Lando Calrissian didn’t need to be there. Neither did R2-D2 or the Ewoks, for that matter. Billy Dee Williams could have made his debut on Dancing With the Stars and done that “dance” holding an open Colt 45 and not spilled a drop with that two-step shuffle thrust, and it would have been fine. But invoking the likeness of one of the baddest, smoothest sci-fi hustlers of all time was enough to throw the earth off its axis.
Williams, 76, appeared last night on the dancing show after having not one, but two hip replacements. He was trying his hand at winning the coveted mirror-ball trophy, and that is his right. But he didn’t need to dress up as one of my all-time coveted black superheroes.
Before Lando, black men in outer space were monosyllabic stereotypes portrayed as African bushmen who spoke only some garbled form of grunts and noises.
Sure, Lando carried some old black tropes with him into Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, considering that Han Solo described him to someone as ” … a card player, gambler, scoundrel.”
But he was there, on Cloud City, alongside Harrison Ford. And Lando was a suave, super-mack-like black superhero with no superpower other than his blackness, and therefore he was amazing.
He had a job, a wife and a son he named Lando Calrissian Jr., who they nicknamed “Chance.” He had an outer space life. He tried to mack on Princess Leia, and sure it was ineffective, but he was there! His character was so smooth and calculating and authentic that upon the movie’s release, he was criticized for reprising his role as the charmer Louis McKay from Lady Sings the Blues.
He also wasn’t a sideshow or a bit part but a relied-upon black character with as much game and wit as Han Solo. And let’s not forget (spoiler alert) that it was Lando who destroyed the Second Death Star!
There is a reason we don’t watch superheroes get old: It breaks the fictional fantasy. We are comfortable watching them save people from buildings or helping them escape Cloud City, but no one wants to see old Superman in full costume drinking an Ensure to make sure he gets enough fiber.
Or an old Batman with his utility belt around his beer belly, laid out in a recliner. And no black man of a certain age wants to see the once-great, now 76-year-old Lando Calrissian do the cha-cha.