Solo: A Star Wars Story has the dubious distinction as the first film in the franchise to truly qualify as a dud. While debate topics over what caused the 2018 spinoff to flop remain wide-ranging, cold hard facts prove that its $392.9 million global gross was anemic—and far below its $500 million break-even—against an inflated $275-300 million budget. However, one of the most prevalent reasons for its failure was the tonal detour that hastily-hired replacement director Ron Howard was tasked with taking, which yielded a logistical nightmare. Indeed, actress Thandiwe Newton reveals how her character, Val, fell victim to said nightmare.
Thandiwe Newton, star of HBO’s Westworld, clearly had high hopes when she joined the Solo: A Star Wars Story cast. After all, it’s a freaking Star Wars movie, and her role as smuggler Val seemed integral to the film’s gang of anti-hero ne’er-do-wells, making her the first significant role for a Black woman in the franchise’s 40+ years. Yet, while Val—as the wife and crewmate of the shady Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson)—was there for the fateful recruitment of wet-behind-the-ears Imperial deserter Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and indebted Wookie companion Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), she didn’t even make it to the film’s midpoint, and was martyred in explosive fashion during a heist. Interestingly, Newton now reveals to Inverse that Val’s sacrificial demise was originally just an emotional ruse to facilitate an audacious surprise return later in the film.
“I felt disappointed by Star Wars that my character was killed,” laments Newton on Val’s fate. “And, actually, in the script, she wasn’t killed. It happened during filming. And 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.”
Val’s death occurs during the assembled gang’s first heist in the film. Set on the planet Vandor, their task was to steal a hyperfuel called Coaxium from an Imperial 20-T Railcrawler conveyex transport. Contextually, said heist was existentially crucial, since Beckett was in serious debt to a most dangerous individual (not Jabba the Hutt) in Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), leader—or, as it was later revealed, merely the public face—of criminal syndicate Crimson Dawn. But when the heist starts to go sideways (notably after diminutive four-armed pilot Rio is killed), Val makes a sacrificial bomb detonation in an attempt to derail the car. However, her sacrifice was proven to be made in vain since the Coaxium ended up destroyed after an interruption by raiders led by Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman).
Yet, the scene in which Val realizes her last option, conjuring the bravery to hit the detonator, is quickly followed by a shot of the track exploding and collapsing. While, obviously, such a cut strongly invites the presumption of Val’s demise, it did leave some wiggle room for an explanation in which she could have jumped off the car, plummeting toward the snowy valley below, only to be rescued by Nest and her Cloud-Riders, who had arrived on the scene flying on swoop bikes. It’s a fantastical scenario, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility in the Star Wars mythology. It could have also made sense story-wise, since Han and Chewie eventually find a common cause with the train-raiding Nest upon their third-act meeting on the planet Savareen, in which her pirating activities turned out to be motivated by a rebellion against the Empire—notwithstanding the indifference to that cause we see later in the timeline with Harrison Ford’s Han in A New Hope.
Val’s surprise return—perhaps aligned with the Cloud-Riders—would have been a somewhat organic development, and could have been a major reckoning for Tobias after his climactic betrayal of the group. Of course, that is just a theory on how it could have played out onscreen.
“That’s what it originally was,” explains Newton of Val’s nixed return. “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.”
Unfortunately for Newton, Val’s intended fake death would evolve on-the-fly into a hastily-concocted real death. That’s because the scene set to showcase her intended return—presumably an appeal for an abrupt applause by theatrical audiences—required too much time and resources for a production that was already entrenched in a logistical quagmire as its budget rapidly snowballed. Remember, the better part of a year was essentially wasted developing—and even shooting—the more comedy-centric version concocted by original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller before Lucasfilm gave them the sack. That led the studio to bring in a reliable, pressure-tested pinch-director in Ron Howard to essentially start from scratch and sprint to the proverbial finish line in time for the May 23, 2018 release date slotted by Disney’s big brass. However, Newton maintains that Val’s death detracted from the film on multiple levels.
“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?”
For now, with the Sequel Trilogy and cinematic spinoff experiments like Solo and Rogue One now in the rearview mirror, Star Wars has made a new home for itself in the television serial realm on streaming platform Disney+, where a third season of wildly-successful series The Mandalorian heads toward a 2022 release, during which it will be complemented by offerings like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor. However, it is marking a return to the big screen with the Patty Jenkins-directed Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, which is scheduled to hit theaters on Dec. 22, 2023. More films are also on the far horizon—none of which are likely to facilitate Val’s miraculous comeback.