Characters in the Star Wars universe spend much more time considering the extremes of good and evil than they do considering which option might be the lesser of two evils. But, plots being a thing, surprising machinations emerge from the moral void. The canon is knitted together from plot-lines involving double crossing, redemptive last-minute saves, and major reveals. Motivations are often hard to understand in the context of individual character, most of whom don’t evolve per se. The notable exception to this rule: Lando Calrissian.
Although Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, and his subsequent assist to his son, Luke Skywalker, is the most important Star Wars morality pageant, it’s not the most believable. Anakin slides headfirst into the Dark Side after being, essentially, turned down for a promotion, and even after decades of brainwashing and training, he’s still self-aware enough to help out his kid before dying. Even if a character could make all of the decisions Anakin made, saving Luke shouldn’t excuse Darth Vader of his multiple attempts at mass genocide, and the murder of a bunch of children back in the prequels. Each huge shift in the character’s morality and self-control has to happen in order to make the rest of the series work, but Darth Vader’s path through the Force doesn’t make all that much sense when laid out from beginning to end.
So, Anakin/Darth isn’t the most logical transformation, but there are quite a few other options. Han Solo first appears in Star Wars as a selfish smuggler, a petty criminal, and a straight-up murderer of at least one Rodian bounty hunter. By the end of A New Hope, Solo is awarded a medal and solidifies himself as a hero, alongside two of the most purely “good” characters in the franchise: Chewie and Luke. Is Han’s redemption realistic? Well, he may have given up some of his smuggling money in order to help the Resistance, but gaining new allies ends up protecting him from the threat of characters like Jabba. Overall, Han’s prospects increased after having a minor change of heart. The consistent thing about Han is that he’s unpredictable. He’s unpredictably bad for awhile, then unpredictably good. His heart doesn’t really change. His motivations do (boy meets girl and all that).
So, how about Han’s son Ben? Granted, we don’t have the full narrative of him rejecting Master Skywalker’s Jedi training and deciding to follow Snoak, but the petulance in Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren has fans speculating that Ben Solo’s path to the dark side was, like Anakin’s, borne of teenage angst. That’s two super important Jedis (Anakin and Ben) who have chosen the dark side while in the Force Lightning-like throes of puberty. Why haven’t the Jedis come up with a solution for this awkward, angry time period yet? How many people on /r/blunderyears would have chosen the power and infamy of the Dark Side, if it was offered to them while they were at their most hormone-fueled and pissed off?
In an interesting twist on the franchise’s typical tropes, The Force Awakens illustrated the most important choice in Kylo Ren’s development; in killing his father, he makes the switch not from chaotic neutral to chaotic good, as his father did long ago, but from something like chaotic neutral to lawful evil. As fans know, the Dark Side has as much patience for unbridled, illogical rage as the Light Side, so Kylo’s temper tantrums will continue to be a problem. Without any of the important background information on Kylo’s character, we’re at a loss to determine how believable his side-switching is. At this juncture, it’s all just guesses.
Also shrouded in mystery — or, rather, kind of just underwritten — is the rogue Stormtrooper FN-2187, who now goes by Finn. Wookiepedia says Finn went by 87 among his fellow Stormtroopers, which is adorable, sad, and also completely unfounded, as we don’t get much of anything as to why Finn cares more about strangers than the men and women he’s been trained with since birth. Although his escape from the Stormtroopers makes for an emotionally engaging storyline, we don’t know how unusual his change of heart is. In an age where Stormtroopers are no longer just clones of Boba Fett, but instead child soldiers torn from their home planets and trained as war machines, it’s unlikely that only one soldier would defect from the mission.
If one were to study Finn psychologically, as many academics have analyzed the sad, and all-too-true pattern of “child soldiering”, it would likely become apparent that Finn’s sense of morality is severely underdeveloped. It does make sense that he might remove himself from a larger conflict in order to protect himself from the Stormtroopers, but given that he was raised in isolation, and told repeatedly that his only worth in life was killing enemies of the First Order, Star Wars: Episode Eight had better allow Finn some of this depth of character. He may naturally be a Luke, but his background makes the chance of his complete purity and selflessness really, really unlikely. If there’s one Finn, there’s likely to be more who think the way he does, among the remaining Stormtroopers. Finn’s story may be great so far, but it’s not exactly believable. Not yet, anyway.
