One more week until Christmas kids! And even more importantly, T-minus 4 days until the final chapter of the newest Star Wars Trilogy drops with Rise of the Skywalker!
And with that movie comes the return of one of the final important characters from the original trilogy that has yet to appear in the new one, the man smoother than any glass of Colt 45 could ever be, the one and only Lando Calrissian . I will say that I’m super glad they finally asked Billy Dee to come back to a franchise that he helped build with his ultra suave gambling man turned Rebel General.
I remember hearing stories about how when Force Awakens first dropped and Mr. Williams was still doing the convention circuit, people were asking him whether he had been asked to come back to the new series. His answer was always a polite but somewhat bittersweet “no”, like that kid that doesn’t yet know the “secret” password for the brand new tree house in town and wistfully watches from the other side of the fence in his backyard.
I always hoped in my heart of hearts that this was the plan all along, to spread out the return of all these classic characters over the course of the 3 movies so that all of those that contributed to the success of this franchise would be able to take one final victory lap in their golden years and be able to soak up the praise and adoration of another generation of fans. Whether that was always the case, or became the case once JJ Abrams was brought back in to salvage the rest of the trilogy after the divisive Last Jedi, I’m not exactly sure. But what’s most important is Billy Dee Williams will get to fly the Falcon in this final movie, hopefully putting a capstone on the character of Lando once and for all.
So with that being said, I thought it was appropriate with my Star Wars related comic book entry this week to deal with that dashing caped cavalier of Cloud City, and as such I’ve picked the first trade of a fairly recent comic book series dealing with his adventures prior to becoming the administrator of Bespin’s most famous Tibanna gas mines. Here comes the 2015 Lando series written by Charles Soule with art by Alex Maleev.
10 Cent Synopsis:
Years prior to his Cloud City days, Lando Calrissian and his partner, Lobot, find themselves in debt to notorious crime boss, Papa Torin, due to gambling debts that Lando had incurred. Papa Torin gives the duo a chance to make good on these debts by ordering them to steal an Imperial luxury craft which unbeknown to them actually belongs to Emperor Palpatine himself.
Thanks to the solid “crew” that Lando puts together for the heist including the shadowy alien “Black Panther” clones named Aleksin and Pavol as well as disgraced professor of antiquities, Korin Pers, they do manage to steal the space yacht and discover the reason Papa Torin wants it so bad: it’s filled with ancient treasures and artifacts worth a king’s ransom!
However, given this is Palpatine’s ship, the Emperor wastes no time in contracting bounty hunters from across the galaxy to retrieve the stolen ship including the mysterious Chanath Cha who eventually does succeed in tracking it down.
But things go from bad to worse when it also turns out that one of the artifacts on board is a lost Sith helmet oozing with the power of the Dark Side. It starts to have a corrupting influence on all of Lando’s team forcing Calrissian and Lobot to fight not just against the new bounty hunting threat but his own former partners in order to survive!
Honestly, I was initially pretty excited to read this comic book given I’ve always been a fan of Lando in terms of his adventures in this medium. You see when I was a really little kid first reading comics, the original Marvel Star Wars series was probably the one I read the most of. And given that those were also the years in between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Han Solo was out of commission for a good deal of those books. Therefore, the writers of that series at the time relied heavily on Lando to carry a lot of the non Luke Skywalker related stories.
Rightfully so as well, given at that time Lando was somewhat of a blank slate in terms of characterization, so other being a dashing rogue, writers like David Michelinie did have free reign with the narrative and where they could go with Lando, which was something you really couldn’t say about the other characters. Therefore, you always got pretty interesting stories when it came to the Lando issues, and even as a young reader, I realized that and looked forward to his stories.
For the most part, the Lando parts of this series are spot on with a healthy does of “devil may care” attitude from our charming swindler counterpointed by moments that show a much more serious side, almost like the blustering bravo of Lando the gambler is just a facade to create misdirection among his possible opponents.
In reality, Lando is a pretty cold and calculating customer, who is constantly sizing up the competition and manipulating people ever so slightly so as to always come up with the winning hand. No scene better encapsulates this than his showdown with the Sith corrupted Aleksin, who he has convinced to lay down his stolen lightsaber by telling his would be assassin that he doesn’t even know how to shoot a gun.
This extremely good characterization is only matched by the sad tale of how Lobot becomes the semi robotic mute servant that we meet in Empire in regards to the real highlights of this series.
Boy, talk about making you care about a character that I always considered a throw away at best. I remember vividly HATING the Lobot action figure when I was growing up playing with original Star Wars line. Something about the bald head and the stupid 70s almost leisure suit like gray tunic made me want to have Lobot be the first character to be chucked out of the AT-AT or eaten by the Wampa during some sort of feeding frenzy.
However, the bittersweet tale of a man who signed up to get robotic Imperial implants to avoid becoming a solider in the Imperial army only to struggle a losing battle to those same implants that want to take over his mind and leave him a walking vegetable is pretty damn powerful.
It’s definitely a story worth telling in the end, and I applaud Charles Soule and his originality in coming up with a backstory that again makes you care so deeply for who is in essence a throwaway “peg warmer” of a character. Especially in that he really builds the camaraderie between Lando and Lobot throughout the book to the point where you realize that Lando is going to take this guy with him where ever he goes, which is why they end up still thick as thieves on Bespin by Episode V.
