Lando is pansexual

In February, I analyzed Lando Calrissian’s place in the ‘70s blaxploitation movement in a piece called “Pimpin’ in Space: The Blaxploitation Roots of Lando Calrissian.” I posited that Lando’s characterizations, plus the popular film influences at the time of The Empire Strikes Back, puts Lando squarely within the stereotype of the black pimp, similar to characters like Sweet Sweetback and Super Fly. As I wrote back in that piece, one of Lando’s ties to blaxploitation comes from the fact that “Lando further defines the mainstream image of blackness as being one synonymous with coolness and slickness. But with that image comes negative associations of blackness; being shifty, dangerous, and untrustworthy.”

Naturally, with Lando making a grand return in Solo: A Star Wars Story, I felt it was time to revisit this topic and see how the new take on the character fares.

To borrow a quote from my own article:

“Looking at Lando from a blaxploitation perspective, the character continues the tradition of updating the trickster persona via the pimp. Even though Lando is in a galaxy in which racism doesn’t exist, his costuming – his cape in particular – calls back to the movie pimps of the recent past, showing the audience he has a mystique the other (white) characters can’t quite replicate or understand. His clothes exemplify his ability to work outside of the system that is still, despite it being in a galaxy far far away, set and run by white people.”

His trickster ways are also lifted from blaxploitation pimps of the past, particularly the fact that even when he wins, he still ends up losing, such as when he successfully lures Han, Leia, and Luke to Darth Vader, but still ends up getting the short end of the bargain.

To quote myself again:

“…[H]is loss showcases how the street-justice style of the pimp is just another side of the dangerous black male stereotype, a stereotype that allows people to believe black people are inherently criminal and sexually violent. Such is the case for Sweet Sweetback.  Despite the titular pimp becoming the hero of the film via killing a police officer who murdered a black militant and thus becoming, as Van Peebles described, radicalized, Sweet Sweetback still loses in the sense that it provides a so-called revolutionary look at black urban life within the same contexts defined by mainstream white media and thought.”

In Solo: A Star Wars Story, we now have a younger, “new” Lando in the form of Donald Glover. It’s a passing of the torch from Billy Dee Williams, the original Lando, to Glover, an actor who started out as a comedian, getting his break on Community, and has now graduated to rapping as his alter-ego Childish Gambino and creating, producing, and starring in his own show, Atlanta. Glover’s path to playing Lando is different than Williams’, and with Glover’s experiences and newly socially-conscious outlook, it’s easy to assume that Glover’s Lando would be further away from the “space pimp” stereotype than Williams’.

But is he? Does 2018 Lando create a more well-rounded, less stereotypical take on the character, or is Lando still just “cool” without any substance?

Saturday Night Live Lando Calrissian Sketch- Kenan Thompson and Donald Glover

Rooted in the past

It was easy for me to expect that Glover’s Lando would be a much more modern take on the character. Glover himself has grown up over the years, seemingly ditching the token black guy air he carried on Community to become much more confident in terms of how he showcases race, politics, and social issues in his show Atlanta, which routinely elevates Hollywood’s concept of a “black show” to something that examines the horror, majesty, and otherwise mundane elements of black life in artistic, unique ways. His newfound political side has also bled over into his music as Childish Gambino; his latest song “This Is America” asks its viewer to reckon with the amount of violence – particularly violence against black people – America commits on a daily basis, all the while utilizing black art and dance to distract itself from solving the real issues.

Seeing how much Glover has grown, I began to think that maybe today’s Lando might have something to say about the world he’s in and how it relates to our world. Glover’s recent episode of Saturday Night Live seemed to prove me right; not only was Glover openly discussing the gulf between black and white audiences throughout the episode (such as when he not-so-coyly hinted that perhaps SNL didn’t hire him because he was black), but he also featured in a skit as Lando, skewering the fact that Star Wars didn’t even have enough black characters to fill a theoretical convention hall. In the skit, Lando is supposed to be hosting a conference for all of the black people in space, but only three people show up.

Sadly, this is not the Lando we got in Solo. Glover’s performance as Lando on SNL isn’t the same as the one we get in the movie. To be blunt, Glover’s Lando in Solo is like seeing a Lando superfan pretend to be Lando at a convention or in a fan film. Glover plays him in a studied way, which is a little off-putting at times. Instead of adding something organic to the character, a lot of Glover’s time as Lando is spent with him trying to recreate the swagger Billy Dee naturally possesses, which makes the character look one-note and, to be honest, a little silly at times.

This is my biggest irritation with Glover’s portrayal. It isn’t until the film is two-thirds complete with Lando’s arc – the moment when his droid co-pilot (and love interest?) L3-37 gets killed by enemy fire during the mission to steal lucrative coaxium for Imperial gangster Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) – that Glover finally breaks out of his imitations and injects Lando with rounder emotions. It would have been great if Glover was able to find himself in the role before this point in the film, since it would have only elevated the character.

As it stands, Glover keeps Lando within the “space pimp” mode throughout much of the movie. To be fair, Glover (and the filmmakers behind the camera) focus more on Lando’s suave, debonair sensibilities, keeping him on the “Most Interesting Man in the World” side of the “space pimp” stereotype. Routinely, Glover’s Lando is caught in the middle of recounting some of his most exciting adventures either to strangers in a Sabacc game or to himself, such as when he is seen recording his stories for posterity while waiting on Han, Beckett, and Qi’ra’s mission to end.

But even if Lando is Most Interesting Man in the Galaxy, the needle hasn’t moved on Lando’s personality or characterization in over 30 years. When we meet Lando in Solo, he is already a gambler and con artist. The film has no interest in showing us how Lando came to be or why he’s still interested in the criminal lifestyle. Instead, it doubles down on elements of Lando’s blaxploitation-esque characterizations.

For instance, Lando openly flirts with Leia in Empire Strikes Back, cementing his status as a ladies’ man in similar ways as male blaxploitation characters like Shaft are lauded for their sexual prowess. Throughout Solo, Lando is seen openly flirting with anyone and everyone who crosses his path, whether that’s the alien serving him drinks or Han himself. Qi’ra tries to point out something “prodigious” about Lando before Han cuts her off, leaving it unknown as to whether she was referring to Lando’s sexual escapades or his penis although it’s clear she’s referring to him in an erotic capacity. This keeps Lando rooted in blaxploitation stereotypes like black hypersexuality.

In Empire Strikes Back, Lando double crosses Han and Leia by selling them out to Darth Vader. In Solo, Lando double crosses Han during their first Sabacc game by using a cheat card. This keeps Lando rooted in the trickster category many Blaxploitation characters reside in. With the exception of L3’s death, Lando is hardly ever written to deviate from the narrow confines of his characterization. He becomes less of a character and more of an artifact rooted in stereotype. There’s got to be more to Lando than what meets the eye, and to see Lando’s characterization largely unexplored is not only a shame, but it’s also a missed opportunity.

To be fair, the entirety of Solo is an exercise in futility when it comes to deepening characterizations; it’s not just Lando who suffers. Young Han is virtually the same, devil-may-care person as old Han, which, in a way, makes Han seem more vapid than the fandom would have you believe. There is no interest in examining what makes Han tick as a person or how he evolved to the swindler we meet in A New Hope; instead, there’s more interest in having Han hit the same beats we’ve come to expect from him.

Continue Reading It’s Hard Out Here for a Space Pimp >>

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