Friday, May 28, 2010

30 Years of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - part 28

So you've seen the movie, you've read the novelization by Don Glut, you've read the comic book adaptation published by Marvel, now what do you do? Three years is a long wait until the, as yet, unnamed next installment of the nine movie series.

Yes, there was a syndicated Star Wars newspaper comic strip and Marvel's monthly comic book series, but what if you wanted more? Well, you'd have to wait until after Return of the Jedi. But you wouldn't have to wait long, and at that time it was impossible to imagine how long you'd have to wait before the next Star Wars movie.

Relief came in the form of Lando Calrissian. One of the most layered characters introduced in The Empire Strikes Back was the administrator of Cloud City as played by Billy Dee Williams. This dashing figure initially comes off as all charm, but then turns against his friends, then comes to their aid turning against the Imperial forces which have taken occupation of his mining colony. Before we meet him, we learn that there may be bad blood between Lando and Han Solo and Chewbacca, but we don't know why. In an announcement that's just as surprising as Darth Vader's revelation to Luke, we learn that han and Chewie's beloved Millennium Falcon wasn't always theirs, that han had won it from Lando in a game of cards.

Lando was also the perfect character to launch a series of novels that would expand the Star Wars universe and feed some of that need for new material while waiting for the next movie. In 1979 Del Rey books published a successful trilogy written by Brian Daley of adventures starring Han Solo and Chewbacca set before the time depicted in Star Wars (episode IV - A New Hope). Restricted to not being allowed to publish sequel novels, and having to focus on stories that might have occurred before the movies sets its own limitations. Luke's out unless you think there could be some exciting tales to tell about moisture farming. Leia's political career might be fascinating, but not if you're a twelve year old kid looking for action stories. Darth Vader would be out since George Lucas has already announced he's saving that story for the prequel trilogy. R2-D2 and C-3PO would get their pre-Star Wars stories, but mainly in the comic strip and much later in the Droids cartoon series on tv. That leaves Lando.

Han and Chewie were perfect the first time around because they had been from one side of the galaxy to the other and seen a lot of strange things, they also had a day job that didn't turn out so well with Jabba the Hutt. Right off the bat you have established back story to work with. Same thing with Lando. We know he used to own the Millennium Falcon and had a checkered past that intersected with Han and Chewie's. There's a lot of material between his days as a con man and being the respectable businessman he was.

In 1983, (actually after the release of Return of the Jedi) Del Rey released a trilogy of novels written by L. Neil Smith which focused on Lando Calrissian in the years before Star Wars (episode IV: A New Hope).

Little did anyone know at the time, but these would also be the last Star Wars novels for a long time. It wouldn't be until Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire was published in 1991that any new Star Wars material would arrive. Until then, Star Wars was pretty much an extinct property. The success of Zahn's novel (and the two others that made up what's called the Thrawn Trilogy) exceeded everyone's expectations and breathed new life into the franchise leading the way to dozens more novels, comic book series published by Dark Horse comics, the modern line of action figures, the special edition theatrical releases of the original trilogy, and yes, finally, the prequel films.

The three Lando Calrissian novels are part of the earliest entries in what was to become known as the expanded universe. In the novels to come, Lando would become an important player in the batlles against the remains of the Empire, the building of the New Republic, and many other adventures, often as the go to guy for new technology and weapons. He remained a dashing scoundrel and a legitimate businessman throughout. While this entry may be more appropriate for a celebration of Return of the Jedi, I've included it in the celebration of the movie which gave us Lando in the first place.



Todd Franklin said...

I was pretty excited when these came out and read all three. I haven't read them again since the mid-1980's, but I remember I liked 'em.

Shawn Robare said...

I have these on my shelf, but I haven't gotten around to reading them yet. I love the cover art. I think it's by William Schmidt, who I know most from a series of Transformers Find Your Fate books that he did covers for, and interior illustrations. I think he had a bunch of his Star Wars reference material lying around from these Lando books, because he worked a couple of SW-centric designs into the Transformers books.

Michael Jones said...

I have NEVER seen these! I doubt if I would have read them (you're not the only one Shawn), but I definitely would have bought them.