Star Wars is loaded with some of the most famous iconographies in the history of popular culture. Among the most iconic visuals is Han Solo, played of course by Harrison Ford, encased in carbonite at the conclusion of the Empire Strikes Back. It’s been endlessly parodied, turned into a lego minifig, and probably wouldn’t have happened if George Lucas had a crystal ball.
Harrison Ford’s Contract Dispute Caused Iconic Moment
Ford joined Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer as the young stars of Star Wars. Other than Alec Guinness, no one in the cast really expected the film to be a success. To make matters worse, the principal players weren’t terribly well paid. Ford earned just $10,000 for A New Hope, but he would go on to earn $34 million for The Force Awakens many years later.
Ford’s contract differed in one significant way from Fischer and Hamill’s: he only agreed to do two films. To make matters even more complicated, the success of the first two Star Wars films had made him an enormous star. Before doing Return of the Jedi, he found time to star in Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s crazy to think about this in hindsight, but it was totally plausible for Ford to leave this franchise behind in 1980.
Keep Him On Ice
One man who suspected Ford may be done was George Lucas. Howard Kazanjian, a producer on Return of the Jedi and Indiana Jones, explained that Ford’s contract was the reason “why he was frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back. When I suggested to George we should bring him back, I distinctly remember him saying that Harrison would never return.”
When Kazanjian asked what would happen if Ford did come back, “George simply replied that we would then write him into Jedi.” Solo getting encased in carbonite was all done assuming he would not return, so his daring rescue was invented because he decided to come back.
What Does Ford Think?
Anyone who’s seen Return of the Jedi can tell Ford’s heart isn’t quite in the movie. One reason could be that he was a little unhappy with the material. In an interview with Conan O’Brien, Ford explained that he wanted Solo to die. He said, “I thought the best utility of the character would be for him to sacrifice himself to a high ideal and give a little bottom, a little gravitas to the enterprise.”
Ford eventually did get his wish, as well as millions of dollars, when Force Awakens came out in 2015. Had Ford committed to three films like Fischer and Hamill, then we likely would never have gotten to see him encased in carbonite.