For an ensemble film like Solo: A Star Wars Story, it was expected that some of its characters would not last until the film’s credits. Hence, Rio Durant saw an early exit, L3-37 was torn to pieces while our favorite smuggler bamboozled Dryden Vos and Tobias Beckett.
One character was a bit more of a question mark than most, though: Val. Not because of what we saw of her, but how much we didn’t. Her chemistry with the other characters and intriguing backstory all caught the audience’s attention but were left unexplored. One thing is for sure, though, she was brilliantly played by Thandiwe Newton. For those reasons, despite her limited screentime, Val was a fan favorite from Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Here are five facts you may not have known about Thandiwe Newton and her relationship with Star Wars.
1. She was a Star Wars fan as a child
When Newton had the chance to join a Star Wars film, she instantly snatched the opportunity, in no small part due to her remembrance of the saga’s past. Newton first saw the original Star Wars at the age of six, rekindling that experience as she sat in the theatre to watch Solo decades later.
Asked what specifically stuck out to her about the film, Newton identified the imposing crawl that opens it. Speaking with Deco, Newton said, “I’d never seen that before, and you actually had to read. And obviously, I could read. I was only little, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I can read this!’”
Then, beyond that, Newton enjoyed some of the film’s characters as well, telling Cinema Express, “I remember as a child, just absolutely loving Princess Leia and Chewbacca and C-3PO, all these characters that just sort of entered your consciousness and never went away.”
It certainly never went away, as Newton’s connection to the saga has only grown since.
2. Val is Star Wars’ first Black female main character, and it means a lot to her
While Star Wars has included women in prominent roles, notably Princess Leia and Padmé Amidala, that same representation has not been applied to black women.
The trend began to change with Lupita Nyong’o completing the motion capture for Maz Kanata in the sequel trilogy, but still, the color of her skin was hidden, as Newton told RadioTimes. Newton thus became the first Black woman to have a leading role in Star Wars. It’s particularly important to Newton because of a history in the film industry marred by discrimination against her.
As a symbol of that importance, Newton wore a dress adorned with action figures of all the saga’s black characters to Solo’s premiere at the Cannes Festival. Her character’s distinct appearance also has roots in Black culture, taking cues from the Black Panther Party and civil rights activist Angela Davis.
Since then, Star Wars has attempted to make further strides in diversity, notable in Jannah’s role in The Rise of Skywalker. Now, it seems time that a black woman becomes the main character.
3. Solo’s writers feel like her character was underutilized
While many fans feel Val had missed potential in Solo, they are not alone. Jon Kasdan, co-writer of the story with his father and saga icon, Lawrence, released a long compilation of factoids to Twitter relating to Solo months following the film’s release.
Within, he revealed interesting tidbits such as what story threads persisted through directors and the thinking process behind the film. Particularly about Val, Kasdan openly wrote:
"In retrospect, Thandie Newton may actually have been too good and too interesting as Val. It was always in the design of the story that Beckett would lose his trusted crew members during the Conveyex job-gone-wrong and be forced to rely on newbies, Han and Chewie, and this would also open the door for Lando, Qi’ra, and L3 to join the crew, but Thandie is so compelling to watch that the death of her character feels a little like a cheat. It’s an odd and unxpected problem that comes with working with such amazing, compelling actors in the Star Wars universe. You just want more of them…"
Kasdan also responded to outcries saying that the film’s script should’ve been worked in Val’s favor, but he said that was impractical. Luckily, Disney+ and the reinvigoration for more Solo stories in the future may give us the opportunity to learn more about Val in the future.
4. There have been some thoughts on the character’s backstory
One of the most intriguing elements of Val’s character was just how mysterious she was. We knew very little of her in the film’s buildup and few of those answers surfaced after its release. However, that is not to say that a backstory does not exist.
There was an apparent love interest between her and Beckett, with the two working in tandem. Expanding on that, Newton theorized, along with the filmmakers, on Solo’s DVD commentary, that Beckett originally reduced Val from a perilous situation, earning respect in her eyes and bringing Val into his crew.
Of course, that is not confirmed, but it does imply that the building blocks are already in place where the character to resurface.
5. Val may have a Westworld-counterpart
Newton has had an extensive acting career, filled with numerous iconic roles. Perhaps few more so than Maeve Millay on HBO’s Westworld. For those who have seen Westworld, it does wield a few similarities to Star Wars, holding a shared place in the world of Western science fiction.
Newton also identifies some similarities between Val and Maeve Millay, saying, “They’d definitely be friends because they have a no-nonsense approach to life, which would allow them to just get on with the mission.”
While I can’t speak to Newton’s role in Westworld, Val was certainly a rugged-tough character, so the comparison seems like a fitting one. And the Star Wars connection exists in actuality as well, with J.J. Abrams executive producing the show.
For more Star Wars facts, keep up with the Star Wars Actors category on Dork Side of the Force!