The Sequel Trilogy accomplished what many fans had once thought impossible, bringing back older versions of Luke, Han, and Leia for another adventure across the galaxy far, far away. But there’s one character who’s been notably absent from the recent movies: Lando Calrissian, as played by the wonderful Billy Dee Williams.
When Episode VII was first announced, there were rumors that Williams would return to the character he first immortalized in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. This of course did not come to pass in The Force Awakens. Lando isn’t in the movie at all – there’s not even a mention of the con man turned Rebel hero. And those holding out hope that Lando might appear in The Last Jedi will be sorely disappointed, as EW has already confirmed that we won’t see the smooth-talking swindler.
Why is Lando once again absent? According to The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson, the reason is pretty straightforward: he has no place in the story The Last Jedi is trying to tell.
“No, and I don’t want fans to get their hopes up,” Johnson told EW. “He’s not in the film and it was never really something that came up. I mean, I loved that character. It would have been fun to see him, but it’s just not something that ever really had a place in the story.”
Johnson’s comments don’t bode well for Lando’s future – at least as it pertains to the Prequel Trilogy. While Donald Glover (Atlanta) is set to play a younger version of the character in Solo: A Star Wars Story, there’s no sign that we’ll ever see Williams in a Star Wars movie again.
Back in 2015, Star Wars veteran scribe Lawrence Kasdan – he co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens, and Solo – told Vanity Fair that there was hope that Lando might return to Star Wars.
“Right now, there’s no Lando Calrissian in [The Force Awakens],” said Kasdan. “But Lando I don’t think is finished in any way, shape, or form.”
It’s unclear if Kasdan meant Lando’s story wasn’t over in terms of the Sequel Trilogy or if he was just talking about the younger version appearing in Solo, although the latter seems more likely. After all, only weeks after Kasdan’s statement, Lucasfilm officially announced the Han Solo movie.
The Disney era of Star Wars has left Williams, who turned 80 this year, in a sort of big screen limbo. Williams has expressed interest in returning to the role on several occasions, including to Huffington Post in 2015:
Yeah, if that’s what they want me to do I would be very happy to do it – as an old man [laughs]. But I don’t know if anybody could bring the kind of quality that I brought to any of those characters I’ve played. It’s only because, I’m not a person who thinks in terms of ethnicity. I think in terms of bringing what is very special about my point of view as an individual. And I think that’s probably why those characters worked in a certain way.
So far, Williams has only been given the opportunity to reprise the role for animated series such as Rebels and the recent Lego movies. Beyond Solo, Lando has also continued to live on through the books, comics, and video games.
One has to wonder if part of Lucasfilm’s hesitance has to do with the confusion that could be caused by having two versions of Lando on the big screen within months or years of each other. After all, Alden Ehrenreich didn’t become the new face of Han Solo until Harrison Ford’s version had been killed off in The Force Awakens almost six months prior. While diehard fans would undoubtedly understand the difference between the young and old Lando timelines, audiences who just pop in for Star Wars movies once in a while might have a harder time following along.
After Glover’s casting was announced last year, Williams expressed his feelings of reservation about Glover taking over the role for the standalone film:
I don’t know who Donald Glover is. But as far as I’m concerned, I would say [the producers] should leave that character alone. I don’t think you can do any more than what I did with that character. I think I made that character into something very special, and I can’t imagine anybody else doing it, to be very frank with you.
He told THR in 2017 that he still wasn’t sure about whether another actor should play the role.
I don’t know. To me, I guess what it is that I identify so much with Lando. I mean, Lando has been very much a part of my life for over 30 years. When I go out and do conventions and stuff like that, even though people know me from all the other things that I’ve done, certainly [Lando] takes precedence. I just never thought of anybody else being Lando. I just see myself as Lando.
Still, when it came time for Williams to offer up some advice to Glover about playing Lando, he obliged the young actor with a very simple tip. As Glover described it, after making all of the suggestions for how he might play the character, Williams simply replied, “Yeah, I don’t know about all that. Just be charming.”
Ultimately, Lando’s charm is what we love and remember fondly about the character. Whether Glover will be able to emulate Williams’ excellent performance and make the character his is anyone’s guess. We’ll certainly find out on May 25, 2018 when Solo: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters.
As for the original Lando, we will have to continue to hope that there’s a place for him (even if it’s only a small cameo) in the next generation of Star Wars.