Today it’s almost impossible to imagine anybody else playing the main characters in the original Star Wars trilogy. The faces of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and especially Mark Hamill are so strongly associated with the characters that they played in the original trilogy that the thought of seeing anybody else portray the characters in those movies feels jarring. But like any other movie, back in the seventies, before the characters were iconic pieces of pop culture, they were roles in a movie, just like any other and several different people auditioned to be in Star Wars that ultimately didn’t end up getting the part. While you see the face of Mark Hamill when you think of Luke Skywalker, in another timeline, there could be another actor that is brought to mind when you think of the Jedi Knight.
Probably the most famous person to audition for the role of Luke was Kurt Russell. Even by the early 1970s, Russell had already had a successful career as a child actor in several live action Walt Disney movies including Follow Me, Boys, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. But by the mid seventies, Russell was transitioning out of child and teenage roles, and was looking to move toward a career playing adults in movies. He auditioned for Star Wars and actually auditioned for both the roles of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
George Lucas apparently liked Russell in both roles and strongly considered him for either part, but in the end, it may have been the director’s inability to choose which role to cast him in that kept Russell from appearing in Star Wars. At the same time, Kurt Russell was also offered a role in a television western series called The Quest. He asked Lucas about the Star Wars roles he had auditioned for, but Lucas was unable to tell him which part he was better for, or if he would have been cast at all. Because the role in the western had already been offered to him, Russell took the sure bet and took himself out of the running for Star Wars.
In some ways, actor Charles Martin Smith might have been the actor most likely to land the role of Luke going into the auditions. Smith had already worked with George Lucas once before in the movie American Graffiti a few years earlier playing the role of Terry “The Toad” Fields. While there’s never been a suggestion that Lucas and Smith ever had any issues with each other, it still may have been his work in American Graffiti that worked against Smith. Lucas was reportedly strongly against casting Harrison Ford in the role of Indiana Jones because he didn’t want to reuse the actor who had already appeared in two of his movies (and was reportedly not considering Ford for Star Wars for the same reason at first).
Lucas would tell Spielberg that he didn’t want Ford to “be his Bobby” referring to the long track record of movies that Martin Scorsese had done with Robert De Niro. It’s very possible that part of the reason that Charles Martin Smith didn’t get the role was that Lucas was trying to prevent that director/actor association from happening in his career.
While plenty more people auditioned for the role of Luke that ultimately ended up not getting the part, the other big name that is worth mentioning is actor William Katt who would go on to be best known for his role in the television series The Greatest American Hero. Katt auditioned for Star Wars back in 1975, before he was a household name and actually auditioned alongside Kurt Russell when Russell was reading for Han Solo, but of course, the role would eventually go to Mark Hamill instead of Katt.
Still, it seems that Katt’s audition for Star Wars wasn’t fully a waste of time for the actor. As Lucas was casting for Star Wars, director Brian De Palma was casting for his Stephen King adaptation of Carrie. Because both Lucas and De Palma were looking for unknown actors to cast in their respective movies, they decided to coordinate their auditions. Several actors recalled both directors in the room and auditioned for both films simultaneously.
This arrangement seemed to work out for William Katt, because even though he didn’t get the part in Star Wars, he was cast as Carrie’s doomed prom date Tommy Ross which was the actor’s biggest credit to date. His performance in Carrie helped to pave the way for the rest of Katt’s career, so even though he never got to be a part of Star Wars, he’s still probably glad that he got the chance to audition for it.