Lando Calrissian didn’t betray Han Solo to Darth Vader — he was trying to save his life.
That’s how the man who portrayed Lando, Billy Dee Williams, sees it. Vader strong-armed Lando into a difficult position. With lives at stake, he made a tough choice that kept everyone alive and ultimately cost him everything, including his city in the clouds.
“Lando had to lose everything that he built as a result of that whole situation,” Williams said. But, he adds, it is of course “just a movie.”
That movie, “Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back,” and its sequel launched Williams into the higher echelons of geek fame as the sci-fi franchise exploded in the decades that followed. Lando may have lost Cloud City, but Williams gained a world of fans — some of whom have a chance to see him at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanXperience at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City on April 17-19.
Williams is no stranger to Utah, having shot three movies here, including one at Utah State Prison. Despite the correctional accommodations, he said he’s always enjoyed the Beehive State, which feels like “another country … separate from the United States” to him. And that’s coming from someone who spent two movies in a galaxy far, far away.
Williams often returns to that beloved galaxy, having reprised his role in cartoons, video games, sketch comedy like “Robot Chicken” — his favorite gig among them — and, recently, in “The Lego Movie.” He wants people to know there’s more to Lando than what people see in the original trilogy.
“He’s kind of a swashbuckling, kind of a roguish character, and that’s always a lot of fun to play,” Williams said. “I’m keeping him alive.”
And like Lando, there is a lot more to Williams: He studied painting, released an album and acted on the stage, in television and in Oscar-winning movies. Before Aaron Eckhart’s turn as Two-Face in “The Dark Knight,” Williams was the doomed Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent in the 1989 “Batman” movie. He still gets recognized for his Colt 45 commercials. And most recently, he’s taking a stab at the ballroom floor in this season of “Dancing With the Stars” — where a judge jokingly accosted him for betraying Han after his opening cha-cha-cha to a “Star Wars” medley.
Such accusations are nothing new to the actor. In a 2012 interview with “The Critic Show” podcast, Williams recalled how a 5-year-old once yelled at him for the perceived back-stabbing. He joked that “if this kid had a gun in his hand, I would’ve been dead.”
But seeing a passion for the sci-fi series in children so young speaks to its legacy. Williams’ own grandchildren are into it.
“It’s a phenomenon. It’s one of the situations that comes along once in a lifetime,” Williams said. Back when he was filming the movies, Lando struck him as “a pretty formidable character” who could have “a lot of legs.”
“It turned out to be a fact,” he said. “I’m very happy.”
As for what’s next in his career, Williams denies the Internet rumors: He has not been in talks yet to come back for the next “Star Wars” trilogy. Even if the caped Calrissian does not return to the big screen, Williams will be showing up at FanX. He is currently scheduled to appear all three days.
“I enjoy meeting all of the people,” he said. “They have been giving me a lot of support throughout the years.”
P The Salt Lake Comic Con, in its second iteration after a wildly successful debut last September, includes dozens of celebrities — William Shatner, Karl Urban, Karen Gillan, Adam Baldwin and Edward James Olmos among them. FanX also will host more than 70 panels, ranging from tips on becoming a voice actor for film, television and games to the history of Batman’s sidekick, Robin. See saltlakecomiccon.com for full details.
When • April 17-19
Where • Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City
Tickets • From $10 for Thursday-only youth pass to $175 VIP pass; available at saltlakecomiccon.com.