'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Almost Included Lando Calrissian
Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi below. If you haven't seen the movie, you may want to read something else until then.
The Last Jedi was already an extremely busy film, juggling over three plotlines as it followed a mix of new and old characters around a small chunk of the galaxy. But considering how many old faces that director/writer Rian Johnson included from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, like Yoda and Nien Nunb and Admiral Ackbar (RIP), there was no Lando.
But there was almost Lando. Recently speaking to The Playlist, Johnson said that early on the film's script, there was room for Billy Dee Williams to return as the Cloud City chief and ex-smuggler Lando Calrissian. Specifically, Lando would have appeared instead of the new character DJ, the stuttering codebreaker played by Benicio Del Toro. According to Johnson:
Ultimately, placing him in DJ's role was scrapped for a few reasons. The big reason was how much it would fly in the face of Lando's character development — DJ was a morally ambiguous character who held as much disdain for the Resistance/Rebels as he did for the First Order/Empire. From DJ's point of view, it's all just a war machine of starfighters blowing up starfighters, and betraying Resistance fighters like Finn and Rose to survive was a no-brainer.
That may have been like Lando when he was first introduced in Empire Strikes Back, but he eventually came to realize that while the Empire kept "altering the deal," his friends were all willing to die for the Rebel cause, and Lando was firing at the second Death Star by Return of the Jedi. So, if Lando ended up being the codebreaker in the Canto Bight casino who sold out Finn and Rose to a bunch of Stormtroopers, it'd be like he never changed at all.
Also, his co-pilot Nien Nunb was still in the Resistance, and it would be heartbreaking if it was ever revealed the two had a falling out. But that's less of an issue.
Ignoring that last point, Johnson was aware of the risk to Lando's character that this role would create, and he eventually wrote in a new character instead, one who could more easily be villainous. And since there was apparently nowhere else in the script where he'd fit (to be fair, the script was already overcrowded), Lando never showed up. Johnson continues:
Of course, not including Lando in The Last Jedi raises its own questions. Specifically, where is he? Anyone who served as a general in the Rebel Alliance would likely have some connection to the Resistance (Admiral Ackbar was a higher rank, and he stuck around), so while it's good he didn't end up slumming on Canto Bight like originally planned, his absence is notable.
While we have no idea whether he'll appear in Episode IX, and considering how smoothly things have gone with that movie so far (the director was kicked off and the script rewritten), we do know he'll be appearing in Solo: A Star Wars Story when it comes out next year. And he'll get to be a morally ambiguous type then, since it's a prequel to the Original Trilogy.