Where The Hell Is Lando Calrissian?
On The Weird Absence of Billy Dee Williams From Star Wars Episodes VII & VIII
Lando Calrissian is one of my all-time favorite science fiction characters.
Portrayed by the distinguished actor Billy Dee Williams, Lando was introduced to the Star Wars universe with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.
Seeing his swagger, charm, and style — the man wore a cape and still looked cool!— onscreen as a young Black adolescent left an indelible mark on my psyche.
Until the release of The Empire Strikes Back, the only other notable Black character I was aware of in science fiction was Nichelle Nichols as Star Trek’s Lieutenant Nyota Uhura.
As I grew older, I gained a deeper appreciation for Lando. He was not just a glorified extra for mere tokenism. He played an integral role in the original trilogy from the moment of his introduction until the final, pivotal events of Return Of The Jedi.
Though I loved Star Wars, meeting Lando felt like finding out your best friend’s alter ego is Santa Claus on Christmas Day.
This is not to mitigate Star Wars’ other representation issues.
I still can not figure out what on Hoth Lucas was thinking with Jar-Jar Binks in the prequel trilogy, and the continued absence of Black women with any notable roles this far in the franchise is glaring.
And before the trolls leap out of their dank holes and start howling, YES Lupita Nyong’o is part of the cast of the latest trilogy, but she is portraying a CGI character, not a flesh-and-blood human being.
With the newest Star Wars movies, I am seeing more people of color populating the galaxy far, far, away, though they are essentially background players. The main exceptions are John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Po, and The Last Jedi breakout star Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico.
As I was considering all this while watching The Last Jedi, a concern I had since the release of The Force Awakens kept nagging at me: where the hell is Lando Calrissian, the first prominent character of color in Star Wars?
After the release of The Force Awakens, the founders of the pop culture website The Geek Twins wrote a passionate piece criticizing Lando’s absence in the film.
Unfortunately, this criticism remains valid in The Last Jedi.
Williams has publicly stated he wants to participate in the new sequels, but has not been contacted.
When asked about his possible involvement in The Force Awakens during a January 2014 interview with SyFy Wire (then known as Blastr), Williams stated:
I haven’t heard anything. No midnight calls yet. Sure, I’d be interested in playing Lando again, if it came my way. Sure.
During the production, release and promotion of The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams never publicly commented on Lando’s absence.
The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has addressed the matter during an interview with Entertainment Weekly, giving this response:
“No, and I don’t want fans to get their hopes up,” writer-director Rian Johnson tells 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.”
So in the new trilogy (so far), there is room for Luke, Leia, Han, R2-D2, Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, but the possibility of having Lando Calrissian return “was never really something that came up?”
Personally, I find Johnson’s response somewhat disingenuous and extremely disappointing.
Apparently Lucasfilm intends to improve the representation of people of color in the Star Wars franchise, but to exclude one of their most iconic original trilogy characters, who is also a person of color, is perplexing beyond words.
It is just plain weird.
Even more strange, there is not a single mention of Lando in passing by the other characters in the new films. It is as if he never existed.
It is interesting to point out the major cast members of The Last Jedi have expressed a desire to see Williams return as Lando.
A pall has been placed over my enjoyment of the new films due to Lando’s exclusion — and the filmmakers’ shabby explanations for it.
Billy Dee Williams is 80 years old, still active and still acting. Currently, he voices Lando in Star Wars: Rebels.
His presence in the original Star Wars trilogy was groundbreaking, and means a great deal to many fans. Not having this talent return in the new films is tone-deaf, inexcusable, and a enormous wasted opportunity.
There is a disturbance in the force indeed.
Rod Faulkner is a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan, as well as the founder of The7thMatrix.com, an ad-free site that promotes independent SF&F web series and short films. Any donation to help the site continue its mission is greatly appreciated.
Rod is also the author of the short film guide 200 Best Online Sci-Fi Short Films.