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Actors who were almost cast in Star Wars

The chemistry between the actors in Star Wars feels perfect, even after many decades of analyzing the sci-fi film franchise. But the famous cast didn't come together easily. George Lucas considered dozens of different actors for the iconic characters, and many more auditioned, some of whom would have created a very different universe. Who else but Mark Hamill could have played Luke Skywalker? If history played out a little differently, it might have been that dude who played The Greatest American Hero. Which other famous actors narrowly missed appearing in Star Wars?

Michael Jackson as Jar Jar Binks

Whether you like him or not (we're guessing not), Jar Jar Binks is one of the most infamous Star Wars characters ever. As The Phantom Menace's "comedic relief," Jar Jar came to represent everything that's wrong with the Star Wars prequels, including Lucas' overreliance on CGI and tone-deaf dialogue.

That's made Jar Jar Binks a fairly controversial character, but it could've been even worse. While The Phantom Menace was filming in London, Lucas took Ahmed Best (who stood in for Jar Jar on set and provided his, ahem, unique voice), Natalie Portman, and Lucas' two children to a Michael Jackson concert. After introducing Best to Jackson as "Jar Jar," Lucas explained that Jackson had been interested in playing the hapless Gungan but had insisted on using a mix of special effects and prosthetic make-up to create the character. Lucas wanted to create a fully computer-generated character, however, so he cast Best in the role instead.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Anakin Skywalker

In the early '90s, a teenage Leonardo DiCaprio burst onto the indie scene with hard-hitting dramas like This Boy's Life, Basketball Diaries, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? In 1996, he became an international heartthrob as the lead in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. In 1997, DiCaprio headlined the highest-grossing movie of all time to that point, Titanic. By the time Attack of the Clones started filming in 2000, it's safe to say that DiCaprio really was the king of the world — or Hollywood, at least.

DiCaprio met with George Lucas about playing Anakin Skywalker in the second and third Star Wars prequels, but ultimately turned down the role because, despite his superstar status, he didn't feel ready for the kind of attention that Star Wars would bring. (He also wasn't interested in playing Robin in Batman Forever or Peter Parker in Spider-Man for the same reason).

DiCaprio's refusal to participate in Clones marks the second time that he narrowly missed co-starring with Attack of the Clones actress Natalie Portman. Portman was originally cast as Juliet in Baz Lurhmann's epic romance but dropped out because she was so young that her scenes with DiCaprio were unintentionally creepy.

Christian Bale as Anakin Skywalker

Years before Christian Bale donned Batman's iconic cape and cowl, he was almost a very different type of dark knight. In the lead-up to Attack of the Clones, Lucasfilm casting director Robin Gurland reviewed over 700 tapes, hoping to find the perfect Anakin Skywalker-who-would-later-become-Darth-Vader. Candidates included contemporary stars like Dawson's Creek's leading men James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson, up-and-coming actors like Paul Walker, and complete unknowns. (According to one source, a 26-year-old stockbroker named Jeff Garner almost landed the sought-after role.)

As a child, Christian Bale worked with George Lucas' close friend, Steven Spielberg, as the lead in Empire of the Sun, and he received critical acclaim for his performance as the gleefully sociopathic businessman Patrick Bateman in 2000's American Psycho. Bale neither confirmed nor denied his involvement with Star Wars — which is common when actors are up for highly publicized roles — and in the end, the part went to Hayden Christensen. That might've been a good thing. While Bale has gone on to become one of the most respected actors in the business, Christensen hasn't appeared in a high-profile film since 2008, when he starred in Doug Liman's Jumper.

Jodie Foster as Leia Organa

Knowing what we know now, the flirty tension between the Skywalker twins in Star Wars: A New Hope is pretty creepy, but it could've been even worse. According to Carrie Fisher, the role of Princess Leia almost went to Jodie Foster — who would've been all of 14 years old when she stole Han Solo and Luke Skywalker's hearts.

It wouldn't have been the first time that Foster had played a controversially young romantic interest, of course. Just a year before Star Wars premiered, Foster starred in Taxi Driver as a streetwise, 12-year-old prostitute. Because of Taxi Driver's edgy content, the Los Angeles Welfare Board temporarily prevented her from working on the movie, and Foster's older sister had to stand in during the film's more sexual scenes. The film earned her a nomination for best supporting actress.

By comparison, Star Wars probably seemed like a cake walk. However, Foster was too young to play a credible romantic interest for Mark Hamill (who was 24 years old when Star Wars was filmed) and Harrison Ford (almost 35), so the part went to the more age-appropriate Fisher, who was 20 years old at the time.

Bill Murray as Han Solo

With his sly wit and laid-back swagger, Han Solo imbued Star Wars with a much-needed sense of humor — and he was almost even funnier. That's right: according to the rumor mill, a young Bill Murray almost played Star Wars' most famous smuggler.

