After 36 years, Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: Episode IX — now officially titled The Rise of Skywalker. The suave and debonair baron-administrator of Cloud City, Bespin, took the stage at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago this afternoon as the audience got a first look of him back in costume.
Williams, 82, has played Gayle Sayers (Brian’s Song, 1971) Bingo Long (The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, 1976) and Harvey Dent (Batman, 1989), but Lando Calrissian is by far his most well known role, and he returned to it with relish.
“How did I find Lando again? Lando never left me,” Williams said, when host Stephen Colbert asked him how he got back into character.
In a playful way, he got defensive about how the character has been seen in the nearly 40 years since his debut in The Empire Strikes Back. “I have to explain this stuff to people I don’t know why. I get sick and tired of being accused of betraying Han Solo,” he said.
“All of a sudden it’s like I’m talking about me, not Lando Calrissian,” he joked. “But he was up against Darth Vader he had to figure out something. Besides, did anybody die? I had to figure out a way to prevent the complete demise of my friend and all of his friends.”
Lando Calrissian returned to the screen in last year’s prequel spin-off Solo: A Star Wars Story, in which Donald Glover perfectly matched the personality, dialogue, and speaking cadence that Williams had laid down earlier.
Williams, director J.J. Abrams, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy were as coy about Calrissian’s role in the Episode IX story as they were about all other details of the movie. But Abrams did say that Williams’ first day on set was “honestly, an emotional thing.”
“It was a big group scene, and Billy came onto the set and it was like [whooshing noise] and everyone went silent,” Abrams said.
Star Wars: Episode IX premieres Dec. 20, 2019.