'The Empire Strikes Back' Vintage Interview: Billy Dee Williams Spoils Lando Twist, Shows Off Artwork

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Do you sense a disturbance in the Force? Maybe that’s because May 25 will be the 40th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars in theaters. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, we’ll be posting Star Wars stories all month, including choice vintage interviews, original videos, and some of our favorite pieces from years past. Just keep coming back here all month to see what’s happening in our galaxy. 

Billy Dee Williams didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about Lando Calrissian, even if it meant spoiling his whole Empire Strikes Back storyline. In this Today Show clip from 1980, Williams defends his Star Wars character and teases his role in the upcoming Return of the Jedi. In doing so, he reveals one of the film’s big twists: Lando’s betrayal of Han Solo, and his subsequent redemption. Hey, at least he didn’t give away the identity of Luke’s father. Watch it above.

“He’s not evil! He’s just a guy caught in a situation,” Williams tells then-Today co-host Mariette Hartley, after she accuses him of being a bad guy. “This is really an introduction of a new hero in the whole Star Wars family. I gotta go out now and get Boba Fett the bounty hunter and save Han Solo’s life.” (Is it possible that George Lucas oversold Williams’s Jedi role to him, just a bit?)

Prior to The Empire Strikes Back, Williams was known for, in the words of Today‘s reporter, “heavy, serious drama” like the made-for-TV tearjerker Brian’s Song and the Oscar-nominated Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. Perhaps to show that he’s still in touch with his artistic side, Williams came to the Today appearance with a collection of his watercolor portraits (which are shown briefly at the end of the interview).

We haven’t seen the last of Lando in the Star Wars universe: A young Calrissian will be played by Donald Glover in the upcoming Han Solo movie. Unlike Williams in 1980, Glover is unlikely to encounter any reporters who can’t pronounce “Calrissian.”

See every time “May the Force Be With You” is spoken in the ‘Star Wars’ movies:

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