When the Walt Disney Co. announced last week that it had plans to make “Star Wars” spinoffs, including a film about a young Han Solo, my mind went straight to Lando Calrissian. The role, first played by Billy Dee Williams in 1980’s “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” is iconic in the world of black science-fiction characters. The question is, who could play a young Calrissian now?
BuzzFeed proclaimed Hollywood renaissance man Donald Glover as the “obvious choice,” but he seems almost too obvious. And while he’s a fine actor, he doesn’t strike me as smooth enough to play a convincing intergalactic scumbag.
One reader suggested Mos Def, who made his science fiction debut in 2005’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a film version of the hilarious classic series by Douglas Adams. And though I agree that Mos Def, born Dante Smith, might be a good box-office draw, he’s too much of his own character to be believable as Lando.
My colleague Matt Liddi is my go-to guy for all “Star Wars” hard-liner opinions — he owns a scale model of the Millenium Falcon, complete with blast-damage paint job. He thinks television star James Lesure would be a good pick. For me, he’s too bulky as a man and he’s bald. Lando was “skinny pimping” for lack of a better term, and his hairdo was definitely a part of his mystique.
I reached out to Williams for comment but only got a boilerplate reply. “I am in the dark with the actual plans that Disney and Lucasfilm have for the future of the ‘Star Wars’ universe. I have heard the same rumors that the fans heard, that a new trilogy is being made, that spin-offs may be made,” he said in a statement. “I assure you that I would absolutely love to reprise my role of Lando Calrissian. . . . It’s a lot of fun to keep Lando alive and I am eager to do it again, on film, when I get the call.”
It doesn’t seem like Williams wants to let go. But any new film would require a much younger man, per the story line.
A friend of mine suggested Tequan Richmond, who played Drew on “Everybody Hates Chris” and has been on “General Hospital.” He was a kid-show star, which would smartly draw another generation to the screen for Disney.
My first thought to play Lando was Isaiah Mustafa, the former NFL player made famous for his work in Old Spice commercials. He’s got the swagger, the voice and the suave, with a wink demeanor befitting of playing Cloud City’s administrator. But he’s 40. That’s just a bit too old to pull off the role. Alas.
My second pick would be Terrence Jenkins. The former “106 & Park” host on BET and current E! News host’s largest role so far was in last year’s “Think Like a Man,” an ensemble comedy based on Steve Harvey’s book of the same name. And though he may not have the gravitas — yet — of Williams, as a career arc, he’s definitely on his way.
But the guy that I think would be best for this role is Columbus Short. You might know him from “You Got Served” or “Stomp the Yard,” but he’s recently been holding it down on “Scandal” as Harrison Wright. That’s where he’s shown his stuff as a slick talker, or, if you will, a guy who’d have no qualms trying to mack your girl right in front of you.
The burden of playing a young Lando is a large one. For kids of my generation, he was the first, and to an extent only, black science-fiction ”hero” on any level, as far as men are concerned. Over the years, we got Geordi La Forge, played by the esteemed LeVar Burton on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” as well as Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” But nothing on “Star Trek” was ever considered remotely cool.
There was also Morpheus, from the “Matrix” franchise, which to me seemed more like Laurence Fishburne playing himself than anything. Which was tremendous, by the way. Then, of course, there was Samuel Jackson as Jedi Mace Windu in the latest “Star Wars” trilogy. He did well, yet it was nothing special.
But Lando was everything. Nobody ever made the job “administrator of facilities” sound so fly. Although he wasn’t a main character, per se, he wasn’t a sidekick either. He could hold his own in the galaxy.
If a Han Solo spinoff movie happens, the fulcrum to the movie will be the Calrissian role. If Disney blows it, the rush to see it may end up as the shortest offensive of all time.
Yates is a columnist for The RootDC.