I recently re-watched The Empire Strikes Back, and I came away pretty certain that if you did the math, the movie is about 20% ice and snow, 30% Luke being a bad student, and 50% people talking about how much they “don’t trust Lando.”
And it makes perfect sense. Lando Calrissian is the one who betrays his friends. He is a wild card. A rogue. A scoundrel. Right?
It’s Han Solo, in fact, after being betrayed by Lando, tortured by Darth Vader, tossed into a cell in Cloud City, and given a quick thumping by Lando’s guards, who spits out with much contempt, “You’re a real hero.”
And he’s right. Just not how he thinks.
For years – decades really, I saw Lando the way Han does. A guy who betrayed his best friend to keep himself out of trouble. Who only redeems himself in the end, and eventually becomes a hero of the rebellion. But, you know what? To hell with that argument!
Lando, as portrayed by the unflappable Billy Dee Williams is practically the biggest hero in the Empire Strikes Back. Hands down.
Sure, as Han points out, Lando was a swindler, a gambler, an all-around imperfect guy a long time ago. However, when we meet Lando (after the awkward hostile/friendly greeting which I will get into later), he’s become a responsible businessman. He has a mining operation. He has hundreds (if not thousands) of people whose livelihoods he’s responsible for. He’s grown up.
And then along comes that knucklehead from his past. Han Solo. We all have that person who decided way too late in life to finally become an adult. So, You, Me and Dupree -style, here’s Han with his new girlfriend and his pet dog wanting to crash on your couch because he needs to hide out from the cops (BTW, girlfriend’s dad is the sheriff). You don’t want that kind of trouble in your life. You sure as shit don’t want him showing up at your workplace.
And then, as we realize quickly, it’s too late anyway. Darth Vader has already arrived. Boba Fett is there – content to stand around looking cool.
And if you are Lando, and you have the lives of hundreds of people who are now being threatened by the Empire thanks to your old gambling buddy who can’t seem to pay his bills ever, you might just turn all the rebels in and call it a day. But he doesn’t.
“What about Han Solo?” you may say. “He totally let Han down!”
Look, Han knows that there’s a bounty on his head. He knows that at any given point his luck has an expiration date. This is the life he chose. He knows that at some point he’s either going to have to pay Jabba the Hutt back, or pay the consequences. And why, by this point, has he still not?! This is Jabba. He feeds dancers to Rancor monsters for rejecting his sexual harassment.
Lando can’t save Han. But what he can do is keep Leia and Chewbacca safe at Cloud City. That was a term of his agreement with Vader, and probably not one that Vader put in there. Whether Vader ever planned on keeping that part of the arrangement or not, who knows, but Lando clearly thinks he’s doing as much good as he can.
And of course Vader does change the deal, and Lando is quick to react to it. This is the Sith Lord who chokes his own officers, yet Lando is willing to get in his face – twice – on behalf of people who’ve only brought him trouble so far. That’s not being much of a scoundrel.
And what about our beloved rebel leaders? They are literally too busy being butt hurt to listen to anything Lando has to say or to pay attention to the fact that he is giving them a whole lot of information he probably shouldn’t be, and doing his best to make sure they’re still alive. They are dismissive when he frustratedly points out that he wishes he could do more but he’s got his own problems. I get their anger. But his own problems happen to be, once again, the hundreds of people whose lives are now in danger because the Millennium Falcon – the most conspicuous ship in the galaxy – is up on blocks parked in their front yard.
When Lando realizes that Leia and Chewbacca are not going to be as safe as he originally thought, he and his boy Lobot exchange a couple of knowing glances, which is enough for them to neutralize the squad of storm troopers who are escorting our heroes to their doom. That operation is one of the smoothest and most badass in the movie. And this is where I would like to point out that everyone’s friendship goals should really be to have somebody in your life who gets you the way Lobot gets Lando.
“You brought me a meatball sub! How did you know I needed a meatball sub?”
“You just had that look, buddy!”
So now Lando knows that what he’s done is irreversible. He evacuates the people he is responsible for; he grabs some blasters, frees Leia and Chewie and now it’s time to go save Ha—-
Except it it’s not, because the Wookie he just freed is now choking the living shit out of him. I understand Chewie has some pent-up aggression. We know Chewbacca hates handcuffs/binders. Leia is understandably stressed because she just watched her boyfriend get frozen (never mind the fact that she once watched her entire planet get blown up and didn’t lose her cool). And there’s C-3PO in pieces hanging off of Chewbacca like a gold backpack telling everyone to listen to Lando.
“Trust him! Trust him!”
And we all roll our eyes at Threepio. Except we are ALL WRONG.
Once everything is sorted out, they are off and running to save Solo. But even though Boba Fett and the two guys pushing Han’s frozen floating sarcophagus are moving at a snail’s pace, for some unknown reason, our heroes show up just as Slave One is taking off – too late to save Ha–. If only they hadn’t stopped to strangle their rescuer. Maybe that’s just me.
They do escape, but Lando basically lets himself get yelled at for the rest of the movie. Before inevitably joining up with our crew to go rescue Han.
I think it’s fair to say that Lando could have made a lot of better decisions. Maybe he tried. Some people even suggest that having the Cloud City ships shoot at the Falcon was an attempt to drive Han away so he wouldn’t get trapped by the Empire. Also, I always found Lando’s hostile-turned-jokey greeting at the landing pad to be a little weird, given that he knows Vader is here for his bro. But maybe the whole point was to arouse suspicion, in hopes that they might figure it out and escape.
But for all his imperfections. Lando isn’t just a guy in a bad situation forced to betray his friends. He is someone in a bad situation who is so loyal to his friends that he puts everything at risk time and time again and accepts the blame for things he has no hand in. Ultimately he proved himself to be the most loyal of anyone in the original Star Wars saga. Not just in helping rescue Han in Return of the Jedi, but then in placing so much trust in Solo that he puts the entire rebel fleet at risk — keeping them engaged against the Death Star because he has faith his friend will pull off his impossible mission to destroy the shield generator on Endor – Han’s just running a little behind schedule.
I’m the guy, who, if you’re five minutes late meeting me for dinner, I’m already halfway into that bread bowl. If you’re five minutes late to the movies, I’m not missing the trailers for you – you can catch me inside and I might save you a seat.
And if Darth Vader comes looking for you at my office, I’m the guy who’s giving you up. I’ll bring a meatball sub to your cell, but I’m not breaking you out. I’m just praying that Vader doesn’t alter the deal. Basically, Lando is a way better friend than I will ever be; better than most of us will ever be.