For his part, Murray dismissed the story at Comic-Con International 2014, when he responded to a question about Star Wars by saying, "I don't know if I was ever up for Han Solo." On the other hand, it's hard to take the notoriously coy Murray seriously, especially since he followed that comment up by throwing his hat in the ring for Phil Lord and Chris Miller's stand-alone Han Solo flick. "I'm working out really hard to get this new thing," Murray said. "I'm swimming a lot. And doing Pilates."

While Murray never got to fly the Millennium Falcon, he did create one crucial piece of Star Wars lore. In a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch, Murray revealed the long-lost lyrics to John Williams' iconic Star Wars theme. Murray's performance was so memorable that The Force Awakens star Oscar Isaac recreated it almost 30 years later, albeit with a thoroughly more modern twist.

Colin Hanks as Anakin Skywalker

Appearing in any of the original Star Wars films seems to be a recipe for lifelong success and fame, but appearing in the prequels has been a career-killer for more than a few actors. Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks, lost the role of Anakin Skywalker to Hayden Christensen. The reason? Because Christensen's chemistry with Natalie Portman — who was already cast to play Queen Amidala — was apparently too good to miss. Christensen is now known as one of the guys who ruined Star Wars, while Colin Hanks has a thriving career.

Tupac Shakur as Mace Windu

Samuel L. Jackson is a lifelong Star Wars fan — he publicly campaigned for a part when The Phantom Menace was still in pre-production— and the role of Jedi master Mace Windu seems like it was created just for him. Jackson helped design Windu's distinctive purple lightsaber (which has "BMF" inscribed on the hilt, referencing Jackson's performance in Pulp Fiction) and got George Lucas to "approve" his personal Star Wars fan theory, though it doesn't really count as canon.

And yet, Lucas still auditioned other actors for Windu, and one report said he included hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur. Rick Clifford, an audio engineer at Tupac's record label Death Row Records also did some film work, and he often talked with Tupac about the rapper's budding acting career. According to Clifford, Tupac auditioned for Lucas sometime in 1996, shortly before The Phantom Menace started filming. Unfortunately, Tupac died in a still-unsolved drive-by shooting later that year, Jackson ended up with the part, and the rest is history.

Saoirse Ronan as Rey

While John Boyega and Oscar Isaac had a number of big projects under their belts before Star Wars, J. J. Abrams made good on his promise to cast a fresh face as Rey, The Force Awakens' heroic scavenger. The Force Awakens transformed actress Daisy Ridley from a complete unknown into a superstar practically overnight. Her newfound fame landed Ridley a plum part in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express and put her in contention for the part of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot — in addition to featured roles in at least two more Star Wars flicks.

But that doesn't mean that Abrams didn't audition some better-known actresses for Rey, including Atonement and Hanna star Saoirse Ronan. In 2013, Ronan broke Lucasfilm's non-disclosure agreement and revealed that she auditioned for The Force Awakens. That candor likely cost her the part. Later, Ronan admitted, "I just shouldn't have said anything" and lamented the fact that she wouldn't be wielding the Force on the big screen. "To pretend that you have a lightsaber in a scene is always very exciting," Ronan said. "It would be great."

Mel Blanc as C-3PO

Mel Blanc was the Man of a Thousand Voices, and even if you don't know his name, you probably know at least a dozen of the characters he'd brought to life: Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Mr. Spacely, Buck Rogers' Twiki, Barney Rubble, and more beloved cartoon characters than you can count. Anthony Daniels already had the role of C-3PO, but George Lucas was reportedly unhappy with Daniels' voice coming out of the golden droid. Mel Blanc is said to have suggested that they just use Daniels' voice, but it was actually Richard Dreyfuss, another C-3PO hopeful, who made the suggestion that ultimately stuck.

Al Pacino as Han Solo

Al Pacino was two Godfathers deep when he was handed the role of Han Solo, but the tough guy turned down the part, even though it would have been an escape from the Godfather franchise, which he found to be tedious and boring. Pacino turned down the script simply because he didn't understand the story, unfamiliar with the world of science fiction, and he never sat for an audition. Unlike many of the other Star Wars rejects, Pacino's career was probably better off for avoiding the franchise completely, which had a tendency to pigeonhole its stars.

Orson Welles as Darth Vader

Star Wars creator George Lucas had two people in mind when it came to Darth Vader's baritone voice: James Earl Jones and Orson Welles. Ultimately, Lucas decided that Welles' voice was too well-known, with Welles having a career reaching back into 1930s, and that audiences might not be able to separate the actor's voice from the character. Jones was out of work at the time, so he took the part. Even though Jones provided the legendary villain's voice, he felt that his contribution to the films was so minimal that he declined to be listed in the credits for the first two movies, whereas we can be sure that Welles would have demanded top billing.

Robert Englund as Han Solo

Before playing the awesome villain of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Robert Englund auditioned for Apocalypse Now, but was turned away for being too old for the role. Across the hall, George Lucas was running auditions as well, but Englund was told that he was too old to play Han Solo. In a coincidence that changed cinematic history, Mark Hamill was sleeping on Englund's couch at the time. The two got drunk, talked about their recent auditions, and Hamill went out for a role in Star Wars soon after. Luke Skywalker and Jar Jar have at least one thing in common: they're both the product of too many Heinekens.

