Thandiwe Newton on why her 'Star Wars' death was a 'big mistake'

It's well known that the Force wasn't strong with Solo: A Star Wars Story, the 2018 Star Wars prequel that focused on the early career of the far, far away galaxy's most notorious smuggler, Han Solo. Behind the scenes, the production was plagued by creative disagreements, extensive reshoots and a widely-publicized director switch that saw original filmmakers, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, being replaced by Ron Howard in the middle of shooting.

Now, Solo cast member Thandiwe Newton is speaking out about how the off-camera drama impacted her groundbreaking character, Val — the first Black woman to play a prominent role in a Star Wars movie. In a new interview with Inverse, the Emmy-nominated Westworld star reveals that Val's sudden death midway through the film wasn't planned when she first boarded the movie under Lord and Miller's direction. "In the script, she wasn't killed," Newton says. "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 f****** joking?"

Thandie Newton played Val in the problem-plagued blockbuster, 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' (Photo: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Thandiwe Newton played Val in the problem-plagued blockbuster, Solo: A Star Wars Story (Photo: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

In the script written by father-and-son duo Jonathan Kasdan and Oscar-nominated Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan, Val is introduced as part of a crew of smugglers — including her husband Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Rio Durant (voiced by The Mandalorian mastermind Jon Favreau) — that welcomes Han (Alden Ehrenreich) into their ranks just in time to pull off a great (space) train robbery. But she's killed during the course of that robbery in the theatrical version: a decision that Newton says happened on set due to the limited time they had to shoot the sequence.

Newton as Val, Woody Harrelson as Beckett and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo (Photo: Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Newton as Val, Woody Harrelson as Beckett and Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo in Solo (Photo: Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

"It was much more just to do with the time we had to do the scenes," Newton says, without specifying whether Howard had already replaced Lord and Miller in the director's chair when that choice was made. "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," Newton continues. "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."

Star Wars fans quickly rallied to Newton's side on Twitter in the wake of her revelations, pointing to other performers who they feel have been ill-served by the current incarnation of the franchise.

For the record, Jonathan Kasdan has addressed the disappointment over Val's death before, suggesting that it was a choice he and his father made to raise the dramatic stakes for Harrelson's Beckett. In a 2018 Twitter thread, the screenwriter wrote that the actress "may actually have been too good and too interesting" for a character who wasn't supposed to go on another Star Wars adventure.

"It was always in the design of the story that Beckett would lose his trusted crew members... and be forced to rely on newbies," Kasdan explained. "But Thandie is so compelling to watch that the death of her character feels a little like a cheat. It's an odd and unexpected problem that comes with working with such amazing, compelling actors in the Star Wars universe. You just want more of them."

Solo: A Star Wars Story is currently streaming on Disney+