Happy Birthday Mr. Harrison “Hero” Ford

When it was officially announced that Star Wars: Episode VII was slated for release in 2015, fans’ minds immediately went to the obvious questions: would the main stars of Return of the Jedi, now the new film’s effective prequel, return to reprise their roles 30 years later? Well, unconfirmed rumor has it that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have indeed both signed on for Episode VII, and while he won’t say for sure, it’s also being widely reported that Harrison Ford will also return to his iconic role as Han Solo. Though that character will surely be at least somewhat different than the roguish heartthrob we last saw in Jedi (if only because Ford is in his early 70s now), there’s a definite sense among fans that the presence of the original actors will help make the new films better than the more recent episodes I through III with their all-new casts and shiny CGI gloss.

And while everyone I know would love to see Ford flying the Millennium Falcon again, the funny thing is that Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice for the part–not even close. Surprisingly, he was actually one of the last choices considered, since Lucas wanted to stay away from actors he had previously used in other films and Ford had just played Bob Flafa in Lucas’ American Graffiti. Actors James Caan, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Burt Reynolds all turned down the role, and the long list of actors auditioned to play Solo ultimately included Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Sylvester Stallone, and John Travolta. In the end Ford began to read the part of Han Solo only as a supporting player during screen tests for other actors auditioning for the movie – essentially serving as a lowly assistant during the casting process. During these tests Lucas realized Ford was perfect for the role even though he wasn’t originally even considered.

On set Ford played a large role in the character development of Han Solo, and many of the most memorable Han Solo moments were actually improvised by Ford. In the first film, for instance, Ford deliberately didn’t learn his lines for the intercom conversation in the Death Star cell block, so it would sound spontaneous.

The classic exchange between Princess Leia and Han Solo in Episode V right before Han is frozen in carbonite became a defining moment for the relationship between the characters. Originally when Leia said “I love you”, the script called for Han to respond with (the uninspired line) “I love you too,” but Ford changed the line to “I know.” Fans to this day love this moment as the defining example of Solo’s loveable narcissism.

Another moment of Ford changing the dynamic between Leia and Han came earlier in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. In the original script, when Lando Calrissian is about to lead Han, Leia, and Chewie into the trap set by Darth Vader, Lando offers his arm to Leia, as a gesture to lead her down the hallway. Harrison Ford ad-libbed Han cutting off Lando, and offering his arm to Leia at the exact same moment to show that Han was protective, and even jealous.

In addition to Ford’s many improvisations throughout the films, Ford also wound up changing the entire storyline of the films, at least indirectly. Unlike his co-stars Hamill and Fisher, Ford did not sign a contract for three films. Because Ford was unsure of his return to a third film, Lucas chose to freeze Han in carbonite at the end of the second film as a precautionary measure in case the character would be sitting out Jedi. This iconic cliffhanger may not have existed without Ford’s contract situation being so uncertain, and reportedly Ford actually begged Lucas to kill Han off as part of an act of heroism in saving Luke and Leia, but Lucas refused, claiming he still had big plans for Solo.
With Harrison Ford being the biggest movie star today from the original trilogy, and Han Solo being one of most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe, there is no doubt Ford can come to the negotiating table ready to influence the use of Han Solo, and even the entire story arc of the upcoming movie. These anecdotes prove he is the only player with the combination of power, and moxie, to tangle with management.

But, more importantly, the amazing choices he made in the original trilogy suggest he might just be the perfect creative voice to help guide future Star Wars movies. Help us Harrison Ford, you are Star Wars 7’s only hope!

Author Bio: Spencer Blohm a television and film blogger for DirectTV who writes about everything from rumors about upcoming releases to retrospectives of forgotten sci-fi, horror, and comedy classics from the 1950s to today. He has been a Han Solo fan since the moment he saw how Han handled Greedo, and is hoping against hope that Episode VII will set the franchise right again. He lives and works in Chicago.