As Burt Reynolds mingles with fans at Wizard World Philadelphia this week - his first-ever Wizard World Comic Con - the geek speak is likely to center around what might have been.

He might have been Han Solo.

"Star Wars" creator George Lucas queried him about the job, but Reynolds turned it down and instead made "Smokey and the Bandit," a hit in its own right.

"I saw the director, and we talked about it, but I wasn't really enthusiastic about it," said Reynolds, speaking from his home in Florida. "The thing is, it's hard to see what somebody's vision is for a thing like that. And I just didn't really see it. Maybe I should have, but I didn't."

The "Star Wars" job, of course, went to Harrison Ford, who happened to be a buddy of Reynolds from their days in series TV ("Dan August").

Reynolds remembers Ford hemming and hawing about taking the part. Years later, they spoke about the role, which, for all the fame it's brought Ford, was not described by Ford as his greatest screen challenge: "It wasn't an actor's part."

And in those days, Reynolds sure didn't need the money, or the fame.

He was already among the biggest box-office draws of the 1970s, and certifiably brought more folks to the movies than any other perfomer in 1978.

It was the culmination of a long and improbable rise for a kid who grew up in rural Florida, running around without shoes. He played football, was recuited to play in college, got injured, tried acting on a whim, was good enough to move to New York, where he worked off-Broadway and hung out with such folks as Joanne Woodward, who hooked Reynolds up with her agent, who sent him west to Hollywood.

Reynolds thrived, doing several series. Then, in 1973, he riveted moviegoers as the mesmerizingly macho Lewis in the John Boorman classic, "Deliverance," which made Reynolds a film star and sex symbol - within months he'd pose nude as a Cosmo centerfold, still a cultural milestone all these years later.

Reynolds indulged his sex appeal on screen and off, and cut a famously wide starlet swath through Hollywood.

Other relationships, just as cherished, remain less well known.

Like the fact that he liked to hang with Hollywood neighbors Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart, who in Reynolds' mind really invented the craft of modern film acting. He spoke with them often, and learned from them.

"Actors want to be around good actors," Reynolds said. "I was flattered to be asked to be in Spencer's inner circle. Tracy was my favorite actor ever. I was lucky enough to spend time with him, and he was wonderful. Just totally candid, the kind of guy who didn't give a s---."

What Tracy had, Reynolds said, was the elusive ability to be utterly natural in front of the camera, to simply "be," without acting.

Reynolds strived for that, and achieved it, but there was a wrinkle. In the act of "being," American audiences fell in love with who he was. He became an icon, and it overwhelmed his craft.

That iconography was tied to his persona, that of devilishly charming Southerner. He was perhaps the first actor to become a star by embracing his Southern roots.

"I think that's true, and I knew that was part of it," he said. "I've always been proud of that part of myself. There are things about the South that I hate, but there are things I love about it, and I tried to bring those things with me."

Audiences were pleased. This was still a time when folks flocked to drive-in theaters, driving the same muscle car that Reynolds drove in the "Bandit" movies.

"After awhile, I felt the Trans Am was taking over my life," he said. "I pulled up at a light one time, a guy in a Trans Am pulled up beside me, and he's like, yeah, let's do this this, and I'm thinking 'Buddy, there's no way I'm racing you. I've actually got things to do.' "

Reynolds was a commercial force in the movies at a time when the serious artists - Scorsese, Coppola, etc. - were carving out a new golden age, marked by artistic freedom and ambition.

Reynolds seemed to exist in a separate movie universe, like an anti-matter Marlon Brando (at the time making "The Godfather" with Coppola). In fact, in the early days, Reynolds sometimes lost jobs because casting agents thought he looked too much like Brando.

So did Brando, who was not a fan. Reynolds knew this, and antagonized him by impersonating the "On the Waterfront" star in an episide of "The Twilight Zone," playing a hilariously boorish method actor.

Apparently, Brando saw it and wanted to thump him.

"We had a mutual friend, Rita Moreno, and she told me Marlon wanted to see me. He was going to kick my ass. I never showed. I was chicken---," said Reynolds with a laugh.

Reynolds doesn't regret ducking Brando, but he does regret ducking his best shot at a career-defining, challenging role - the part that went to Jack Nicholson in "Terms of Endearment," and that could have been his.

"It's true, and I've hated myself every since," Reynolds said. "One of the stupidest things I ever did. And truthfully, looking back, I think I was afraid.

"I've wondered many times what would have happened if I'd taken it, because I was really perfect for it. I knew the writer very well, it was written in my rhythm, it was a guy I could have played. In fact, it was me."

What does an actor do with regret like that?

Reynolds saved it, and wrapped it into his wonderful performance in "Boogie Nights," as the era-spanning veteran director whose face is a melancholy map of career compromises.

Relieved of the burden of stardom, later-career Reynolds was often wonderful - like his comic role as Blaine Gibbons in Alexander Payne's "Citizen Ruth."

He doesn't work often now, but he's still relaxed and funny when he does, making charming contributions to TV shows, like "Evening Shade."

Reynolds spends most of his time teaching actors near his home in Florida, and is proud to send many of them on to gainful employment on the many TV shows now filmed in the state.

He tries to channel his old pal Tracy, and teach his actors to simply be.

And one other thing:

"Have fun."

Reynolds has had his share. In fact he may have bankrupted himself in the process. He's writing a new memoir (more of a tell-all than his first), and he's recently auctioned off memorabilia to pay alimony and other bills - bills accumulated in a rich career of following his own acting advice.

You can argue that there were better actors than Burt, but surely none had more fun.