no-brainer decision to cast him in hindsight, it makes sense why Lucas was reluctant to consider the actor for "Star Wars" given his performance as Bob Falfa in "American Graffiti." Although flashes of Ford's trademark charm and intensity can be seen in the character (and, of course, Ford's natural rugged handsomeness is very much on display), Falfa is ultimately an antagonistic and a somewhat pathetic character, a local bully of a drag racer whose arrogance outpaces his skill.

When it came time for Lucas to start casting "Star Wars," he (in)famously pooled resources with pal Brian De Palma, who began casting his adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie" during the same sessions. These auditions were haphazard enough that even Mark Hamill, the future Luke Skywalker, was confused as to which movie he was actually auditioning for.

Still, Lucas provided some structure by using Ford as "a foil" (as the director put it in a vintage interview) for the other actors auditioning for Luke to read against. Since many of Luke's audition scenes were shared with the Han Solo character, Ford was most often reading the part of Solo for the various Lukes, and as Lucas recalled, this landed the actor the part:

"And I shot the screen tests, and y'know, when you watch the screen tests of him playing the role and the other actors who were up for the role playing the role, there was just no question about who was the best. And, y'know, so I hired him for 'Star Wars.'"

Lucas almost didn't cast Ford in another iconic role

Harrison Ford made Han Solo into a legendary character, one that's still used as a reference point for a rogue-ish hero to this day. Ironically, the success Ford and George Lucas found working together became yet another deterrent for the latter, leading to the filmmaker being reluctant to subsequently cast Ford in a project he had cooked up with director Steven Spielberg: "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In Empire's oral history on the making of "Raiders," Lucas elaborated on his thought process:

"I was wary of Harrison and I becoming like Scorsese and De Niro. I thought, 'Let's create a new icon.'"

Yet Lucas and Spielberg's original choice to play Indiana Jones, Tom Selleck, was thwarted thanks to Selleck's commitment to appearing in the TV series "Magnum P.I." When this occurred, Spielberg convinced Lucas to go with Ford. As Lucas recalled:

"Steven said, 'There's always Harrison.' I doubted he'd go for a three-picture deal — he didn't want to on 'Star Wars.' And we had three pictures. Steven said to try anyway. I went to Harrison and he read the script and said, 'Yeah, I'll do a three-picture deal. I'd love to.'"

While Ford was rather shockingly not the first choice for either Han Solo or Indiana Jones, his performances as both characters were so indelible that he's been associated with them ever since. Ford's casting history is proof positive that talent and ability are only part of the equation — sometimes it's all about being in the right place at the right time.