ORLANDO — Star Wars, a franchise that's full of myths, has developed a few myths about its own improbable creation over the years. One of them was just repeated by Star Wars creator George Lucas himself. It's about how Harrison Ford was hired to play Han Solo in the first place.
But the version of the story Lucas told, on a Star Wars Celebration panel Thursday celebrating the original movie's upcoming 40th anniversary, was immediately contradicted by Ford, who happened to be sitting right next to him.
So who's right? The answer may surprise you.
Here's what both men agree on. Ford had appeared in a small but significant role in Lucas' second movie, American Graffiti (1973). It wasn't enough for the jobbing actor to live on, so he returned to his fallback career: carpentry.
Meanwhile Lucas started casting calls for Star Wars, with one proviso: nobody who'd appeared in his previous movie was invited to attend. Why? The director was worried critics would dismiss his new film as "American Graffiti in space."
What happened next, according to Lucas, is that a friend — the legendary producer Fred Roos — insisted Ford was perfect for the Han Solo role. To make his point, Roos hired Ford to build a door in the American Zoeotrope offices, where Lucas was holding the casting call, with the intention of hooking those guys up. (Which is what happened, of course; Ford was there, he read for the role, he turned out to be perfect.)
Ford demurred: he insisted he was simply working in the studio as a carpenter, completely on the level, and the meeting was happenstance. "No, no, that didn't happen ... I wouldn't just sit around waiting for you," the crotchety actor insisted to Lucas.
The disagreement was quickly glossed over by stage host Warwick Davis, leaving Star Wars fans to ponder the truth of it. But it just so happens that I talked to Fred Roos about this very anecdote for my history of the franchise, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe.
Short answer: Ford is absolutely right.
"Harrison had done a lot of carpentry for me," Roos said. "He needed money, he had kids, he wasn't a big movie star yet. The day he was doing it, George happened to be there. It was serendipitous."
It was this serendipity that launched one of the greatest movie careers in history. Without it, Star Wars may not have been as big of a hit; we'd also have a different Indiana Jones, and quite possibly no Blade Runner.
Still, sometimes a door is just a door.