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Sometimes I Wonder What Life Would Be Like If I Hadn’t Turned Down ‘Star Wars’ And Thrown Natalie Wood Off That Boat

You know, I’ve had a good life. I’ve amassed an amazing body of work, and my efforts have been well-rewarded. There’s really not much to complain about. Still, no one can help thinking how their life would have gone but for a few key decisions. For me, it’s wondering where I’d be today if I’d accepted the part of Han Solo in 1976, and if I hadn’t drugged Natalie Wood and thrown her from that boat off the coast of Catalina in 1981.

I don’t want you to mistake this for gnawing regret or bitterness. It’s just that Star Wars became so huge that once or twice a year I’ll flash back to that day when I told George Lucas, “It’s a fun script, but I don’t think I’m right for the part.” Just like whenever one of Natalie’s movies is on TV, I’m right back on that boat, handing her a glass of wine spiked with Darvon, shoving her into the open ocean, and then gunning the boat toward San Clemente.

Yes, those were crazy times, when no one knew how Hollywood was about to change any more than they knew who was about to systematically plan and carry out the murder of a legendary actress. Really, who could have known?

But I can’t help thinking how my life might have been. I could write my own ticket in the industry, have full script and director approval—not to mention sleeping on one big pile of Star Wars money, unhaunted by the memory of Natalie’s feeble struggles as I forced her over the back of her own yacht miles from land. But that’s just indulging in a little “what if.”

Besides, it all worked out in the end. The death was ruled accidental and Harrison Ford was perfect in the role, so no harm done. In fact, it really turned out great for everyone. Except for Natalie. And Robert Wagner, who people tend to assume was responsible.

Can you imagine, though? Me being Han Solo in three movies, with my face on all the toys and posters? Walking the red carpet to the premiere of Return Of The Jedi starring Mark Hamill and Christopher Walken, with the star of West Side Story on my arm instead of her futile death gurgles on my conscience? To this day, I see kids acting out Star Wars scenes when I walk past a park or a playground, and I just think, “They have no idea how close I was to being Han Solo, or that I killed the little girl from Miracle On 34th Street.”

It’s not that I wanted to play more serious dramatic parts or drown Natalie, it’s that I assumed that’s how you build your reputation in Hollywood and she had to shoot her mouth off.

Look, I admit it: I didn’t think Star Wars would be a hit. Stupid, right? But the whole industry thought it was a dumb kids’ movie, just like they thought Robert Wagner was a domineering monster who couldn’t control his rage around his world-famous wife. And they continue to think that, because they’re no more psychic than I was in 1976 reading a campy science-fiction script by the American Graffiti guy.

Of course, once Star Wars was fully assembled with the special effects and the iconic music, a lot of naysayers were kicking themselves! The lightning pace, the rich backstory, and that amazing space battle building to a flawless climax left me as exhilarated as when Natalie Wood’s autopsy report stated that no foul play was suspected. What an amazing ride!

But I’m only human, so regrets do come up. You can’t just push them below the surface with a dinghy oar like a blabbermouth actress; you have to confront them and move past them.

The way I see it, it’s how we recover from our mistakes that defines us. There was a moment where I thought I should just quit acting since I’d lost the role of a lifetime. And another moment where I thought I should stab Robert and throw him overboard, too. They were both bad ideas. I’d never have made Pulp Fiction or beaten the double-murder rap if I’d made those choices in the heat of the moment.

And again, I’ve been privileged to play some incredible parts, and I’m enormously proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s just that I could definitely see myself being Han Solo and not a murderer. But on the other hand, I could also absolutely see myself killing Carrie Fisher, so maybe it’s for the best.

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