Han and Chewie fail to outrun the massive hole in this story.
John Powell is a fantastic composer. His track, "Reminiscence Therapy" off the new Solo soundtrack, is such a perfect blend of the old with the new that I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to be alive in 2018 to hear it.
This is a narrative structure blog.
The Big Stuff
When it comes to Story, Solo is a disappointing mess. The Objective Story Throughline is uneven and rife with conveniences—many of which go unaddressed. The Main Character Throughline never takes hold, resulting in an uninspired performance from a talented actor.
The Influence Character Throughline of Beckett, supplied by Woody Harrelson, is charming as expected. But the lack of a consistent Relationship Story Throughline between the two characters breeds an emotional aloofness. The film is cold and unfeeling. Like space.
But not like the Han Solo we all fell in love with decades ago.
The Dramatica theory of story focuses on the subtext of a narrative—not what sits on the surface. We named our narrative service Subtext for a reason—the Storypoints found within a Dramatica storyform aren’t concerned with what the characters say—but instead, more with what they don’t say.
That’s why a storyform centered around an element of Trust misses the mark within the context of Solo. The story is about trust—who you can and who you can’t—it isn’t motivated by trust.
The process of trusting—which is what a narrative element of Trust is all about is not what is out of balance here. Sure, Beckett tells Solo you never know who you can trust, but the driving force behind all of that is an imbalance of expectations.
Solo expects to return home and save his girl. Beckett plans to pay off so and so. Lando (Donald Glover) intends to win at every hand. L3 expects everyone to be overly prejudiced towards robots. Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) expects to be paid.
The element of Expectation drives the majority of conflict in this film. It lies beneath the words and beneath the superficial. Expectation is the subtext of the narrative.
Plugging this into Dramatica’s story engine reveals the primary deficiency found within the final film:
The quad above shows what the problems within the Relationship Story Throughline should have been— to balance out an overall plot built on missed Expectations.
The Wonder of Narrative Structure
The great thing about Dramatica is that it will tell you things about your story you didn’t even know. Setup the narrative dynamics of the first season of Westworld and the theory tells you that the Influence character—Bernard Lowe, in this case—must suffer a problem of Self-Awareness.
That’s pure magic as far as I’m concerned.
Plug in the apparent aspects of Solo’s narrative, and you find a Relationship Throughline centered on Effect as the driving force. In other words, the underlying subtext of conflict within the relationship between Beckett and Solo should be driven by repercussions or being fruitful or focusing on ramifications.
Where is that found anywhere in the narrative?
If the two were somehow brought together because there was this sense that their working together would be fruitful and beneficial to both and that that focus on the endgame was what was diving conflict in their relationship—then Han's final gesture would carry meaning. Instead of using each other because of what might be and ignoring the repercussions of working with someone you really can't trust, the two force the other's hand—causing Solo to grow, and their relationship to resolve.
A Problem of Effect resolved with a Solution of Cause.
This "arc" is what ties the emotional concerns of the central relationship with the more logistical concerns of the overall plot.
The reason this is the first Star Wars flop is this giant hole in the narrative structure of the story. There is no Problem element driving the almost non-existent Relationship Story Throughline.
Han shooting first indeed resolves a potential relationship with Beckett (he’s Causing something to happen), but without the preceding Acts to support it the shot rings false and meaningless.
The uneven handoff between Beckett and Q'ira (Emilia Clarke) only complicates matters further. She never entirely takes over Beckett's challenging perspective, nor does her relationship with Solo match up with the rest of the narrative. And their bittersweet goodbye—which should have signaled a Story Judgment of `Bad is immediately followed up with an overall cheery disposition on the part of Solo himself.
We want the Solo of our childhood to be the result of a bittersweet Personal Tragedy—a Success/Bad story the likes of The Dark Knight or Unforgiven. Hopefully, the remaining films in the series will oblige.
Effective story structure transforms the meaningless into something beautiful, something that shines across the entire spectrum of both logic and feeling. While entertaining and engaging, a complete story grants us an experience we can cherish for decades to come.
Kind of like John Powell’s score.