Lando, Lobot, and the Beauty of Depth

Exploring the beloved characters of the Empire Strikes Back…

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

When my brother David and I were kids, our Grandma loved to shop garage sales. While she was still alive it was a Saturday tradition of hers and, often, the family would benefit from her finds. This was how, long before we’d seen the movies, we ended up with some old Star Wars action figures. Among them was Lobot with his immediately intriguing robotic headband. I’ve forgotten much of the stories we created for this character but I do remember the first time I watched The Empire Strikes Back. There he was! That was our mystery guy! What was he??? Was he human?! A droid?! Some kind of cyborg?! The film didn’t shed much light on this enigmatic character but his moments of screen time always took me back to the mystery and possibility the toy represented. However, Lobot wouldn’t remain a mystery forever and the moving character Charlie Soule and Alex Maleev find from the cinematic inspiration for that little toy remains my favorite part of the Lando miniseries and it’s a beautiful gift for all Star Wars fans.

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Lando was part of the first wave of Star Wars stories Marvel launched when they began adding the comic book dimension to the newly developing Disney Canon. Running from July to October of 2015, Lando followed everyone’s favorite smooth-talking scoundrel Lando Calrissian and his partner Lobot as they attempted to settle some outstanding debts with the infamous crime lord of Castell, Papa Toren. Toren offers to drop the debt Lando’s incurred if he’ll steal the space yacht Imperialis from the Sienar Fleet Systems’ Orbital Shipyard CC-2 and bring it back to him. As part of the deal, Lando is allowed to keep everything onboard the ship. Unaware the ship belongs to the Emperor and with no other option before him, Lando agrees. He and Lobot recruit Aleksin and his clone and lover Pavol for muscle (their species is unknown but they look like they’re auditioning for the Black Panther comic instead of a Star Wars one) and the Ugnaught historian and antiquities expert Sava Korin Pers for the mission. The theft of the ship goes smooth enough but trouble arises when they realize the ship is filled with ancient Sith artifacts…and these items begin to have a corrupting effect on Aleksin and Pavol. Enter bounty hunter Chanath Cha, sent by the Emperor to bring the thieves back to him alive or, should their capture prove impossible, destroy the ship and everything onboard.

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Lando was a strong early entry as Disney began to develop their version of the Star Wars Saga and, for me, it still remains one of their best chapters! There’s so much to love about Lando but what resonated with me the most the first time I read it, and continues to touch me more and more with each subsequent reading, is the depth and dimension this story adds to Lobot’s character.

For all the questions I had about Lobot when he was just this mysterious sort of robot guy we had in our toy bin, The Empire Strikes Back didn’t do too much to answer them. I learned he lived on Cloud City with Lando. I learned he was apparently Lando’s assistant and Cloud City’s security detail was all about doing what he wanted them to do when he pointed. But that was all I really saw. He never even had any lines! The main questions I had about him were still there. Was he human? Was he a droid? Was he some kind of cool cyborg hybrid? And the film added new questions too. How did he meet Lando? Did he always live on Cloud City? What is his personal experience of the Empire? What was he doing when he…uh, activated? Does he sleep or recharge?

I love seeing this relationship between Lando and Lobot! / Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

One of the reasons reading Lando was so rewarding and enjoyable for me is because it gives the reader a layered and emotionally rich picture of who Lobot was, his relationship with Lando, and why he was as nonverbal as he appeared to be in Empire. In so doing, Lando falls into the great tradition of the real magic to be found in these additional Star Wars stories. With his Original Trilogy, George Lucas created this vibrant universe, teeming with so many characters, worlds, species, ships, weapons, families, and organizations. I was so excited when I first discovered the Expanded Universe not only because it showed me what happened to Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, Artoo, and Threepio after Return Of The Jedi but because it also took so many of the weird, wacky, and wild things I saw in the background of those three movies — characters, worlds, places, ships, etc. — and fleshed them out.

I love that the Disney Canon has naturally continued this multitier-approach to storytelling within the world George Lucas created — continuing the stories of characters we know, creating stories for those people/places/things we see only in passing, and adding new characters/locals to this universe. What Charlie Soule and Alex Maleev do with Lobot is so beautiful…and it breaks my heart every time I read it.

