Spoilers ahead for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Throughout the history of Star Wars, there’s been a consistent lack of diversity among the movies’ casts. The new trilogy aimed to remedy that with a female hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley), and several characters played by actors of color like Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). Most recently, Solo introduced Val, a master criminal played by the black actor Thandie Newton. Yet while Val is smart, funny, and fun to watch, her identity in the film is solely her romantic relationship, and she’s given a pointless death. As a result, the inclusion of Val in the Star Wars universe isn’t the win for representation many fans so hoped it would be — and in fact, some fans believe it does more of a disservice for representation than anything else.
Solo follows Han Solo’s journey from orphan to scoundrel to smuggler, and it shows the hero meeting up with Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his motley crew of thieves, including Ri (a CG alien voiced by Jon Favreau) and Beckett’s love interest Val (Newton). Beckett and Val treat each other equally; it’s clear they’re a team. But when Val voices apprehension at Han’s inclusion in the group, her concerns are completely cast aside. Yet as it turns out, Val is right to be nervous. When their mission to steal a load of Coaxium (space fuel) off of a high-speed, futuristic train starts to go south, Val is forced to sacrifice herself so that Beckett and the rest of the gang can complete the mission. Only, the whole job fails anyway. Val’s death is in vain.
The character’s demise is especially disappointing considering that her personality is never fully developed earlier in the film. Her identity outside of her relationship with Beckett is never detailed, nor does Beckett seem particularly distraught by her death in its aftermath. Her death is so random and inconsequential that it’s left some fans wondering what the point of her character was even meant to be. And for people of color who were hoping to see a prominent black woman added to the Star Wars universe, Val’s treatment is a particular bummer.
Frustratingly, there’s a moment toward the end of Solo when it seems like it’s going to be revealed that Val’s death actually isn’t for naught. Right before pirate Cloud Rider Enfys Nest reveals her identity, it seems possible that it could be Val in disguise. How cool would it be to have Star Wars’ most visible woman of color fake her own death, deceive her own team — including her white, male lover — and make off with the loot on her own? Unfortunately that’s not what happens, and Val’s storyline doesn’t get continued in any way.
Star Wars fans aren’t staying quiet about their disappointment. In the days since Solo, the hashtag #SWRepMatters has been used to urge Lucasfilm to include more women and people of color in the filmmaking process. Though Lucasfilm is run by one of the most powerful women in Hollywood, Kathleen Kennedy, the company hasn’t yet hired a female director on a Star Wars movie. And fans have made it known that the studio’s attempts to feature more women of color over the years have been hit or miss. For instance, back in 2015, many fans expressed anger that Lupita Nyong’o, the franchise’s most prominent woman of color, played a motion capture character that made her virtually unrecognizable in The Force Awakens. And while 2017’s The Last Jedi introduced Rose Tico, played by Asian actor Kelly Marie Tran, she was both loved and criticized by fans. And now there’s Val, who died early on in Solo solely to advance the plot points of two white men.
There is promise ahead, with complicated, important female characters like Enfys Nest and Qi’ra possibly getting more screen time in future Star Wars films. The way Solo leaves off, it’s likely that both women will play significant roles in the Star Wars universe down the line, and as such the franchise will become a much more equal place for women. As for characters of color, there’s currently talk of a Lando Calrissian standalone movie, which has many people excited, as well as a solo Boba Fett movie. For the proposed latter film, fans are calling for the casting of a Maori actor as Jango Fett and young Boba were played by Maori actors (Temuera Morrison and Daniel Logan) in the Star Wars prequels.
Adding more people of color and women to the franchise would be a great move for Lucasfilm, and one that will likely help the studio financially. The Star Wars movies that give women the most screen time have actually been the series’ highest earners at the box office, according to a new report. And that’s not a fact restricted to Star Wars; in Hollywood overall, female-led movies are making tons of money, time and time again. With that kind of proven success, there’s no reason that the next Star Wars movies shouldn’t include more women and people of color, and give bigger storylines to those that already exist — let’s just hope that none of them are killed off 45 minutes into their movies, like poor Val.
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