Star Wars Celebration: Billy Dee Williams insists he’s no smooth operator

April 19, 2015 | 8:52 p.m.
Billy Deel Willaims, who played Lando Calrissian in the original "Star Wars" trilogy," spoke on the final day of Star Wars Celebration. Above, the actor is seen in 2001. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in the original “Star Wars” trilogy,” spoke on the final day of Star Wars Celebration. Above, the actor is seen in 2001. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

For his panel Sunday afternoon at Star Wars Celebration, Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian in 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and 1983’s “Return of the Jedi,” was billed as the “Baron of Smooth.”

But as he took the stage at the Anaheim Convention Center on the final day of the fan expo, the actor insisted that – notwithstanding Calrissian’s undeniable suaveness and those old Colt 45 commercials – his reputation for smoothness was overstated.

“I don’t know why everybody thinks I’m smooth,” said Williams, who turned 78 this month. “I think I’m just a pretty silly person, really.”

Fans listened respectfully throughout an hourlong conversation as Williams talked about his early roles in films such as “Brian’s Song” and “Lady Sings the Blues,” his more recent stint on “Dancing With the Stars” and his love of painting. But this was a “Star Wars” convention, and what they most wanted to hear about, of course, was Lando Calrissian.

Calrissian occupies an ambiguous place in “Star Wars” mythology, not quite an unadulterated hero but not a villain either. On the one hand, the administrator of Cloud City (and original owner of the Millennium Falcon) is a likable, charming rogue. On the other, without his betrayal, Han Solo wouldn’t have ended up frozen in carbonite. Then again, Darth Vader had him over a barrel – and he did later join the Rebel Alliance and lead the attack on the second Death Star so … it’s complicated.

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"Star Wars" fans Sharon Jackson, left, dressed as Mission Vao, of Las Vegas, and Kyle Jackson, dressed as a Wookiee, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans Corin Zinninger as Darth Reuan, Sharon Jackson as Mission Vao, Kyle Jackson as a Wookiee, and Brennan Zinninger as Carth Onasi, all of Las Vegas, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed "Star Wars" fans pose with toy lightsabers during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration held at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dressed as "Star Wars" character Oola, Moe Hunt of Chicago poses with Roxy the Rancor during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A "Star Wars" fan dressed as Darth Vader leads a parade of characters from the 501st Legion costume organization as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A security guard inspects "Star Wars" fan and Modesto resident Steve Gwin, a member of the worldwide 501st Legion costume organization, during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion costume organization parade through the halls of the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Charlotte Davis, 2, of San Diego, plays with bubbles from a bubble-making R2-D2 during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Danielle Young of Salem, Mass., is dressed as Princess Leia during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham, right, of South Carolina shows off her costume -- "Frozen's" Queen Elsa as a Sith -- during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans Anthony Lopez, left, of Sacramento and Torri Robbins, right, of Denver show off their Shadow Trooper costumes during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fan Anthony Lopez of Sacramento shows off his Shadow Trooper costume during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jovan C. of Norco checks his phone while dressed as Luke Skywalker during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A man who goes by the name of "Hyper" poses as a beach-ready stormtrooper. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Actor, stuntman and performer Lucky McQueede of Santa Clarita performs as Darth Maul cyborg, right. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Youngsters learn how to use light sabers during a Jedi training seminar. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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The Hodge family: Kelly, Milo, 6, and Dave, of Nashville sport their homemade biker scouts outfits from "Return of the Jedi." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A Star Wars Celebration attendee enjoys an exhibit at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans view the Hot Wheels' Life-Size, 150-mph Darth Vader car, based on a C5 Chevrolet Corvette. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dylan Stalker of Long Beach, dressed as a combination of a spartan and Boba Fett, stands next to a giant Jabba the Hutt model. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Stryder Brown of Los Angeles is the Hip Hop Trooper, whose pumping music gets him dancing at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Retired Sidious," otherwise known as Delyn Murie, 74, of Riverside, uses his imperial walker to get around at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Excitement rises among fans waiting for "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Participants in a Princess Leia look-alike contest compete before Carrie Fisher took the stage. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Contestants parade across the stage during the Princess Leia look-alike contest. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher and her dog, Gary, onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher onstage during the "Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher" event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A youngster is prepared for a lightsaber fight as he walks through the dark shadows at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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"Star Wars" fans travel to their next destination at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jessica Odell of Lisburn, Ireland, is dressed as Maris Broud from "The Force Unleashed" video game. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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William Teague of Austin, Texas. views dozens of Star Wars figures lined up in a display by the Kotobukiya company. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, artist Damian Cain of Britain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd of Modesto an angelic R2D2 tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, David James of Arcadia shows off his Darth Nihilus work-in-progress tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Malcolm McNeil of Ventura takes part in the X-Wing Experience Star Wars Battlefront. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Robert Gomes of Walnut, Calif., is Darth Tannos in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Eric Cajiuat, of Fullerton, is Jedi Elvis in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Chandra Chang of Los Angeles poses as R2D2 Hello Kitty -- or R2Kitty -- in front of "The 20th Century Space Opera" oil on canvas by Robert Xavier Burden. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A fan takes photos of some of the extensive collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the Rancho Obi-Wan Star Wars collection booth. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jennifer Hobart, of Fullerton, creates her own Star Wars character with special contact lenses. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Calvin Heins, 12, of Los Angeles, wears a Jawa costume in front of a replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina from "Star Wars." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A young girl readies her lightsaber as she walks though the shadows at the Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Williams said he hasn’t minded being branded as a traitor by some “Star Wars” fans over the years. In fact, he’s kind of enjoyed it.

“I thought it was fun and amusing – especially when you have a 10-year-old kid threatening your life,” he said. He recalled one young fan who once confronted him with particular ferocity. “I thought, ‘God if this kid had a gun in his hand, I would have been dead.’ ”

The actor debunked longstanding rumors that he had initially auditioned for the role of Han Solo, saying he was drawn from the start to Calrissian’s complexity.

“I had ideas about him – I thought he had a lot of interesting characteristics and idiosyncrasies,” Williams said. He paused, then added dryly, “But the cape was the key.”

Calrissian and his cape continue to live on in the wider “Star Wars” universe. This summer Marvel will release a new comic book titled “Lando,” chronicling Calrissian’s adventures before he ended up in Cloud City. He will also be featured in the next season of the Disney XD series “Star Wars Rebels,” with Williams providing the voice.

Asked by one audience member whether Calrissian might be included in any future “Star Wars” films, Williams answered, “I really don’t know.”

Near the end of the panel, at the urging of fans, the new teaser for “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” was shown yet again – despite the fact that Williams does not appear in the film.

When it was done, the actor waited a beat and said, “It’s only missing one element.” The crowd broke into a chant of “Lando! Lando!”

Smooth.

–Josh Rottenberg |@LATHeroComplex

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Comments


One Response to Star Wars Celebration: Billy Dee Williams insists he’s no smooth operator

  1. evelynfilmfan says:

    Yes! I want Lando back too!!

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