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Uh, I guess I should offer a warning that I’m going to talk about the comic series with significant spoilers below. I think that should be fair game right? The series came out two years ago so I’m betting everyone who wants to read it already has buuuut, just in case, there will totally be spoilers below. Big ones. Now you know. Okay, so are we cool? Coolio. Let’s proceed.

As soon as Lando leaves the company of Moff Ssaria, Imperial Governor of the Castell sector, in issue #1 he meets up with Lobot. We see they’re partners. But they aren’t just partners; they’re friends. And, as the series proceeds, we learn they aren’t just friends; rather they’re like brothers. As they talk onboard their ship they have this fun/natural brotherly, bantery relationship. Lobot is clearly the brains, the caution, and the conscience of the team while Lando is the dreamer, risk taker, and adlibber. We also learn about that robotic headband of his!

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Apparently Lobot allowed the Imperials to put his implants (they’re called implants everybody — now we know!) in so he could get paid to run battlefield calculations. They also require focus on his part to control them while maintaining control over his personality. Because of this, Lobot doesn’t drink much nor do anything else that would make his focus fuzzy. That makes sense…but the series reveals just how big of a risk this robo-upgrade is.

Issue #3 opens with Lobot injured. He was stabbed by one of the Emperor’s Royal Guards they find protecting the Sith artifacts onboard the ship.

Lobot — “Neurocortical Implant Locomotive System has suffered catastrophic damage.”

Lando — “No, buddy, come on. You gotta pull it together.”

Lobot — “Unit requires immediate repair or functioning will become suboptimal. Unit requires immediate — {KKKZZZTT} Lando…I can’t…They’re trying to…”

Korin — “What’s wrong with him Calrissian?”

Lando — “When Lobot loses focus, his implants start to take over his mind, Korin. If we can’t figure something now, he’ll just…lose himself.”

Korin — “There’s a medical bay one deck down. I found it when I was surveying the ship.”

Lobot — “Yes…bacta…tank. If my body’s healing…I can hold back…the implants. AAARGH!”

Lando — “I’m sorry Lo!”

Lobot — “Unit requires immediate rep — NO!

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Herein lies the tragic beauty of the story Soule and Maleev are telling. As a reader, we’ve all seen The Empire Strikes Back. We know the Lobot we meet in Cloud City isn’t the witty, talkative, thinking, feeling, person we’ve met in the first two issues of this series. We know this is a battle Lobot is going to lose. But this doesn’t make that loss any easier. It hurts all the more because we get to know the man Lobot was before he lost a big part of himself to the implants.

This tension with his implants also serves as a nice bit of symbolism. Lobot volunteered to allow the Empire to give him these neurocortical implants. They were designed to make it easier for him to calculate battlefield equations and probabilities more effectively and accurately. But any sort of gift from or service to empire robs us of a part of our very self. Empire — both the actual Galactic Empire of the Star Wars Saga and the idea of empire the Empire symbolizes in the films — is a corrupting force. We see this corruption play out literally in Lobot as the implants the Empire have given him actively seek to rob him of his emotions, his mind, his humanity. This is underscored when Lando stresses, “But you know how his implants work. They’re always trying to take over his brain. Optimize him. If he’s hurt, he can’t fight them off so well.” We must always be wary, this story is telling us, as no gift from empire comes without taking a part of our humanity as payment. Empire seeks to corrupt and control when we are weak. And if we aren’t vigilant, we will find ourselves robbed of that humanity before we even know it happened. Such is the way of empire, as it’s the way of the Empire.

Lando doesn’t just add a powerful dimension to Lobot — it also gives us a tender side of Lando too. In the films we see Lando’s relationship with Han and Chewie (an admittedly old yet strained relationship) and we see him build bonds with Leia, Luke, and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. But in this comic series we see how deeply Lando loves Lobot. When it become obvious that Aleksin and Pavol are too much for them to handle, Korin states the obvious:

Korin — “We can’t fight this. We are in way over our heads, and it is time to leave.”

Lando — “Have you forgotten about Lobot? He’s stuck in that bacta tank in the medical bay, and if we move him, he could die. Or worse…he could lose his mind to those damn implants.”

One of the major overarching themes of this story is Lando’s character. Everyone who interacts with him (Toren, Korin, Cha) talk about how good Lando is at cutting and running when the going gets tough. Lando likes to gamble but he also knows when to fold and get out before it gets too hot. But Lando won’t leave Lobot behind. No matter how dangerous it becomes onboard the Imperialis, Lando won’t leave. Lobot is more important to him than his own life. He isn’t giving up on his friend.

