The history of popular music contains many attempts by musicians to cross over into the acting world. The famous E-Street band alone boasts notable TV gigs for guitarist Little Steven Van Zandt and drummer Max Weinberg, as well as cameo roles in film and television by the late Clarence Clemons. Now, thanks to a recently-announced upcoming exhibit on the life and music of Bruce Springsteen at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, some light has finally been shed on the lesser-known acting aspirations of The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.
The Boss and The Big Man at Shepperton Studios
The breakthrough success of Born To Run culminated in October, 1975 with appearances on the covers of both Newsweek and Time in the same week. However, it was a third magazine released that nearly had the most impact that year. In a feature story for an issue of sci-fi magazine Cinefantastique dedicated to the previous year’s release of Zardoz, Springsteen and Ernest “Boom” Carter lavished praise on the film. Bruce even expressed his desire to “make one of them space movies someday,” with the caveat that he “…might have pants in mine, but I guess it’d depend on the script’s integrity.” Director George Lucas – transitioning from American Graffiti to his upcoming Star Wars project – read the article and quickly tabbed Springsteen and Clemons for the roles of intergalactic smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca. The two were flown in for screen tests in early 1976.
An elated Clemons reportedly developed a makeshift “Wookie Language” (later described by producer Gary Kurtz as “basically just Esperanto”) for his audition. Springsteen, however, became enthralled with Luke Skywalker’s days driving landspeeders and dreams of escaping Tattooine. He refused to read for the role of Han, insisting on delivering an improvised, impassioned monologue as Luke, bitterly reminiscing about not wanting to follow his “old man” into working at the moisture farm plant. Though Lucas considered Springsteen wrong for the part and sent both musicians home, many Star Wars insiders believe that Springsteen’s screen test planted the seeds for the connection between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in later films.
Coming Soon! Bruce and Clemons go hunting for more roles! (Part II, next week)