Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, smooth administrator of Cloud City and former “card player, gambler, scoundrel”
A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away
Film: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Release Date: May 21, 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Costume Designer: John Mollo
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
After the recent release of the trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker teased Billy Dee Williams’ return as Lando Calrissian, I wanted to celebrate the character’s debut nearly 40 years ago in The Empire Strikes Back for this post on May the 4th, casually observed as “Star Wars Day”.
With movies like Brian’s Song and Lady Sings the Blues among his filmography, Billy Dee Williams was a popular star when he first auditioned for the role of Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie released in 1977. Three years later, Williams finally found his place in the Star Wars saga with the role of Cloud City’s charismatic administrator—and Solo’s one-time pal—Lando Calrissian.
We meet Lando when the Millennium Falcon’s broken hyperdrive forces Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to take a chance by landing “the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy” at Cloud City, a tibanna gas mine outpost managed by the ship’s original owner, Lando, whose origin story gets a deeper introduction in Solo: A Star Wars Story where he is portrayed by Donald Glover. Han is surprised to find that the gambler and smuggler he knew in his younger days has seemingly transformed into a responsible and politically connected businessman.
Yeah, I’m responsible these days. The price you pay for being successful.
Unfortunately, the true price of Lando’s success was the betrayal of his old pal as he not only turned Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids over to Darth Vader but also agreed to set a trap for Luke Skywalker’s return. Lando soon laments that “this deal is getting worse all the time” as he secretly acts on the behalf of his new friends, organizing their escape from Bespin and eventually rising to the rank of general in the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi (1983), the final film of the original trilogy.
This May 4th, we mourn the recent loss of Peter Mayhew at the age of 74. Standing more than seven feet tall, the Surrey-born actor portrayed Chewbacca in five live action Star Wars films before he retired from the role after The Force Awakens (2015). He leaves a legacy of grace, kindness, and enthusiasm for his many fans and the impact of his role.
What’d He Wear?
Lando Calrissian’s sweeping sky blue vestments are appropriately colored given the nephological associations of the floating colony he oversees.
The outer layer is a knee-length circle cape with a sky blue shell and bronze brocade silk lining with shades of gold and sage green. The cape has a wide turndown collar in a very dark leather (or leather-effect material) that matches the piping of his shirt.
The shirt is a loose-fitting, silky sky blue long-sleeve henley with an overlapping V-neck placket with no visible buttons but a hidden closure that fastens the placket just below the mid-point. The long sleeves are gathered at the cuffs, which are trimmed in the same dark leather as the shirt’s placket and the cape’s collar.
A symbol of his grand position—and his ability to be corrupted by the empire—the cape is ditched when Lando actively begins helping Leia, Chewie, C3PO, and R2D2 as the gang of five makes their escape from Bespin.
Lando wears plain navy blue flat front trousers with no visible pockets, finished with plain-hemmed bottoms. The waist is covered by Lando’s wide black leather belt has trapezoidal links that increase in size around his waist as they get to the central front piece, a large keystone-shaped buckle embossed with three squares, stacked vertically and connected like a maze.
Lando clicks his heels down the halls of Cloud City in a pair of well-shined black patent leather cap-toe boots with gently raised heels and decorative etching on the shafts that extend up to mid-calf. (Lando’s footwear had been identified as “Liwari shoes” in Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary, but I’m not sure if that’s what these are meant to be.
On his right wrist, Lando wears a “wrist link” device, the Galactic Empire’s precursor to the Apple Watch. The surprisingly prescient gadget consists of a squared silver pod worn on the inside of his right wrist with five small red buttons, two small silver buttons, and a large black rectangular button.
While hardly as stylish as a Rolex or Omega, the wrist link was a well-timed gadget, appearing on the scene at a time when even James Bond wore a digital watch.
While ready-made costumes exist, you can also follow the well-informed and deeply researched guides from Star Wars fans like the creators at Rebel Legion.
The finale of The Empire Strikes Back features Lando undoubtedly in service to the Rebel Alliance. To remove all doubt, we briefly see him in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca at his side while dressed in the very Han Solo-like outfit of a beige collared shirt and black vest.
As a newly appointed general in the Rebel Alliance during the events of Return of the Jedi, Lando adopts his khaki uniform of a short-sleeved jerkin with a concealed fly and a high crew-neck top worn under the collar leaves of his slightly lighter-colored long-sleeve shirt under it. The jerkin has a small, flapped, inverted box-pleated pocket on each of the short sleeves while the long-sleeve shirt also has flapped bellows pockets on the sleeves just above the elbows. General Calrissian wears his insignia on both shirt collar leaves and on the left breast of the jerkin.
Lando’s new role finds him back in a cape, albeit a more sober one made from a slate gray waffle-knit fabric and connected across the neck with a taupe braided cord similar to a fourragère. Over his baby blue flat front trousers with a yellow stripe down each side, Lando wears another thick black leather belt but in a more traditional style with a squared steel-toned single-prong buckle. The belt coordinates with his black leather jackboots, worn over his trouser bottoms.
