Thandiwe Newton was the first Black woman to appear in a Star Wars movie, which was kind of a big deal. As a seasoned and respected actress, she was a great choice to play Val, who shows up at Beckett’s side (Woody Harrelson). And then things went a little sideways. In Solo, her first and only Star Wars appearance, she dies while sacrificing herself for the others pretty early on. Her death was clear–no coming back for her. It didn’t count as fridging exactly, since her death didn’t spur on actions for the male characters. Beckett wasn’t seen through the rest of the movie crying or mourning Val, doing things in her name. Val just… died. The point of her death may have been to establish that characters in this movie can die, but killing off the first and only Black woman was a move that many noticed after this movie came out. Now, years later, Thandiwe Newton is talking about it.
In an interview with Inverse, the actress clarifies that in the original script, Val didn’t die on screen. There was supposed to be an explosion. While the actress didn’t say that her character was ever promised a return, most audiences for sci-fi and fantasy stories expect that if a character isn’t seen dying on screen it means they may someday return.
I felt disappointed by Star Wars that my character was killed… it was much more just to do with the time we had to do the scenes. It’s much easier just to have me die than it is to have me fall into a vacuum of space so I can come back sometime… That’s what it originally was: that the explosion and she falls out and you don’t know where she’s gone. So I could have come back at some point. But when we came to filming, as far as I was concerned and was aware, when it came to filming that scene, it was too huge a set-piece to create, so they just had me blow up and I’m done. But I remembered at the time thinking, “This is a big, big mistake” — not because of me, not because I wanted to come back. You don’t kill off the first Black woman to ever have a real role in a Star Wars movie. Like, are you fucking joking?Thandiwe Newton
Prior to the film’s release, and immediately after, Thandiwe Newton did a great number of interviews about Solo. At that time, people were questioning her death in this scene, but it wasn’t a time where she might have felt comfortable or allowed to have the space to talk about her feelings on her character’s death. It’s common for actors to talk about this years later. Now, while doing interviews for Reminiscence, her latest sci-fi movie with Hugh Jackman, she’s talking about it.
This is something audiences have been pointing out since Solo’s release though. What was so wrong about Val’s death? It bothered people for different reasons, often multiple reasons at once. There was an issue in part because killing the first Black woman in Star Wars felt wasteful, in part because it felt like a racist move (because of how it’s become a pattern in media for marginalized groups to be the character deaths of choice), and in part because the decisions behind Thandiwe Newton’s character’s death didn’t totally make sense.
Did Val just decide to blow up the train after the droids attacked because she wanted to save the guys, or was that really to complete the job of getting the loot? Did it make sense for her to choose death right there? Was there enough reason behind that decision for Val to make it matter? There didn’t seem to be enough ramifications after her death for it to matter. And it was in this place where her death didn’t seem to matter that perception of this death has always been that it just wasn’t satisfactory and often comes across as racist.
Watching Solo, it feels like Thandiwe Newton’s character wasn’t given appropriate consideration for her place in the story. Her death made that worse. The other character’s lack of reaction to it made it worse again. And now, Newton’s recollection of it happening on the set because the original scene felt like a hassle at the time, definitely makes it worse.