So let’s talk about believability: when introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, Lando has already been established as a friend of Han Solo’s. This characterizes him, as someone from Han’s spotty past, as selfish and conniving. It makes perfect sense, given that Han and Lando haven’t hung out since Han was still shooting people in cantinas, that Lando’s moral compass hasn’t changed in accordance with his buddy’s. All the same, the Star Wars heroes are shocked to discover that Lando has taken orders from Darth Vader. How could he do that, right? Sell out his buddies to the big baddie?
Well, examine for a second what you would do in Lando’s position. Although many of us can argue that we would never, ever stoop to killing all those Jedi kids as Anakin did, or that we’d never kill our own father just because some giant alien implied we should, Lando trying to enact a deal with Darth Vader is actually pretty smart of him, given that Darth Vader, when he approached Lando, was hands down the scariest person in the galaxy. A lesser man would have groveled at Vader’s feet, and would have ended up Force-choked for insolence, but Lando made it through unscathed, leaving him open to help out Han Solo and the gang in the next film.
That’s the crux of it: in a story full of rigid morality structures and harsh maneuvers, Lando stands out as a stunning human, and understandable character. Can we blame him for not having the spark of innocence in Luke, the one that makes him impervious to temptation? Can we blame him for acting the same way Han Solo probably would have, if Vader had simply found Solo in a cantina and tried to use him to get to Luke? You can argue that Lando and Han Solo were friends, but what’s a real friend among smugglers, when all social connections are simply created out of convenience. We watch Han Solo learn concepts of heroism, selflessness, and family from Luke and Leia, and yet many of us blame Lando for not magically stumbling upon these values on his own, with Vader breathing down his neck.
The guy doesn’t even understand bro code, and starts hitting on Han’s girl as soon as he meets her! How’s he supposed to take on a role in the Rebel Alliance without even being introduced to the full situation? Darth Vader essentially stuck a gun in his face and told him what to do if he wanted to live, and Lando figured out what the deal was with Han, Leia, and the Rebels as the whole showdown was happening. That’s not only understandable, it’s realistic.
Look at Lando’s face when he tells Han he’s “sorry.” The guy’s eyes are rimmed with tears! Many other characters in Star Wars are crucified by fans for experiencing any moral ambiguity or in hesitation, and still others are deemed completely irredeemable just for being selfish — every ugly alien who’s in charge of a desert planet is “gross” for trying to make some money — but Lando is all of these things at once. He’s presented with the very black and white conflict between the Empire and the Rebels and needs a moment to collect himself before choosing a side. Lando isn’t Force-sensitive, and doesn’t benefit from the call to the Light Side that Luke, and presumably Leia, have experienced from childhood. He also doesn’t have a gorgeous honey (again, Leia) yelling at him to get himself together, as his buddy Han does.
Lando’s second turn, helping out the Rebels and eventually becoming a general, is believable too, given that he found the same acceptance in the Rebel community that Han Solo had also been craving. They come from similar backgrounds, Lando and Han, and being a part of something good, something larger than themselves is a powerful thing. This is so endearing that it made everyone (other than Chewie) forget that Lando actually took Han Solo’s clothes when he started flying the Millenium Falcon.
Billy Dee Williams has made very clear in the press that he’d love to appear in the next Star Wars film, but there’s been no confirmation of a Lando return. It would be wonderful for fans to see Lando reacting to his buddy’s death, and reuniting with Leia and Chewie, but the sensitivity and realism that Lando represents would be a welcome factor in the subsequent Star Wars films. Who else is better prepared to comment on Kylo’s betrayal, or the complex, mixed emotions Finn must be feeling, now that he’s locked into a fight against the people who brainwashed him? Kylo and Finn may be the freshest faced double-crossers in the franchise, but Lando has all the moves.