It may seem like it was written in the stars, but there was a time Harrison Ford was a down-and-out actor piecing it together as a carpenter by day. That is, until luck intervened.
Harrison Ford has been a star so long it’s almost impossible to contemplate a time his name wasn’t synonymous with the word “blockbuster.” Earnest and hardworking and, perhaps, a bit ornery, Ford is in many ways an actor’s actor.
But his success, although, well-earned, may not have been inevitable. Not many, especially the successful ones, like to admit the role that chance or accident may have played in their lives and Ford is no exception to this universal truth.
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Through most of the’70’s, Ford wasn’t much of a working actor. Besides George Lucas’ American Graffiti and a small part in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Ford couldn’t even be called a down on his luck afterthought – because he was hardly a thought within the industry. A family man with two young kids, he took to the carpentry trade by checking out books from the Encino Public Library to fix up his own home, which he stated was, “a bit of a wreck.”
Focusing on carpentry made it possible for the young actor to spend time and energy on projects he felt were worth it, even if they didn’t come calling right away. He quickly became Harrison Ford-carpenter-to-the-stars doing work for music composers and high-end Hollywood executives and it was along this trajectory that chance would strike again – and his big break, legendary film producer Frederick Roos needed a door. That’s right … a door.
"“Harrison (Ford) had done a lot of carpentry for me,” Roos told Chris Taylor, author of the novel, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. “He needed money, he had kids, he wasn’t a big movie star yet. The day he was doing it, George (Lucas) happened to be there. It was serendipitous.”"
It was this “door” that set off the series of serendipitous events for the young soon-to-be star. A happenstance meeting between Ford and Lucas occurred. “I was working late,” he told Rolling Stone in a 2015 interview. “You know, finishing up the last of it, when George Lucas came in with Richard Dreyfuss. I spent a few minutes chatting with them, and that was it.”
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm
Ford was asked to read the part of Han Solo with more than 100 actors to help Lucas find the perfect cast for his quirky little indie space film. Sometimes he’d read in groups and other times one-off riffing sessions with an actor but, initially, it was mutually understood that Lucas wasn’t interested in having any of the American Graffiti members return for this film.
Anyone who knows even the slightest about Star Wars, knows that Lucas had googly eyes for Christopher Walken and Kurt Russell to fill out the cocky Corellian smuggler’s black vest. There is even a rumor that Tom Selleck was offered the role. Poor, poor Tom Selleck, always chasing Ford’s shadow, even waving from a Hawaiian Island to the set of Indiana Jones with a single tear streaming down his cheek and disappearing into the world’s greatest mustache.
"“The story that I know is that there were two threesomes that they narrowed it down to, and I was in one of them. I had no idea that that was a potential situation.” Ford continued during that same interview. “They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ”"
Ford’s ‘sure, why not’, attitude is what grounded an, otherwise, fantastical story about distinct political alliances, illusive other-worldly abilities and old space samurai vendettas. The character’s wit and dry humor brought much-needed levity to Star Wars, and without Ford’s quick quips and easy confidence, the film may have suffered in the same way the prequels did, dancing dangerously close to squeamish and embarrassing.
In some ways it seems as if Ford never really cared for the character at all. After all, he’s expressed an affinity for Indiana Jones through many interviews over the years and come off a bit dismissive on the subject of Han Solo. Yet, it might be somewhere within this devil-may-care bravado that the character was brought to life. Like Han, Ford was a well-traveled (the dude was a roadie with The Doors) worker-for-hire, living job to job until something meaningful changed everything.
It’s hard to imagine, but it could have been pre-Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund running down the corridor of the Death Star screaming at fleeing imperials. It could’ve been Al Pacino glossing over Luke with wide, crazy eyes, his voice straining, “Who’s gonna fly it, kid, you? Woo-aah!” It’s even stated that Lucas thought of Burt Reynolds in the role.
That’s the strange thing about luck. We’ll never know what the other actors may have brought to the role but we know what we would have lost if Harrison Ford never was. Maybe it wasn’t some divine intervention or luck that brought Ford into that office, after all, in old Ben’s experience, there’s no such thing as luck at all.