More than 40 years after audiences met Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, fans know just how heroic the Billy Dee Williams character is, but when audiences first met the smuggler in 1980, they would express their disappointment in Lando’s decisions to turn Han Solo over to Darth Vader anytime they encountered Williams. The actor recently recalled how he got so sick of all of the complaints, he would shut down those conversations by expressing how no one died due to those actions and detailed how his character was doing what was best for him. Luckily, it only took a few years for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi to showcase a more courageous side of the character when he helped blow up the Death Star II.
“When I would pick my daughter up from school, the kids would run up to me and say, ‘You betrayed Han Solo!’ … I’d go on an airplane and the airplane stewards would say, ‘You betrayed Han Solo!'” Williams joked to the Dagobah Dispatch podcast. “I got that for a lot of years. So finally, I said, ‘Look, think about the whole situation. You’re up against a pretty formidable character in Darth Vader. And then there’s, of course, Boba Fett. And these people were invading my space and I had to bargain with them. But the bargain at least prevented the complete demise of Han Solo and his friends. But I had to hold on to my whole situation.”
He continued, “So I found myself explaining all this stuff to a point where I finally said to people, ‘Look, I’m tired of explaining all of this.’ I said, ‘Did anybody die? Nobody died!’ I think that was a clear indication that Lando was trying to figure something out and he was trying to figure out primarily how to hold onto his situation without the complete demise of his friend.”
These interactions are a testament to how beloved the Star Wars franchise and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo was, in that Williams seemingly couldn’t escape being the target of the backlash from fans. Actors still face similar backlash to this day, though it often comes in the form of social media posts as opposed to in-person confrontations.
The actor also looked back on Lando’s debut in the saga, in the iconic scene in which Lando comes out to greet Han, Leia, and Chewbacca on a Cloud City platform, first appearing antagonistic before embracing Han.
“For me it was kind of a pivotal, classic, dubious hero moment, and I just wanted to make the best of it,” Williams confessed of the sequence. “I wanted to do something really interesting with it. I was always thinking: Let me do this and not make people conscious of the fact that I am a particular ethnicity. I didn’t want that to be the focus or the focal point in introducing that character. It was me, Billy Dee, doing what Billy Dee does.”
Williams appeared on the podcast in support of his upcoming memoir What Have We Here?, which hits shelves on February 13th.