Lando’s story is one of foresight, sacrifice, bravery, and promise – not betrayal.
In this series, I offer alternative perspectives on classical interpretations of the Star Wars mythos.
A long-standing attribute of Lando Calrissian’s story among Star Wars fans is his betrayal at Cloud City. For most, there isn’t a lot up for debate regarding this aspect of The Empire Strikes Back. Certainly, Leia and Chewbacca both confirm that we should be very upset with Lando:
[the storm troopers are taken prisoner by Calrissian’s men]imdb.com
Lando: [to Lobot, his aide] Well done. Hold them in the security tower, and keep it quiet. Move.[Lando’s aide and their men walk off with the troops as Lando hands Leia the imperials’ weapons and starts taking off Chewie’s cuffs]
Leia : What do you think you’re doing?
Lando : We’re getting out of here.
C-3PO : I knew all along. Had to be a mistake.
Leia : [angrily] Do you think that after what you did to Han that we’re going to trust you?
[Chewie grabs Lando by the throat]
Lando : [choking] I had no choice!
C-3PO : What are you doing? Trust him, trust him!
Leia : Oh, well, we understand, don’t we, Chewie. You had “no choice”.
Lando : Just trying to help…
Leia : We don’t need any of your help!
Lando : [gasps] Han! Ha- Ha…
Leia : What?
Lando : HAN!
C-3PO : It sounds like Han!
Lando : [gasping] There’s still a chance to save Han! At the east… platform!
Leia : Chewie!
[Leia gets Chewie to drop Lando]
C-3PO : I’m terribly sorry about all this. After all, he’s only a Wookiee!
Betrayal at Bespin?
Factually, the word “betray” is used in reference with Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back novelization. Here’s the excerpt below:
However, and in context with the story, “betray” is only used to signify to the audience a reveal to our central protagonists, and in this specific case, Leia. The text clearly says that Leia is confused because the man she thought was narratively bad is turning out to be doing something quite remarkable and narratively good.
The more direct “Betrayal at Bespin” phrase appears to have been introduced into Lando’s story along with the special edition releases of the original motion picture soundtracks (1997, and again in 2004), where track 7 on disc 2 for The Empire Strikes Back is titled, “Betrayal at Bespin.” Note that before this however, the original releases of TESB original motion picture soundtrack (1980 and 1986) only contained the Lando-specific tracks “The City in the Clouds” and “Lando’s Palace.”
In any case, Billy Dee Williams shared some introspection on the fandom’s focus regarding his character’s “Betrayal at Bespin” –
“I get sick and tired of being accused of betraying Han Solo. [Lando] was up against Darth Vader, he had to figure something out. By the way, did anybody die? Nobody died. [Lando] had to figure out how to prevent the complete demise of [Han Solo] and his friends.” -Billy Dee Williams
This got me thinking. He’s right. But let’s lay all the sabacc cards out on the table to see where we as a fandom got it all wrong.
If not at Cloud City, Han Solo Eventually Had it Coming
We know that Jabba the Hutt had placed a handsome bounty on Han Solo’s head:
“It’s too late. You should have paid him when you had the chance. Jabba put a price on your head so large, every bounty hunter will be looking for you.” -Greedo
The Empire Strikes Back confirms that greasing Greedo at Mos Eisley certainly didn’t lower the bounty, and by the time we meet Han again at Echo Base, the bounty has been escalated to the fabled “Death Mark.”
“A death mark’s not an easy thing to live with.” – General Rieekan
No, it’s not. And Lando Calrissian’s history would lend itself to knowing Han’s predicament perhaps better than anyone else. Side note: what of General Rieekan’s past lends itself to sympathize with Solo’s Death Mark?! 👀
Foresight, Sacrifice, Bravery, and Promise
Considering that Lando likely knew the predicament Han had gotten himself into, and the stranglehold that the Empire was about to impart onto thousands of innocent lives on Cloud City, there weren’t a lot of great options for Calrissian. Such that, bargaining for the safety of Leia and Chewbacca’s lives in return for handing Han over to Boba Fett – NOT the Empire, and STILL ALIVE, makes for one of the best possible solutions for one of the absolute worst predicaments.
This solution marks great foresight on Lando’s part. He gambles the life of Han Solo knowing it’s not yet lost for the chance to rescue two of the most important people in Han’s life and protecting the entire city. If given the same opportunity to turn himself in for the assured safety of Leia and Chewie and all the free peoples of Cloud City, there is not a doubt in my mind that Han Solo and his lion’s heart surely would have done the exact same thing. It’s also a safe bet that no one in the fandom would be claiming Han “betrayed” himself in this instance. So, why Lando?
And in true scoundrel fashion, Lando comes up with a fallback plan. Unlike a true scoundrel however, Lando’s fallback plan had nothing to do with personal gain-it was one of great sacrifice. After learning that Darth Vader had intended all along to BETRAY HIM by altering their deal and taking Leia and Chewie, Lando springs another plan into action and sounds the alert to provide innocent lives enough time to flee for safety. Lando sacrifices much of his life’s work, his entire City, in order to rescue Leia and Chewbacca, along with R2 and 3PO, and all just to give his new friends one last chance to rescue Han.
Though the valiant attempt to rescue Han is unsuccessful, Lando’s fallback plan indirectly leads to the rescue of Luke Skywalker. You see, had Lando not rescued Leia and Chewbacca, Leia would not have been able to do anything about hearing Luke’s cry out for help through the Force – she and Chewbacca would now be in the hands of Darth Vader. If anything, Leia’s Force connection with her brother would have then led Vader directly to Luke’s whereabouts.
So, by sacrificing his Cloud City, Lando provided an opportunity for Leia to act on her Force-connection with her brother, and the crew turns around just in time to save Luke. If it weren’t for Lando’s bravery, it is possible Luke could have fallen to his death, and perhaps something far worse would’ve happened to Leia and Chewbacca within the clutches of Vader.
Finally, we see just how much Han and his new friends mean to him at the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back. Lando doesn’t rush back to restore his life’s work, and instead Lando offers Leia a promise to find Han. Calrissian and Chewbacca blast off in the Falcon in pursuit of Boba Fett and their friend frozen in carbonite.
“Princess, we’ll find Han. I promise.” -Lando Calrissian
With all the story on the table, it is plain to see that Lando’s story is one of foresight, sacrifice, bravery, and promise – but not betrayal. Anything but betrayal. My hope is that the next time you watch The Empire Strikes Back, you can keep some of this perspective in mind because From a Certain Point of View: The betrayal at Bespin was at the hands of Darth Vader, not Lando Calrissian.