Lucas may have written all of his parts and problems, but he now needed a group of actors to portray them, someone that could fulfill his vision and find a way to draw the viewer into his world. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing any of these roles but a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. No that’s a different thing. So many of these actors were on the verge of passing up or missing out on these roles, but by chance, risky decisions or against all advice, these were the actors that Lucas chose. Over the course of a few weeks he and his buddy Brian De Palma set out to populate this universe, here’s what they came up with.
Even though ‘Star Wars’ had been a very tough sell to studios, Lucas wanted to keep true to his intention of casting mostly unknown actors in the lead roles, without any major experience. He wanted the strength of ‘Star Wars’ to be within its world, its ability to draw and audience into its scenario and enchant them with its own vision, not because it contained the current Hollywood A-listers. For Luke Skywalker he needed a youthful attitude, rich with aptitude and veracity, but also naivety. Next to other actors like William Katt (that guy from ‘Carrie’, you know, that BRIAN DE PALMA MOVIE) hopefuls had to read out a line full of names not even in any syllabus or zeitgeist. When Mark Hamill entered he chose to read the line (which incidentally, never made it into the final film) candidly. This impressed Lucas enough to give him the part.
Princess Leia Organa was at one point offered to Jodie Foster, who turned it down as a role in ‘Star Wars’ would clash with her contract with Disney (the irony it too much to bear). What Lucas wanted here was an actress that could convey a confidence beyond her age, one of responsibility as the leader of the Rebel Alliance. The daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher also auditioned and she secured the role, under the proviso that she loose ten pounds for the role. It was of course Carrie Fisher.
Moving on to Han Solo is where you really have to thank whatever massive coincidence caused the role to land at Harrison Ford’s feet. Other actors that were considered for the role included Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone (at which point the name Leia would be changed to Adrian), Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin were also up for the role (presumably that was in the stage where Han also had a comedic musical number as part of his character, or ran a golf course, or was taking his family on vacation, or trying to get back to his family for Christmas, or…) There are more, Burt Reynolds and Jack Nicholson (Opening line changed to ‘Here’s Solo’), were all potential actors. Even when they had all turned it down Lucas was still reluctant to hand the role to Ford, instead he hired him to read lines to other potential actors during the casting stage. And finally, with no one else left to offer the part to, Lucas gave it to Harrison Ford, and the greatest movie hero of all time was born.
So the three main actors were cast with mostly unknown stars, and one that had a bit part in the director’s previous project. I’m sure the studios were thrilled and brimming with confidence at that news. They were of course, not thrilled, at all, nor was his friend Francis Ford Coppola (although frankly, after fighting to get Marlon Brando the role on ‘The Godfather’ he should have realized that this was the same situation). Lucas knew that he needed some gravitas for the role of Obi-Wan not just to please his own vision, but those of the studio heads as well. He initaill turned to an actor who had been in one of the largest inspirations for ‘Star Wars’, Toshiro Mifune from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Hidden Fortress’. Alec Guinness was eventually offered the role and accepted the part of the wise veteran, who was actually wiser than most in real life as Guinness asked for 2% of the royalties of the film, being one of the few who anticipated its success. Another veteran character actor was brought on in the form of Peter Cushing for Grand Moff Tarkin.
Then came David Prowse as Darth Vader. But because a tall bloke from the midlands was not deemed threatening enough (there’s something so remarkably hilarious about hearing a Yorkshire accent come out of Darth Vader) James Earl Jones provided the voice. A tall hospital worker by the name of Peter Mayhew was chosen as Han’s trusty co-pilot Chewbacca. Then for the two bickering droids you had Anthony Daniels (who agreed to do so upon seeing a design of C3-P0’s face) and Kenny Baker.
Every role had been filled with the maximum amount of complications and tribulations. But of course the rest of the shoot was bound to go smoothly…