The return of Billy Dee Williams to the Star Wars universe is something fans have anticipated ever since the new films launched four years ago.
But it’s been a losing bet every time.
Williams wasn’t in that black-and-white group photo that announced the cast of The Force Awakens in April 2014. There were rumors he might make a cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story, but that didn’t happen either.
Others insisted he’d turn up in the casino world of Canto Bight in The Last Jedi. But, to strain the gambling metaphor a little further: No dice. To avoid fans getting their hopes up, writer-director Rian Johnson even told EW months before release that Lando Calrissian would not be making an appearance.
Now there are new reports, the latest from The Hollywood Reporter, that Williams — who is now 81 — will be turning up in director J.J. Abrams’ Episode IX, which starts filming this summer for release in December 2019.
Lucasfilm and Disney have not confirmed this. But they also haven’t denied it.
That’s not enough for EW to say it’s real, but for fans eager to see older Lando again such non-denials evoke a line from a very different film:
Maybe it’s just another rumor, or maybe Lucasfilm simply doesn’t want to unwrap that particular birthday present yet. (We’ll be getting a start-of-production story when the film begins to roll camera.)
Williams himself is open to it. He voiced the character on the animated Star Wars: Rebels show, and when EW asked about future big-screen appearances, his manager, Brad Kramer, responded: “Billy respects the studio and all involved in the decision but would be happy to be in any future Star Wars film if asked.”
There is more reason to be optimistic about the reports this time.
Williams has also canceled a sci-fi convention appearance he had scheduled for the months ahead, and as the last member of the original trilogy cast whose character has not yet been addressed, it makes sense that Episode IX would finally venture into whatever corner of the galaxy Lando calls home today.
The man with the fancy capes is the last thread connecting this new generation to the one that fought the good fight before. And the swooning over Donald Glover’s younger version of Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story also makes it clear that fans are eager for more of this character’s galactic savoir faire.
There’s one more good reason to include Lando Calrissian, and it goes beyond just high-fiving fans. Lando’s appeal — similar to Han’s — is that he navigated that gray zone between good and bad. Unlike Han, Lando had bigger aspirations. He wasn’t just trying to protect his own skin; he was motivated by a broader altruism, at least when he got older and left the underworld lifestyle behind for a new career as the baron of Cloud City.
Maybe the difference between hustler and politician isn’t all that great a leap, but it marked a change in Lando’s perspective. Retconning his arc through the lens of Solo, maybe L3’s actions showed Lando that it’s not enough to stand for your own interests — sometimes you have to sacrifice for others.
Still, compromise is a politician’s weapon. And that weapon sometimes hurts those who don’t deserve it.
When Lando betrayed his “friend” Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, it was to save the people under his protection in Cloud City. “I’ve just made a deal that’ll keep the Empire out of here forever,” he tells Han, Leia, and Chewie just before opening the dining room door that reveals Darth Vader.
Later, Lando insists he had “no choice.” The cost of betraying a small group who trusted him could easily be justified if it saved countless other lives. Leaders must make such compromises all the time, and living with the price is never easy — even if the choice itself is.
What Lando learned, however, is that there is no bargaining with the devil. “I’m altering the deal,” Darth Vader tells him. “Pray I don’t alter it any further.”
The arc of Lando Calrissian is realizing that you can’t fight darkness with more darkness. Fine manners are no bulwark against cruelty. You can’t cheat your way into the light side.
In Return of the Jedi, he guides his old ship, the Millennium Falcon, into the heart of the beast, the unfinished Death Star, and gambles his life in order to destroy it. He barely escapes the fireball, and he could just as easily have been consumed by it.
He knew that going in.
So the first leg of his journey was from sly, selfish outlaw to a man of integrity, sacrifice … and resistance.
Where would we find Lando Calrissian’s heart 30-some years later?
I have no idea. But I sure hope Episode IX shows us.