Did you ever ponder how or why Gibbs, the NCIS lead, received his unique, old-school name?
Few people ever called Gibbs (Mark Harmon) by his given name — Leroy Jethro Gibbs. His dad, Jackson, named him after his long-time best friend, a Marine who fought in Iwo Jima and lived in Stillwater, Pa., the Gibbs’ hometown.
And NCIS fans finally met that character nine years ago this month. And Leroy Jethro Moore was portrayed by Billy Dee Williams. Yes, that’s the same guy who traipsed about the universe with Han Solo and Chewie in Star Wars. Williams started portraying Lando Calrissian in the Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Lando was the original owner of the Millennium Falcon. At the end of the Empire Strikes Back, Lando betrayed Han to Darth Vader. However, in Return of the Jedi, Lando helped rescue Han from Jabba the Hut. And the Star Wars bad boy evolved into a general in the Rebel Alliance.
Fans of Lando got to see his backstory in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Donald Glover played a young Lando. Williams also reprised the character in The Rise of Skywalker in 2019.
NCIS Show Runner Was Big Fan of Several of Williams’ Movies
So that’s the NCIS connection to Star Wars. Williams also played a compelling best friend of Jackson Gibbs and mentor to his namesake. Gary Glasberg, NCIS showrunner, confirmed the Williams storyline in August 2012. Turns out, Glasberg was a big fan of Williams’ work.
“This is a very rich, emotional story and we couldn’t be happier to have Billy Dee Williams bringing this character to life,” Glasberg said. “Mr. Williams appeared in some of my favorite films from Lady Sings the Blues and Brian’s Song to the Star Wars saga. Watching him work with Mark Harmon and Ralph Waite will be a real treat.”
The first NCIS episode for Williams was called The Namesake. As part of another investigation, Gibbs sees a Medal of Honor on display in a pawn shop. It’s illegal to sell these medals. Then Gibbs read the citation that came with the medal. It belonged to his dad’s long-time friend, Leroy Jethro Moore. But Jackson and LJ were estranged.
Gibbs tracked down Moore at a retirement home. It seems that Moore didn’t sell the medal because he personally needed the money. Rather, he wanted the money to buy an electric lift and install it at the home for his fellow residents. Moore moved away from Stillwater years before. But Gibbs never knew why.
Later in the NCIS episode, Gibbs confronts his father, played by Ralph Waite (The Waltons). Jackson and Moore had a falling out. Jackson found out that Moore helped his wife commit suicide. She’d been suffering from terminal cancer. Gibbs finally forced his father and Moore to talk again. They forgave each other.
Jackson got the medal back from the pawn shop and asked Moore to move back to Stillwater.
Sadly, NCIS fans saw Moore again in 2014 for an episode called Honor Thy Father. Waite died in February. The show decided to devote the season finale in May to Jackson, his death and funeral. Williams, as Moore, returned to be by Gibbs’ side.