This is a little off the cuff. This piece isn’t as thought out as I would like it to be. But I’m going to engage the Star Wars community with it anyhow and let you guys finish it or at best start a discussion on the topic that I think should be considered. Lando is a successful black man in the Star Wars galaxy, not a pimp or a disco king.
In 2002, I was at Star Wars Celebration II seeing the Lando and Lobot reunion panel. During the Q&A portion, someone made a comment to Billy Dee Williams, a talented actor and artist, that he was a “pimp.” Williams was physically shaken by the comment and almost gave the questioner a double take. He refuted the idea he was a “pimp.” Williams clearly saw the term through a difference lens than a middle class white kid. The connotations were entirely different.
Since then I have seen other people say the same thing to Williams and he seems to have grappled with the context a little better, seeing “pimp” as synonymous with “ladies man.” There is nothing wrong with acknowledging Lando as an “old smoothy.” The problem is when all we do is acknowledge Lando’s sexual prowess.
All of this came rushing back to me while I watched Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles a few days ago. In that series Lando is portrayed a young kid, cruising the galaxy with his father, always having a disco party where ever he goes. Now, I’m not pointing fingers at Lego Star Wars or the comedy here. But it does play into the a collective discourse and presentation of Lando beyond the Star Wars films.
Something about the totality of this stuff just does not sit right with me. I feel like there is a disservice to the character and Billy Dee Williams himself when Star Wars as an IP and the fandom embraces these ideas about Lando so often. I don’t mean to rain on the fun parade. But we should ask if this is appropriate and acceptable. Would this presentation exist if Lando had been a white character? My instincts tell me they would not.
In the Star Wars films, Lando puts the moves on Leia, kinda. He playfully flirts with her twice. But he’s also the most successful character we see in Episodes IV-VI. He isn’t a dirty farmer on a backwater planet. He is a successful administrator of a beautiful facility on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. In Return of the Jedi he is a general and leads the attack on the second Death Star. As a character he is not a party machine ready to play into Earth’s tropes about African Americans from the early 80’s.
Yes, Lando is smooth. I think the problem I have is when we narrow Calrissian’s character down to one thing which does not highlight the character’s positive sides and instead plays into negative black stereotypes.
Lando never dances in the films. Lando never even gets a lady in the films! Yet we inflate those ideas in other spheres in alarming ways. With so few African American characters in Star Wars, is it okay to play with Lando in this way? Do these depictions limit the scope of the character? Are such depictions even fair?
My instincts tell me this is wrong. There isn’t much we can do with fans inflating these small aspects (I’ve probably done it before too!), but perhaps on the official side of things, like Lego Star Wars, that help children build their ideas and assumptions about people, it should be lessened a bit?
Feel free to agree with me or tell me I’m wrong in the comments or on Twitter @MakingStarWars!