The list of actors who auditioned for the role of Han Solo in the original film is legendary trivia among fans. Most of us have heard of at least a few of these smuggler hopefuls: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Robert Englund, Nick Nolte, and Burt Reynolds. Perhaps not as well known is that Lucas was interested in casting an African-American actor for the part.
The actor Lucas had in mind was Glynn Turman. You might know him from the Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World, or as the science teacher killed by one of the eponymous creatures in Gremlins, or more recently, in the Don Cheadle series, House of Lies. However, none of that matters, because he was Mayor Frickin' Royce on The Wire. Breaking Bad is the best show I've ever seen, except maybe The Wire. I will never stop talking about Breaking Bad or The Wire.
In the 1999 book Skywalking: The Life And Films of George Lucas by Dale Pollack, Lucas reveals that a few black actors auditioned for the part, specifically Glynn Turman.
According to the book, "At first, Lucas had some radical casting ideas: He considered Japanese movie star Toshiro Mifune for Ben Kenobi and thought of having a Eurasian girl play Leia. He interviewed several black actors for Han Solo and almost chose a young performer named Glynn Turman. Lucas was aware that if he developed the love interest between Han and Leia, an interracial romance could cause problems."
In an interview with Empire in 2005, Turman said, "In those days it said ‘black actor’; ‘white actor’, ‘Hispanic actor’ for every role, but it didn't say either for the Han Solo part. It didn't specify ‘black actor’. I was rather pleased because I was just being called in as a talent. I remember George was very professional. We were all young then, so I thought he was this young guy doing his thing and I was impressed with that. He didn't seem ‘Hollywoodish’. He seemed like a regular guy, which made him easier to talk to."
Turman reiterated this in a 2007 interview with CreativeLoafing.com. He was asked about his audition, and he referred to Pollack's book, "Apparently George Lucas had me in mind for the role, and then thought that there might be too much controversy between a white Princess Leia and a black Han Solo – because those were the times – and he didn't want to get into that."
In Pollack's book, Lucas sums up his decision to pass on a black actor. "I didn't want to make Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at that point, so I sort of backed off," Lucas states. Perhaps it is understandable that Lucas shied away from stirring controversy that might overshadow the story. Star Wars has its share of detractors that would label many aspects of the Saga as racist, particularly the lack of diversity amongst humans on the side of the good guys. We all know that Star Trek was well ahead of Star Wars on that front, but promoting a progressive cultural worldview was part of Trek's fabric. Star Wars simply isn't "that guy".
For his part, Turman seems to hold no ill-will with regard to the missed opportunity, "At the time, I had no idea. I just went to the audition, did it and got out of there. Years later, I read his book and said, 'What?' I'm waiting to run into Harrison Ford and get my cut of his career!"