Where’s Lando? (And other Episode VII musings)
by Andrew Jamieson, Geekzine UK’s Editor-in-chief
It is the question I have asked more than any other (with regard to Star Wars, of course; usually the most asked question of the day is “what’s for dinner?”) since that cast photo was released at the end of April. Straight away there was some backlash, particularly on twitter that I noticed, regarding a) the lack of females in the cast, and b) the mainly white cast. But one other grumble surfaced, and is the question I refer to, and that was: “Where’s Lando?”
That question is not easily answered, if answered at all. But let us examine the evidence before us. Firstly, the important thing to remember is that this cast announcement is of the principal cast, with confirmation from LucasFilm that more announcements will be made. For example, there will no doubt be numerous supporting roles to fill, for this is the epic universe of the Star Wars saga. So, with reference to the above alphabetized grumbles, I feel quite sure there will be more of a) and that b) will be an ongoing consideration.
BUT. Where is Lando?
Growing up, the sometime rogue-cardshark-turned-administrator-turned-general-and-hero-of-the-rebellion that is Lando Calrissian was one of my favourite characters. From a young mind’s point of view, he quite simply had some of the best action figures. The original Kenner line in the early eighties released a Bespin Governor Lando figure, all in blue shades with a plastic cape. This was followed for Return of the Jedi with Lando in ‘Skiff Guard Disguise’ complete with nifty helmet. Post-film release, Kenner brought out a ‘General Pilot’ Lando, as seen in the latter stages of Jedi, where he commands the Millennium Falcon. This figure had a nylon cape, an upgrade from the plastic sheeting for sure.
It is interesting to note that a concern raised post-Episode VII cast reveal, is of the mainly white cast. Back in the summer of 1977, the original Star Wars (pre-A New Hope subtitle, which would be added for the film’s re-release in 1981), as well as being a blockbuster success, also attracted such concerns. So when it came to the character of Lando Calrissian for The Empire Strikes Back, it seems that such criticism had not escaped George Lucas. In his book, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, author Dale Pollock confirms as much:
The most sensitive part to cast in Empire was Lando. Still smarting from criticism that Star Wars was racist, George conceived of Lando as “a suave, dashing black man in his thirties” and specified in his script that that half of the Cloud City residents and troops were to be black (in the actual film, only a few blacks are visible). Lucas sought Billy Dee Williams from the outset, after seeing him in Lady Sings The Blues. Williams was reluctant to play what he thought was a token black, but soon realized that Lando could be portrayed by a black or white actor. “The part requires a universal, international quality, which I have,” Williams says. “Lando is an alternative to the usual WASP hero.”
(Excerpt from page 213)
Bill Dee Williams (born William December Williams Jnr) was already an established star by the time he was cast in Empire, having appeared in a number of critically acclaimed and academy award-nominated pictures. He was gifted with a character of dubious morality; greeting his old pal, Han Solo, with humour and hugs, it is not long before he has sold him out to Darth Vader (admittedly to keep Bespin Cloud City out of the clutches of the Empire). When Vader reneges on their deal, Lando reveals his honourable streak and attempts to make right his betrayal, and rescues Leia and Chewbacca, but is too late to save Han from being frozen in carbonite, now the prize of the bounty hunter, Boba Fett.
In Return of the Jedi, Billy Dee’s Lando is developed beyond his rogue persona in Empire, and gets some great scenes. Starting off undercover in Jabba’s Palace, he proceeds to aid in freeing Luke, Han and Chewy on a skiff barge hovering above the perilous Pit of Charkoon, home to the fearsome Sarlaac (pre-spesh edish beak), inadvertently dangling into the pit when things get a bit slapstick. I love this scene; there’s great contrast at work by the great, late director, Richard Marquand. We get a bit of Luke in full Jedi mode, backflipping and swashbuckling his way aboard Jabba’s barge, counteracting the slightly botched escape of Han and Chewie: “Boba Fett?” says Han. “Boba Fett? Where?” before sending the bounty hunter off to his ignominous doom in the belly of the Sarlaac…
Lando is then later revealed to now be the cooler-than-ice General Calrissian, and gets to command his old ship, the Millennium Falcon, alongside bizarre alien co-pilot Nien Nunb, at the fore of the fleet sent to attack the second Death Star.
So, this we all know, we’ve watched the original trilogy countless times haven’t we? And Lando, aside from the most famous central characters, is a firm fan favourite, so it would make sense to bring him back, surely? On a cynical note, think of all that merchandise revenue…
I’m not going to entertain idle gossip by speculating as to why Billy Dee Williams hasn’t been announced as part of the Episode VII cast. Idle gossip won’t answer my original question. But I will put forward a theory.
Let us consider the quite notable fact that screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan is penning Episode VII, having taken over from Matthew Arndt, in unusual circumstances; at the time when he was punted from the production, it was rumoured that his script focused more on a new generation of characters, and that Abrams/Disney/LucasFilm were not comfortable with this, and wanted the original main characters to return in prominence. Ergo the increased presence of Kasdan, from consultant to scriptwriter. You can read LucasFilm’s official press release on the exit of Arndt here: http://starwars.com/news/master-filmmaking-team-announced-for-star-wars.html
Kasdan, as you may or may not know, co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, coming in to assist Leigh Brackett, and also wrote Return of the Jedi. Both films feature Lando Calrissian in prominent supporting roles. If any writer on the planet is aware of Lando’s appeal/usefulness as a character, it is Lawrence Kasdan. Therefore, I take some comfort in the fact that if Lando doesn’t feature it may well be for a good narrative reason that Kasdan and J.J. Abrams have considered carefully. Personally, I think Lando will feature at some point, perhaps in a small role somewhere in the new trilogy.
