Lando Calrissian Was Right

Last weekend me and my partner, Kate, were at our one of our local New York City watering holes. This is the kind of place that blasts XTC’s “Dear God” and shows movies on their televisions instead of sports. It’s usually here that I notice things about movies I’ve seen dozens of times that I’ve not noticed before, which is probably because of a combination of three reasons: there’s no sound, so the subtitles are on, so I’m reading dialogue instead of hearing it; the lack of sound makes me pay more attention to the visuals; and alcohol, obviously. For whatever reason, on this night, there was a sci-fi theme, with a projector showing rotating clips from the original Star Trek series, Lost in Space, and the Flash Gordon movie starring Sam Jones. The two main televisions were playing Logan’s Run and The Empire Strikes Back in their entirety.

I’ve always kind of thought Lando Calrissian was unfairly maligned for his contribution to the events of The Empire Strikes Back. Now I truly believe this. Lando is maybe the only sensible character in this whole movie. At the time, people didn’t know what to make of him and questioned if he was a hero or a villain, even though The Empire Strikes Back ends with Lando clearly on the side of the Rebel Alliance. To the point how could any reasonable person come away thinking otherwise?

But from the time we meet Lando until the time he finally decides to fight back against the Empire (and briefly get choked out by Chewbacca), his character is carefully constructed and the audience is meant to question what this guy’s deal is. But it’s a trick The Empire Strikes Back is playing on the audience because the movie is careful to never have Lando actually do anything remotely sinister or evil. “Oh, but he betrays Han!” Honestly, I don’t even think Lando knowingly does this. Also, Lando doesn’t owe anything to Han. Lando’s responsibility is to the people of Cloud City, not these fugitives who literally show up out of the blue on his doorstep.

Let’s look at this from Lando’s point of view, incorporating some real-world events. Let’s say you’re the mayor of a small industrial city. You’re getting a sweetheart tax deal because you fly under the radar of a lot of bigger operations and state and federal governments have bigger fish to fry. This all sets up an era of prosperity for your city and the residents of the city. You are, by all accounts, a popular mayor and the city is running well. Everyone is making money.

Out of the blue this dirtbag you knew from a previous life shows up in your town. Let’s say he and his three associates are famously wanted by the FBI for storming the Capitol. The last thing you want as the mayor of this town is federal agents snooping around. Not only that, your dirtbag friend you haven’t seen in years is asking if you’ll fix your old car that you used to own. For free. So yes, your buddy just needs a few favors, which amount to some aiding and abetting known fugitive charges.

Now, the Feds are onto your old pal already and knew exactly where he was going. To the point, the feds arrive first and threaten to shut down the industry center of your city unless you help. But there’s some good news, these four who are coming? The feds don’t care about them at all. They are small fish. They are after the ringleader. And the feds are quite sure the ringleader will show up shortly after your old friend arrives. In the meantime, just show everyone a good time. Give them a tour. Fix his car for free. And once the ringleader shows up, the feds will be on their way with this other guy you’ve never even heard of in your life. So Lando is in a bad spot here, but Han is the one who brought this on him. And, again, Lando’s duty is to the citizens of Cloud City. If I’m Lando, I’m furious at Han. To the point, he should have just told Vader, “You can take him, too, I don’t care.” The fact Lando even bothered negotiating for Han in the first place is above and beyond. When Lando marches out to greet Han, I can only imagine there’s some truth to his whole, “You’ve got a lot of guts coming here,” shtick before turning on the charm.

I love the scene in the detention cell. The audience is, of course, going to empathize with Han and Leia’s point of view because we’ve now spent over one and a half movies with these characters – and a Holiday Special and three nonstop years of Star Wars hype – and we just met Lando. We are upset Lando doesn’t help these characters we like and doesn’t seem to care at all about Luke Skywalker. (Also, it’s funny Lando, even with Vader not around, still refers to him as “Lord Vader” just in conversation.) Lando mentions he’s done all he can do but he’s got his own problems. Han sarcastically calls Lando a “real hero,” but, come on, Lando’s point of view here is an extremely fair one. He does have his own problems! He has an entire city to run! Not to mention, Han literally punches Lando in the face – again, the mayor of the city Han is currently in – and Lando calls off his secret service detail hellbent on beating the stuffing out of this criminal who caused all these problems in the first place.

Also, it’s never mentioned that Lando gave up the most to join the Rebellion. Han was a two-bit smuggler. Luke lost his family and had nothing left. Leia was a career politician who lost her entire planet. These are three people, who, at this point, didn’t have much to lose. Lando ran a city and a business! He was living the dream! He could have continued doing so, he just had to turn over these three people and their droid. But Lando’s conscience got the best of him and he gave it all up.

(There’s a scene during the last part of The Empire Strikes Back that really stood out this time. It’s a small detail, but Star Wars used to be so good at these small details and just kind of being vague about the larger issues. Now it’s the opposite. It’s during Luke’s rescue when the Millennium Falcon is hovering beneath Luke as he hangs from the weather vane. Lando is the one who opens a hatch at the top of the Falcon to retrieve Luke. I’ve seen this scene too many, many times, and have noticed this before, but never really thought about it: Lando wears a safety harness and actually hooks himself to the Falcon so he doesn’t fall out. This is such a great little detail and a very smart thing to do. Again, Lando just might be the most sensible character in this movie.)


I wish we’d stop saying Lando betrays Han and Leia on Cloud City. Lando was correct, he has his own problems and it was lousy Han and Leia brought the Empire to Cloud City in the first place. Also, Lando was initially under the impression the only person the Empire wanted was Luke Skywalker, whoever that even is. Lando’s obligation was to the people of Cloud City and he did everything in his power to protect them until he couldn’t any longer. Then gave it all up – politics, money, power, his business, a full city – to work as a guard at Jabba the Hutt’s palace. This was the ultimate sacrifice.

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