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Florida Supercon 2015: The force is strong with this one

Nerds, assemble! @FloridaSupercon powers up again in Miami Beach w/Chewbacca, Kevin Smith and WWE wrestlers.

Remember that incident from "The Empire Strikes Back" when Lando Calrissian betrayed Han Solo, and Darth Vader froze Solo in a block of carbonite? "Star Wars" die-hards won't let actor Billy Dee Williams forget it.

Even now, 35 years on, and especially at fan conventions, Williams can't live down his character's folly.

"I still find myself having to explain that whole situation, and it becomes pretty amusing," Williams says of Lando's debatable likability in the "Star Wars" universe. "For 30 years, I've been explaining and justifying Lando's actions. But I'm always saying, 'Did anyone get killed?' Besides, going up against Darth Vader isn't an easy thing to do. I just hope [fans are] arguing with Lando the character and not Billy the actor. … I mean, there might be a few delusional people."

Williams may wind up having to explain himself again at the nerdy gathering known as Florida Supercon, returning June 25-28 to the Miami Beach Convention Center. Williams is scheduled to appear on Friday through Sunday for Q and As and meet-and-greet photo sessions. Williams' cohort in the "Star Wars" franchise, Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), will take the stage for a Q and A about his 40-year career as a beloved Wookie.

Williams, 78, is no stranger to fan conventions or defending Lando's good name, with frequent appearances at Disney's annual Star Wars Celebrations in Orlando and Anaheim, Calif. He's come to "embrace" that fan questions these days veer less toward his varied non-"Star Wars" career. Rarer are queries about 1972's "Lady Sings the Blues," in which he played a smooth operator opposite Diana Ross, and the acclaimed TV movie "Brian's Song" with James Caan, a biopic about former Fort Lauderdale football player Brian Piccolo. "The whole experience was a pure act of love, from my chemistry with Jimmy [Caan] to the director, Buzz Kulik," Williams recalls of that film.

The latest barrage of questions, naturally, involve whether Lando and his cape will march on in the J.J. Abrams-directed "Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens."

Answer: "I have no idea," Williams says, with just a trace of coyness.

"I'm seeing fans are unhappy over the fact that I'm not involved in it," Williams says. "People think that I was a part of the original cast, but I wasn't really part of it. But since that character I've played became such a significant contribution, it seemed like I was there from the beginning, even if I was only there for 'The Empire Strikes Back' and 'Return of the Jedi.'"

He already reprises Lando Calrissian's voice on the Disney XD animated series "Star Wars Rebels," and is hardly immodest about his character's place in "Star Wars" mythology. "The general consensus is that 'The Empire Strikes Back' is the best one of the trilogy," Williams says. "I agree with that."

With the "coup" of booking of Williams and Mayhew, Florida Supercon organizer Mike Broder says his convention's 10th year is piling on more celebrity bona fides than ever. He says ticket pre-sales are already up 30 percent over the convention in 2014, which drew 43,000 visitors over four days, and expects attendance "could top 60,000."

The imperative this year, Broder adds, was distancing Supercon from the reputation that nerd conventions "are populated by celebrity has-beens" by stuffing its schedule with stars of current TV and film projects. So when the convention unfolds its bill of cosplay, Japanese anime, video games, dance parties, movies and comic books, its guests will include Hayley Atwell of ABC's "Agent Carter"; Brett Dalton, Maximiliano Hernández and Eddie McClintock from ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."; Daniel Thomas May, Lew Temple and Vincent Ward from AMC's "The Walking Dead"; Manu Bennett from the CW's "Arrow"; Emilie de Ravin from ABC's "Once Upon a Time; and "Spongebob Squarepants" voice actor Tom Kenny.

Gone are Florida Supercon's annual wrestling shows, replaced by appearances from WWE talent Jerry "The King" Lawler, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, Daniel Bryan, Kane, Ron Simmons, Mickie James and Paige. Another highlight: Kevin Smith, director of the upcoming "Mallrats 2" and "Clerks 3," will have a cast reunion with Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Mewes, Brian O'Halloran and Marilyn Ghigliotti.

"It's the biggest lineup we ever had," Broder says. "We're working around shooting schedules. Even Peter Mayhew and Billy Dee Williams are working on their own projects. We took a lot of risks early on, moved to bigger venues like the Convention Center to grow the show. So the thought that Supercon is full of dusty actors does not apply."

Broder has also expanded Supercon's Super Geek Film Fest, a trove OF films made by enthusiasts of science fiction, fantasy and video games. Michael Welch, who appears on Syfy's "Z Nation," will premiere footages from his new TV series, "Significance," Broder says.

Supercon will also debut its appropriately nerd-themed collaborative beer with Miami's J. Wakefield Brewing, whose taproom is covered in "Star Wars" murals. Called Powerup Peach IPA, the hoppy, malty ale carries light peach notes.

"We've never had our own beer," says Broder, whose wife, Sandy, is the "beer drinker in the family." "I guess you know you've made it when you've got your own beer."

Billy Dee Williams will appear 4:20 p.m. Friday, June 26; 12:15 and 4:15 p.m. Saturday, June 27; and 11:45 a.m. Sunday, June 28, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive. Florida Supercon runs June 25-28. Hours of admission are noon-1 a.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday. Call 954-399-1330 or go to FloridaSupercon.com.

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