William Katt as Luke Skywalker

You might recognize actor William Katt from the three-season show The Greatest American Hero, which focused on a divorced special-ed teacher with a spandex, super-powered, alien suit. You probably don't recognize Katt from anything else, though. Katt was fresh off of Carrie and making "Promising New Actors" lists when he auditioned for the first Star Wars film, but he lost the role to Mark Hamill. Fortunately, footage of Katt's audition still exists, and he probably would have made a great naive farm boy...but Hamill nailed it just a bit harder. At least Katt had a recurring role in Models, Inc. Sorry, William.

Benicio Del Toro as Darth Maul

If there's a single good thing that came out of the sludge that is The Phantom Menace, it's Darth Maul. The guy looks cool, uses a neat lightsaber, and made brief moments of the film watchable. Before newcomer Ray Park took over the role, Benicio Del Toro was cast as the spiky Sith Lord, but Del Toro, who has a face built for villainy, left the role when George Lucas cut out most of Maul's speaking parts, leaving only a lot of fancy gymnastics. Park's voice ultimately wasn't even used for Maul, leaving the vocal role to Peter Serafinowicz. Del Toro returned to Star Wars, however, to play a role in Episode VIII.

Terri Nunn as Leia Organa

Before joining the New Wave band Berlin, Terri Nunn pursued a career as an actress, mostly landing bit parts in forgettable TV series. While Nunn didn't land the role of Princess Leia, her audition tape still survives, and shows her testing opposite the intimidating Harrison Ford. While Nunn would have been a pretty princess, her whispery, weak version of galactic royalty would have created a completely different Leia; a Leia who probably wouldn't know her way around a blaster, a speeder bike, or kissing her brother. Thankfully, Carrie Fisher was around to kick butt.

Sylvester Stallone as Han Solo

Before he was Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone worked primarily as a character actor, often playing rough-around-the-edges criminals. In The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Stallone appears as a suspected pickpocket. In Woody Allen's Bananas, he's a street thug. In The Lords of Flatbush, Stallone plays a juvenile delinquent, while in Death Race 2000, he adopts the mannerisms of a Chicago-style gangster.

That would seem to make Stallone a pretty good fit for Han Solo, the most charming rogue in the galaxy, but George Lucas didn't see it that way. According to Stallone, Lucas disliked Stallone as soon as the actor entered the room, and Stallone didn't bother finishing the audition. "Let me just make it easy for you," Stallone told Lucas. "I would look like crap in spandex leotards and a ray gun." In the end, that was probably for the best. Star Wars and Rocky both filmed around the same time, meaning that a trip to a galaxy far, far away probably would have cost Stallone his signature role — as well as Oscar nominations for best actor and best screenplay.

Kurt Russell as Han Solo

If you've seen Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, it's clear that he would have made an awesome, but different, Han Solo. Like Han Solo, Jack Burton is a guy who hauls cargo with a devil-may-care attitude who gets caught up in a supernatural struggle while trying to save a princess. Russell may have been a little more goofy than Ford, but the parallels are staggering. Russell's audition tape can be found online today, and he shows some real charm, but ultimately, Harrison Ford's test with Mark Hamill captured Lucas' vision better.

Toshiro Mifune as Obi-Wan Kenobi

There's more than a little of Akira Kurosawa's filmography in Star Wars' DNA. The Jedi are essentially outer space samurai. Star Wars' signature wipes and scene transitions are lifted directly from Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. One of George Lucas' first drafts of Star Wars borrowed heavily from Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, as does the final screenplay for The Phantom Menace.

As such, it makes sense that Lucas wanted Kurosawa's go-to leading man, Toshiro Mifune, to don the robes of Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi. According to Mifune's daughter, Mika, Lucas approached Mifune about the part, but the actor turned Lucas down because he was afraid that Star Wars would "cheapen the image of the samurai." As Mika Mifune notes, "At the time, sci-fi movies still looked quite cheap." Lucas tried to assuage Mifune's fears by casting him as Darth Vader, which would hide the actor's face behind a mask, but Mifune declined that part, too.

Sam Witwer in an unknown role

Being Human and Battlestar Galactica actor Sam Witwer has the unique distinction of being one of the only actors who missed out on a chance to appear in Star Wars — five years after he first appeared in Star Wars. From 2011 through 2013, Witwer voiced Darth Maul in the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars television show. Witwer's work was good enough to land him an audition for an unknown role when The Force Awakens entered pre-production, but the part changed when J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan rewrote the script. Lucasfilm canceled Witwer's audition.

But Witwer isn't done with the Star Wars universe. Maul returned in the second season of the Clone Wars follow-up, Star Wars: Rebels, and remains a crucial part of the series, with Witwer once again providing the former Sith apprentice's voice.