Internet rumours were suggesting that John Boyega, confirmed as one of the cast, would be playing Lando’s son, but this appears to stem from the fact that he is the only black actor cast thus far. Billy Dee Williams, on at least one occasion, has said that his favoured storyline for the Calrissians would be for Lando’s offspring to become a Jedi(s). Time and Kasdan’s script will tell all, but I’m not banking on it. I suspect Boyega will be a young Jedi but I think it unlikely he will be a Calrissian. If he is, then it may be a neat way of not including Lando at all.
On the subject of the new cast, the actors confirmed so far seem a good, diverse mix, ranging from the original films (bar Lando of course), a smattering of recognizable faces (Andy Serkis, Max Von Sydow, Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson), to relative unknowns (Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley). Of course, it is hard to speculate as to whether this is good casting until we have a better idea of who is playing who, or what. For example, will Serkis be up to his mo-capped escapades once more, in what is likely to be a creature/effects-heavy production, or will we see his face on screen? Perhaps a bit of both, I dare say.
So, production has started, and there does not seem to be a particularly clandestine nature surrounding the production. Good natured secrecy for sure, but J.J Abrams has already recorded a couple of videoblogs for fans (revealing a new creature in a very cheeky fashion), and I suspect this will continue throughout production. We will be fed enough scraps to keep us going but, as with other Abrams productions, it is quite possible that his new film, and the latest chapter in the lives of the Skywalkers, will feature at least one or two surprises along the way. Will Luke turn to the Dark Side? Is Leia a Jedi? Will Chewbacca’s fur be grey? Will the topic of Midichlorians be discussed? (And dismissed)
I have a theory that maybe the antagonist in this new SW may well have been referenced in Episode III, about halfway through the film, in the scene where Chancellor Palpatine is telling Anakin the story of “the Sith legend of Darth Plagueis the Wise”, who according to Palpatine was a Sith Lord who had mastered the Midichlorians making him able to create life, and prevent death. Of course, Palpatine is playing upon Anakin’s concerns over his vision of Padme’s death, and like the dolt he is Anakin plays right into his hands and ultimately ends up being responsible for Padme’s death. What a wally. Anyway, Palpatine infers that this Sith Lord is dead (and it is later revealed by Palpatine that he murdered Plagueis), but if Plagueis truly conquered death, then, well, he might be up and around and needing some vengeance…. Yes, that is the sound of geek straws being scratched through.
Come what may, the prospect of a new Star Wars film on the horizon is damn exciting and, for me, eclipses all of the comic book movies in the world, ever.
But hold on a tic – where is Warwick Davis? And how about Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles? Admiral Ackbar??! I could go on… However, I want to share with you an interesting J.J. Abrams quote, from issue 299 of Empire magazine, in a feature called ‘Empire’s Greatest Interviews’ (pages 62 to 63):
“Star Wars was everything to me when I was a kid. It was this mind-expanding, visually stunning emotional ride. Like with Star Trek, though, I think the original films are what Star Wars really is. With the prequels, the video games, the endless books and now the TV series, it’s diluted what Star Wars meant in much the same way as what’s happened to Trek.” (from Empire issue 234, December 2008)
What makes this quote even more juicy, is that Abrams is now part of a behemoth production machine that intend to release a Star Wars film pretty much every year from 2015 onwards. Announced on the 22nd May was the news that Brit director, Gareth Edwards, fresh off the success of his Godzilla film, will be helming the first of the Star Wars standalone films, with relatively unknown writer, Gary Whitta, best known for his The Book of Eli script (not bad, good characterisation), and his work on the award-winning The Walking Dead videogame from Telltale Games . You can read LucasFilm’s official press release here: http://starwars.com/news/gareth-edwards-and-gary-whitta-onboard-for-star-wars-stand-alone-film.html
Two of these standalone movies have been confirmed thus far, and rumours have circulated that these will be origin movies, focusing possibly on Han Solo, and/or Boba Fett, and/or Yoda. Given Edwards quote after the announcement, perhaps he is more interested in the Rebel Alliance period SW; that would hold more potential than a character piece, I think. Now, it is great that Star Wars is getting this upsurge, and I am very excited about seeing the old characters of Luke, Han and Leia back on the big screen (Lando would complete it, of course), and taking my children along to revel in the all-round awesomeness of SW but I am concerned that these standalone pictures will fall flat. There is definitely room for more great Star Wars movies in the world – but definitely not any more rubbish ones.
Roll on Christmas 2015.
Andrew Jamieson is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Geekzine UK. He is also the author of cult Fantasy-Steampunk novel, The Vengeance Path, a top 5 bestseller in the Steampunk Kindle Top 100. It is the first (e)book in The Chronicles of Edenos. You can get it from amazon.co.uk for a few quid here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vengeance-Path-Chronicles-Edenos-ebook/dp/B00DQ0AIAI/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372836773&sr=1-5