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

By the beginning of issue #5, the final issue in the miniseries, Chanath Cha has boarded the Imperialis and is preparing to key in the self-destruct sequence. She and Lando go back a long ways so, as opposed to delivering him and his team to the Emperor, she offers them a ride out on her ship and will tell Palpatine she had to blow the whole thing. The only things that stops her from setting the ship to explode is when Lando tells her Lobot is onboard and he’s injured. It’s not just that she knows Lando; she and Lobot were lovers once upon a time. As we get closer and closer to losing Lobot we learn of another intimate part of his life and personality. Again…it’s beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

Chanath and Lobot after he sacrifices himself for their safety / Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

As it becomes obvious the ship needs to be destroyed, we see a tender moment between Lando and Lobot as he’s forced to pull him, prematurely, from the bacta tank:

Lando — “How you doing, buddy?”

Lobot — “I’ve felt…better, brother. But I can hold on, I think. How’s the plan going? We rich yet?”


Lobot — “Well, no surprise there.”

Lando — “Listen. Everything’s screwed up. But we’ll be okay.”

First, Lobot calls Lando brother! Aaahh, my heart! Second, Lando refuses to give up, to believe in anything other than their escape and salvation. As they move through the ship, even though he’s injured and fighting desperately to retain his humanity against the control of the implants, Lobot’s joking all the way. And, when it becomes obvious his implants are the only way he can override the Imperialis’ safety protocols and launch and escape pod so he, Lando, and Chanath can escape, he sacrifices himself without a second thought. The reformatting is 100% complete. Lobot — the man we got to meet and love through the past five issues, the man Lando’s known and loved for years — is gone.

Lando — “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I swear. I’ll do everything I can to cure you. I’ll find a way.”

Lobot — “Hey, Lando. If you’re hearing this recording, I’m gone, and you just said the word ‘cure.’ I bet it didn’t take you very long, either. Maybe you’ll pull it off. I wouldn’t put it past you. I’ve seen you beat crazier odds. But even if you don’t, I’m not angry about what happened to me. Not now, and definitely not by the time you hear this. I live by my choices. I don’t think I have very much time left. Let me get to it. You have a power, Lando. People follow you. They willingly become chips in your game. Cards in your deck. That’s an amazing thing. It’s how you do…the things you do. We’re your luck. So here’s what I’d like to tell you, while I’m still your friend of many years, instead of…whatever I’m about to become. Stop playing. Get out of the game. Fold. Find something you believe in, other than yourself, anyway. Use that power you have…that luck, all that charm, and do something good with it. Lando. Old buddy. You’re better than this.”

No matter how often I read this series, this gets me. Every. Single. Time. Lobot’s sacrifice is as heartbreaking as his final words to Lando are powerful. The beauty of this additional depth we get with Lobot extends in so many directions. Obviously it makes Soule and Maleev’s miniseries a stirring piece in and of itself. But this adds so much to The Empire Strikes Back too. As opposed to being this weird, silent, sorta robot guy who works in Cloud City, I now see this man who’s been friends with Lando for years. I see this man who’s worked with Lando, who sees him as a brother, who encourages him to be more. While Lando doesn’t find a way to fully cure Lobot, we see he does take to heart his old friend’s final advice.

Photo Credit — Marvel Comics

Through the lens provided by this comic series, we can watch Empire and see it’s in large part because of Lobot’s belief in Lando that he will end up “respectable” and running Cloud City. It’s also in part because of this belief that Lando will see himself as someone who can not only join but lead in the Rebel Alliance. This is part of why I’ve always loved these additional stories — from the time I first discovered the Expanded Universe to what I still find in the Disney Canon. It’s the depth, brilliance, and beauty they can add to the Star Wars Saga. Skilled storytellers, as Soule and Maleev do here, can take a random, cool-looking background character with no lines in the films and make him someone who lives, breathes, hurts, loves, and feels through the magic of their story. And that is a beautiful thing indeed.

If you’re interested in more Star Wars and comic book related fun, may I suggest you bounce over to my site — My Comic Relief?!? I promise, good times will be had by all. Yay!