Why the Return of Billy Dee Williams is a Warning Sign for “Star Wars” IX

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Lucasfilm)

After months (if not years) of speculation, it’s finally been announced that Billy Dee Williams will reprise his role as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming “Star Wars: Episode IX”. While longtime fans of the series may rejoice at this news, I’m worried that the details surrounding “Episode IX” are adding up to a big fat warning sign.

Williams is just one part of the puzzle. Lucasfilm will also be returning to a safe, proven filming location that’s been used twice as the Rebel base on Yavin IV. The film will also feature Keri Russell, an actor that director JJ Abrams has worked with extensively in the past.

In other words, this movie seems to be built of as many safe pieces as possible.

A proven filming location. A legacy actor. Someone the director knows well and can work with comfortably.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting an untroubled production, but I can’t help but worry that the fanservice might be a little too strong with this movie.

The Danger of Innovation

“The Last Jedi” casts a long shadow over the “Star Wars” franchise. While many people swear that the movie is solid, there’s no denying the constant, unyielding wave of negativity that’s poured out of a very specific, mercilessly vocal faction within the fan community.

It just doesn’t seem to show signs of stopping. Self-professed “Star Wars” fans hate this movie will all the violent passion that they can muster, leading themselves inevitably closer to the Dark Side.

The Last Jedi Throne Room
Source: Lucasfilm

Completely missing the point of the message of the franchise, these fans have harassed members of the movie’s production at all levels of seniority. They will not stop yelling, and I get the feeling that Disney is eager to backtrack if it means appeasing these loud voices of derision.

Thus, a safe “Star Wars” movie. One which will feature a very untroubled production – a good palate cleanser for the studio after the drama of “Solo” and “Rogue One”. Plus, crucially, a movie that’s built from a series of pieces that are guaranteed to please even the grumpiest of Original Trilogy purists.

As lovely as this may sound, I’m really skeptical that this will turn out a movie that’s any more appealing or beloved than “The Last Jedi”.

What’s more, I can cite precedent to prove it.

The Problem With Safety

Personally, I’ll be the first to admit that the Disney “Star Wars” movies lack something compared with the earlier films in the series.

What these movies lack is debatable, but I’d say that it’s some form of greater artistic vision.

You can say what you like about George Lucas’ bonkers movie ideas from the past two decades, but one this is certain. Lucas is, and has always been, a director who makes films that he’s passionate about.

Lucas tells a story with a specific purpose. His films are all about something, and he’s normally throwing a lot of political commentary into the mix.

Solo A Star Wars Story
Source: Lucasfilm

The Disney “Star Wars” films could be about something. Certainly there are plenty of political elements within the mix. In practice, though, these themes are never allowed to be all that strong, because at the end of the day, the new movies exist solely to sell tickets and toys and the pervasive childhood fantasy that Disney has used as the basis of its empire since the 1930s.

This leads to very safe moviemaking by default. The path of least resistance creates simple, twee films without much originality.

Fans may not be quite as vocally angry about these safer Disney “Star Wars” movies, but they’re also no more enthusiastic.

“Solo” met waves of apathy upon release because nobody cared. The movie is filled with fanservice and cute in-jokes, but this wasn’t enough to get people’s attention.

A safe “Star Wars” movie is a dull “Star Wars” movie

I can’t help but worry that, in an effort to end the current trilogy with a lot of fan-appeasing spectacle (which includes a Billy Dee Williams cameo), JJ Abrams and Disney will deliver the most bland, inoffensive, ultimately disposable “Star Wars” movie of all time.

The response will not be positive. Embittered fans of George Lucas’ work are going to hate “Episode IX” just as much as they hate anything that isn’t “The Empire Strikes Back”.

Ultimately, I worry that even the most blatant attempt at fanservice is going to anger and enrage “Star Wars” fans like myself.

I guess you could say that I have a bad feeling about this.