Like I did with my Han Solo at Star’s End comic review, I thought I’d take some time to shine a spotlight on another classic extended universe novel series from the early days of the Star Wars franchise. Of course, I’m talking about L. Neil Smith’s “The Lando Calrissian Adventures” book series which is in someways a spiritual successor series to the Han Solo Adventures one I talked about earlier.
Seriously I’m not sure what I think is more bad ass! Is it the sweet cover of this paperback, or is it the insanely great title? Flamewind of Oseon!?! That sounds like the newest album title from Rush or something! And that’s not the only one. All of the titles of the 3 books from the series have insanely incredible titles. The StarCave of ThonBoka? The Mindharp of Sharu? Whatever you got L. Neil Smith, pass it along this way. I’ll put on some Pink Floyd and we’ll party.
Seriously though, as the final set of memorable Star Wars related books that were released for nearly a decade until the renaissance that was started by “Heir to the Empire”, The Lando Adventures are thoroughly enjoyable expanded universe tales of the exploits of this famous swashbuckling gambler while he was still in possession of the Millennium Falcon.
Released in 1983 at the same time as RotJ was in movie theaters, they are also regarded as some of the more “difficult” books to marry within the previous known continuity established in the movies and other related media. These include Lando’s “signature” sting-beam blaster which is never mentioned outside these books as well as the types of weapons carried on board Imperial starships. Even the placement of certain weapons aboard the Falcon seems off, and although that may seem nitpicky, if there’s one ship in the Star Wars universe ever fan seems to know inside and out, it’s the Falcon.
So in reading them as a Star Wars fanatic, you have to regard them with a grain of salt in that it was still the wild west of Star Wars, and so much of what we regard as “canon” was in flux at this time still. However, what you can’t deny is the fact that these books actually introduced the rules of the most famous gambling game in all of the Star Wars canon: Sabacc.
Sure in later years, the Crisis on Cloud City module from the Star Wars table top RPG refined those rules greatly and are still the basis of most games to this day, but still these Lando books were the first time someone tried to legitimize a way you too could swindle Imperial Credits away from your friends.
Personally, my favorite of the three books is The Starcave of ThonBoka mainly because it’s the culmination of some of the narrative that has weaved its way through the previous books such as Lando fighting against an evil space wizard named Rokur Gepta. There’s also a pretty hefty space war between the Imperials and some weird stingray type space creatures called the Oswaft. As I said, the book series is pretty trippy stuff, but it’s definitely a lot of fun as well.
I’m sure you think what with the glowing write up above about the extremely good characterizations of both Lando and Lobot as well as the strong penciling of Alex Maleev, that I would have easily given this book an “B+” to an “A-” in terms of a grade.
However, the harsh reality is that although yes, Lando is written well, yes, Lobot is given a much better character arc than any of us feel he deserves, and yes the art is really wonderful, the rest of the story is somewhat of a meandering tale that doesn’t go anywhere.
I mean, it’s all about a heist that in the end goes completely belly up, but not really for any good reason. It’s not as if the team Lando assembles is bad at their jobs. Quite the contrary, they actually succeed in stealing the Emperor’s prized pleasure ship, which is an insanely difficult task in itself. Heck, it even seems like they will get away with it when the bounty hunter that is sent to track them down is actually one of Lando’s old friends so it seems like he’ll be able to make good on his escape.
However, then Soule throws in this whole subplot about the Sith helmet and that makes Aleksin and Pavol go crazy and start murdering the rest of the team. Although I do get it that it’s the Emperor’s ship so a Sith artifact isn’t unheard of in terms of being a part of the cargo, it is still somewhat of “left turn” in the narrative.
It would have been much more believable for just Aleksin and Pavol to turn on Lando and his gang for the simple reason that they are crooks and greed gets the better of them. Not wanting to share the pirate booty they have stolen from this ship makes a hell of a lot more sense than ancient Sith based voodoo.
But what makes me even more angry is how obvious the injection of the whole sub plot is in terms needing a catalyst to throw the whole heist off the rails. It’s almost like a deus ex machina in reverse in which some god in the machine is there to ruin the plot instead of save it. And why? Because Lando can’t obviously succeed given previously established continuity that says he didn’t? That’s not even the case here! There is barely any continuity on Lando other than losing the Falcon to Han Solo, so why do we have to get a big old reset button by the end?!? It makes no sense!
But that is what we get, and the whole 5 issue story is somewhat of continuity wash in that everyone fails with the explosion of the ship and all of its contents. The Emperor fails, Papa Torin fails, Chanath Cha fails, and especially Lando and Lobot fail as that ill fated yacht and all its “Sith”y contents goes boom. Lando is back to square one after all that wasted adventuring effort so it’s no surprise that eventually he’d chuck that way of life as a complete waste of time when given the opportunity to become the administrator of Cloud City.
I’m not sure why all this bothered me, and why ultimately it brought my grade of this book down almost an entire letter, but it did. Maybe some readers will be able to look past these little things and enjoy this book even more than I did. As I said, it’s definitely not bad, but I just feel like it comes up short due to this tacked on Sith nonsese…