‘Star Wars’ actor Billy Dee Williams faced backlash after Han Solo ‘betrayal’ in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

Billy Dee Williams was ready to strike back after decades of being accused of betraying his friend, Han Solo.

The “Star Wars” actor, who played Lando Calrissian in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” has written a new memoir, “What Have We Here? Portraits of a Life.” It details his rise to stardom in Hollywood, what it was like making his mark in the film franchise, and how, for a time, he fell out of favor.

“One thing I liked about playing Lando was that he was a bit dubious,” the 86-year-old told Fox News Digital. “And I think that makes the character. … A good hero to me is a character that you’re not always quite sure of. And there was a certain uncertainty about Lando, which makes him a lot more interesting than just playing a straight good guy.”


Billy Dee Williams, right, appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back.” (Mark Sennet)

“But he was a good guy,” Williams said.

In the film, Lando is depicted as making a deal with the Empire, which leads to Solo (Harrison Ford) being captured and frozen in carbonite. It’s a moment that stunned viewers, and the backlash was immediately felt.

“Lando was up against Darth Vader and Boba Fett,” Williams explained. “He had to figure out how to prevent the complete demise of his friend Han Solo because they were buddies. Darth Vader and Boba Fett were on their tail. He was trying to buy time. But fans still saw it as a betrayal. And I had to deal with that. A lot of the fans had already fallen in love with Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. They already had a huge following. Here I come along, and I create a situation that would conceivably create a problem for these people. I was seen as a problem.”

Book cover for Billy Dee Williams memoir

Billy Dee Williams has written a new memoir titled “What Have We Here? Portraits of a Life.” (Knopf)

“I found myself having to deal with people,” Williams continued. “When I would pick up my daughter from school, kids would come running up to me and say, ‘You betrayed Han Solo!’ Whenever I got on a plane, the flight attendant would also accuse me of betraying Han Solo. I ran into a great deal of that for quite some time.”

Williams wrote that wherever he went, he was met with dirty looks. Some would approach Williams and publicly scold him. One man shopping with his teenage son looked at him and sneered in disgust, “I should put you in the deep freeze.” His son nodded in agreement. Parents at his daughter’s school didn’t think twice about scowling at him in front of their children.

Eventually, Williams got “fed up with it.”


American actors Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and British Peter Mayhew on the set of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Billy Dee Williams, far left, says Lando Calrissian “was a good guy.” (LucasFilms)

“I finally said, ‘Look, did anybody die?’” he recalled. “I was trying to do the best I could. … And I became part of the Force. I think that the character ultimately wasn’t a betrayal but a winning personality. And people just couldn’t resist him.”

Before “Star Wars,” Williams was already a successful actor and even worked alongside Diana Ross in 1972’s “Lady Sings the Blues.” And when George Lucas approached Williams for a role in his upcoming film, he couldn’t pass it up.

“At the time, you had these wonderful young filmmakers – Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese,” said Williams. “They were the face of cinema. If they call, you answer. And by the time George asked me, I was pretty popular after doing a couple of other films. … When I heard the name Lando Calrissian, I said, ‘My goodness, that’s interesting!’ It was an Armenian name, and it was right up my alley. I see myself as a full spectrum of colors. I don’t see myself as one thing or another.”

Billy Dee Williams in costume walking in front of a group of men

Billy Dee Williams was invited by George Lucas to play Lando Calrissian. (Mark Sennet)

“Plus, I got a cape,” he chuckled.

According to Williams, no one on set ever got a full script. The storyline was kept top secret. He also had to learn “a completely different language I wasn’t familiar with.” Using one’s imagination was vital because the actors worked against a blue or green screen to appear as if they were out in space. But Williams had other reasons to be worried.

“Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were already a family,” Williams explained. “And here I am, this new guy. I wanted to be on top of my game.”


Billy Dee Williams and Harrison Ford posing together and smiling

Billy Dee Williams, left, and Harrison Ford are still good friends today. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Thankfully, Williams was greeted with open arms.

“I had a good time with everybody,” he said. “Harrison is still my buddy. Carrie was just a wonderful person. She was very brilliant, very bright. I always had so much fun with her. We always had great discussions on set. So unpretentious, and yet she was Hollywood royalty. We always had a good time. She was very easy to be with and just a brilliant mind. Mark was just as wonderful.”

Williams said he last saw Fisher about a week or two before she died in 2016.

Carrie Fisher on the red carpet wearing a black dress

Carrie Fisher died in 2016. She was 60. (Stefania DAlessandro/WireImage)

“I ran into her at a restaurant – it was a caviar joint, which I liked to frequent,” he said. “I was there one evening and there was Carrie. It was so good to see her. We used to joke all the time. That’s what I remember the most about her. It was just a total shock when she passed away.”

Williams said he never felt typecast following the success of “The Empire Strikes Back.” He went on to appear in “Dynasty” and even befriended Sylvester Stallone on the set of 1981’s “Nighthawks.”

“Sly and I had good chemistry,” he said. “He was unpretentious but liked to have things done a certain way. He’s very much into himself, but he’s also quite brilliant. He’s one of those brilliant people that you want to learn from. He talks a certain way and expresses himself in a certain way onscreen, but don’t let that fool you.”


Billy Dee Williams posing alongside a group of men from Star Wars outside and smiling

From left: Billy Dee Williams, George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill attend the pre-opening launch of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” at Disneyland on May 29, 2019, in Anaheim, California. (Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort)

The only regret Williams has today is that he didn’t get to keep one of his capes from “The Empire Strikes Back.” And while Donald Glover later took on his character in 2018’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Williams said, “I only see one Lando, and that’s Billy Dee Williams.”

“My life continues,” he said. “I am always interested in what’s going on. I always look at myself in the same way a child does – always intrigued by what’s going on around me. My life has really been an adventure. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to live a life of desperation. So, life is pretty good – pretty damn good.”

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