Why George Lucas didn’t want Harrison Ford to be Indiana Jones
(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)
Try as he might, George Lucas repeatedly failed to escape the looming shadow of Harrison Ford, although it’s inarguable that it worked out perfectly for both parties in the end.
Having first collaborated on 1973’s American Graffiti, the professional carpenter and aspiring actor secured his biggest role to date as Bob Falfa in the hit coming-of-age that would land five Academy Award nominations, including ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’, but then Lucas tried his hardest to get as far away from Ford as possible.
The director had absolutely no intention of casting Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars, even if he did keep him around by having him read lines with the prospective candidates during auditions, an exhaustive process that saw virtually every up-and-coming star in Hollywood try out for captaining the Millennium Falcon, only for Ford to prove himself the outstanding – and instantly iconic – choice.
When Lucas and his fellow bearded wunderkind Steven Spielberg began putting their heads together to develop what would eventually become Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Star Wars creator again refused to entertain the notion of reuniting with Ford for a third time, especially when the dynamic duo were already dreaming up a trilogy.
Lucas admitted as much to Empire, saying that he “was wary of Harrison and I becoming like Scorsese and De Niro,” with Ford out of consideration because he wanted to “create a new icon”. Tom Selleck was the man for the job in his eyes, but then contractual obligations changed the course of history again.
Although stories emerged that Selleck had outright rejected the part, he cleared the air when speaking to Rachael Ray: “I didn’t turn it down. I earned the part. I did a screen test. And Steven Spielberg and George Lucas said, ‘You’ve got the part’.” Unfortunately for him, CBS ordered Magnum P.I. to series and told the actor he couldn’t do both, even if he grudgingly acknowledged that “Harrison kind of did a good job”.
Having refused to sign a three-picture deal for Star Wars, Spielberg’s suggestion of Ford as Indiana Jones raised questions as to whether or not he’d even be interested, something Lucas “doubted”. After reading the script, though, the whip-wielding adventurer had found its face at long last when he agreed to commit to what would soon go down in history as one of the finest blockbuster trilogies of all time.
The same can be said of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, too, with Ford proving to be Lucas’s lucky charm. His most acclaimed dramatic work, the sci-fi saga that made him a billionaire, and the fedora-wearing pop culture icon isn’t a bad run of collaborations, even if in an alternate reality, American Graffiti would have been the one and only time they’d teamed up had Lucas gotten his wish to keep Ford at arm’s length from then on out.