Lando Calrissian's return revealed at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago

By Anthony Breznican
April 12, 2019 at 01:28 PM EDT
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Lando Calrissian — everything you’ve heard about him is still true.

Billy Dee Williams draped himself in the cape again as the galaxy’s smoothest operator, returning to the Star Wars universe with his first appearance in Episode IX on Friday.

Fans have been hoping for his comeback ever since the franchise relaunched five years ago. But it’s been a losing bet every time.

Now it’s finally paying off.

Lucasfilm

One week after his 82nd birthday, Williams greeted an enthusiastic crowd at Star Wars Celebration on Friday with, “Sweet! Sweet! You’re all so sweet, and there’s an awful lot of you.”

He had no cape, but he had a colorful scarf, cool shades, and a debonair cane. “I got lucky,” he said. “I ended up working with somebody I have a tremendous regard for — J.J. Abrams. I love his name. J.J. Abrams! I’ve been doing this for a long time, I think 60 years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some pretty extraordinary people in my lifetime,” he added. “I regard this as a real highlight for me.”

Williams continued, “How did I find Lando again? Lando never left me.” The fans roared as they were presented with an image of him in yellow, draped in a cape (of course), and standing inside the Millennium Falcon. “He’s a shade older, but still fit,” Williams noted.

“Honestly, it was an emotional thing,” said Abrams, who described the hush of Williams appearing on set.

“It’s nice to have all of these accolades, and all this admiration,” Williams said. “But I really enjoy this more than just making money. And don’t get me wrong, I love making money!”

When panel moderator Stephen Colbert noted that Lando isn’t fully a good guy or a bad guy, Williams replied, “There’s a thing called expediency. When you’re in a situation — especially when you’re up against someone like Darth Vader — and you own something that sort of like owning Las Vegas, and you have this threat… I get sick and tired of being accused of betraying Han Solo! He was up against Darth Vader, he had to figure something out! By the way, did anybody die?” As the crowd laughed and cheered, Williams exclaimed, “Nobody died!”

Still, it has been a long wait for Lando fans.

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, framing the tale of a young Han and Lando (played by Donald Glover), but that didn’t happen either.

Others hoped he’d turn up in the casino world of Canto Bight in The Last Jedi, but writer-director Rian Johnson told EW months before the release that Lando Calrissian would not be making an appearance.

Williams has been keeping fans posted with videos of his physical training. Now we’re finally seeing him back in action.

Lando’s appeal — like his frenemy Han — is that his natural habitat was the gray zone between good and evil. Unlike Han, Lando had bigger ambitions. 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.

Even when Lando betrayed Solo and friends in The Empire Strikes Back, it was to save the citizens 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 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.

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. Savoir-faire and manners are no bulwark against cruelty. You can’t cheat your way to decency.

When you have incandescent charm, however, that’s a powerful weapon for the light side.

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