By Charles Soule, Alex Maleev, and Paul Mounts
Discussing Lando Calrissian is a complicated matter. It’s impossible to bring up his character without touching on the uncomfortable fact that he represents one of only two black heroes in the entire 6 film franchise of Star Wars. A lot of the time his role as the only black hero in the original trilogy throws dispersions on the more morally dubious aspects of his identity. In principle this is understandable, Lando is forced to represent all people of color in the original films because he’s the only non-white person in that entire universe, so having him being a traitorous schemer by way of introduction is a very disappointing approach.
At the same time however, Lando has always risen above the limitation of Star Wars’ lack of character diversity, thanks mainly to how much charm and humanity he was imbued with by Billy Dee Williams. Williams did an excellent job portraying Lando as less of a self-interested scoundrel and more as a man caught by circumstance, additionally his role in Return of the Jedi went a long way to solidify his stance as a true hero of the galaxy far, far away. Now, as part of Marvel’s takeover of the Star Wars EU comic line and in keeping with the extended universe tradition of giving the spotlight to a more diverse cast, the new Lando comic gives us a unique look into the man who would one day lead the rebel fleet against the empire.
Lando is very much arranged as an origin story in the vein of Batman: Year One or the like. Lando is there and we can see the overall outline of the man he’ll become down the line, but he’s still got that scruffy scoundrel life around the edges of his character. The story does a good job keeping the emphasis on Lando as a man caught in unfortunate circumstance, trapped between the more noble person he’d like to be and how duplicitous he has to be to survive in the galactic underworld. The plot goes hand-in-hand with this idea, focusing on Lando’s unfortunate luck and current situation forcing him into a worse one when he tries to rely on his more criminal instincts. It’s a very subtle but well composed subtext about who Lando really is as a character, the kind of person who, in another life, might’ve been a Jedi knight or Republic senator had he not been trapped within this moment in time. In the end Lando’s biggest obstacle in the series is less of a physical enemy and more the crushing lack of opportunity the Empire’s very existence enforces. It’s a very ground level view of the Galactic Empire, seeing it as a constant looming threat to keep people as low as possible rather than a cosmic archetype to be rebelled against. It’s great to see Charles Soule turn in such a character focused and nuanced script that really cuts right to the heart of Lando’s identity and views the Star Wars universe in such a unique light, especially after his abysmal turn on Civil War earlier this week.
Alex Maleev does a great job on artwork. He captures Billy Dee Williams’ likeness in the role perfectly, to the point that a lot of Lando’s mannerisms and aura filter through the pages as well. Maleev also manages to never get lost in the recreation, always imbuing Lando with life and emotion beyond simply recreating poses from the film. Paul Mounts color work is a real stand out as well. Mounts places a higher emphasis on shadow than most, but that really works to his advantage. Every panel comes drenched in darkened shades from unique angles and filters and gives the entire book a very noir feel to it. It exudes a loneliness to space that isn’t often seen in Star Wars. You get the sense that even despite Lando’s wide circle of associates and comrades, he’s still very much an isolated individual, someone who’s so hidden from the rest of the world even he’s lost track of what parts of himself are true and what parts are made up for effect. There’s a lot of well-conceived introspection furrowed into the mechanics of the comic and the visual depiction of Lando that allows the actual adventure crime narrative to still feel fun.
Lando is the kind of tie-in work we need to see infinitely more of. It takes the core elements of Star Wars and flips them in an amazingly creative way. The story is that same Star Wars genre fusion of western and sci-fi pulp, but the imagery, character, and emotion of the comic is a moving noir piece about the conflict between personal identity and who we’re forced to be to survive in a harsh universe. It’s a real triumph for everyone involved.