General Calrissian carries his Alliance-issued handgun in a brown leather shoulder holster under his left arm with a thick belt that crosses his chest from right shoulder-down-to-left hip like a Sam Browne belt. He wears another wrist link on his right arm, though it’s much larger and worn on a wide dark brown leather cuff that covers the squared cuff of his shirt and fastens with two brass rivets on the underside.
Donald Glover portrayed a younger but no less rakish Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). One standout outfit is a yellow shirt with a dramatically flapped front, welted breast pocket, and long turnback cuffs, all accented in black.
Read more about how young Lando’s look was established by costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman in Maiysha Kai’s June 2018 article for The Glow Up.
Glover’s Lando also wears a cape, though it’s a shorter black one, as well as black pants and black leather boots.
…and Older Lando
It looks like Billy Dee Williams is set to reprise Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, wearing a yellow shirt with black trim that echoes Donald Glover’s portrayal of the younger character while also reflecting the aesthetic of the henley-draped-under-a-cape that he wore in The Empire Strikes Back.
What to Imbibe
We never get much of a chance to see Lando at leisure, as his invitation for Han and Leia to enjoy “a little refreshment” results in a trap set to lead the two directly into Darth Vader’s hands. One imagines that, had Lando the opportunity to truly entertain his friends, they would have been welcomed by an endless supply of Colt 45.
National Brewing Company from Baltimore introduced Colt 45 to the world in 1963, bringing competition to a malt liquor market that had been previously dominated by Country Club. Although it shares its name with the popular handgun and ammunition, the brewer insists that the product was named after Jerry Hill, the Baltimore Colts’ star running back throughout the decade who wore #45.
More than a half century later, the Baltimore brewery is defunct but its brands—National Bohemian Beer (“Natty Boh”) and Colt 45—remain in production by Pabst Brewing Company.
When Lando has his guards overpower the Imperial Stormtroopers escorting the rebel prisoners to Darth Vader’s ship, he also takes their BlasTech E-11 Blaster Rifles, first doling out a pair to Leia and Chewbacca before commandeering one himself. As Lando later yields one of the blasters to great effect against the stormtroopers themselves, we understand that the stormtroopers’ notorious inability to hit their targets is likely a fault of the user and not the firearm itself.
The E-11 blasters issued to the stormtroopers were built from the British-made Sterling L2A3 submachine gun, provided by Bapty & Co., according to IMFDB. Despite it being a “blaster” rather than the firearms we’re familiar with, the prop guns are still occasionally seen ejecting spent cartridge cases, particularly as Lando trades gunfire with the stormtroopers. (One wonders why they would even need to be loaded with blanks in the first place if the laser effect would just be added in post-production anyway!)
The spent cartridge issue was rectified for Return of the Jedi, where most of the E-11 blaster props were built from MGC Sterling replicas rather than actual firearms modified to fire blanks. By that film, however, now-General Calrissian carried a smaller handgun, modified from a Heckler & Koch P9S semi-automatic pistol, in a shoulder holster as seen here.
How to Get the Look
The undeniably dashing Lando Calrissian embraces simple elegance for his cushy political gig as the proud administrator of Cloud City
- Sky blue long-sleeve henley shirt with dark leather placket and cuff trim
- Sky blue knee-length circle cape with dark leather turndown collar and bronze brocade lining
- Navy blue flat front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather link-style belt with embossed keystone-shaped black leather frontpiece
- Black leather mid-calf boots with etched shafts and raised heels
- Silver digital “wrist link” device on black strap
We all know capes aren’t for everyone… unless you’re Frank Costanza’s lawyer, so how can you really bring a taste of Lando to an everyday outfit?
- Light blue long-sleeve henley with navy piping
- iClosam “Casual Slim Fit Henley”, $18.99
- Medium blue jacket with a shirt-style collar
- Banana Republic “Lightweight Officer’s Shirt Jacket”, $129
- Navy blue flat front trousers with simple pockets
- Haggar “Premium Comfort Khaki”, $23.96 and up
- Black belt with black “ratchet” buckle
- Lavemi “Ratchet Dress Belt”, $10.99-$18.99
- Black Chelsea boots
- Clarks “Hinman Chelsea Boot”, $42.95 and up
- Steel digital wristwatch
- Casio A158WA-1DF, $17.25
Above prices as of May 4, 2019.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the original trilogy.
Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler. You’ve got a lot of guts coming here, after what you pulled.
Good write-up. Someone should post it to Billy Dee’s Twitter…you WILL get a response, as the man loves his fans.
I’d like to see a write-up of the young Han and the old Han. I know you did a post on Harrison Ford’s Original Trilogy but maybe you can do a young/old post as well.