Solo: a Star Wars Story (2018): The Movie Structure Archives
- Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
- Writer: Jonathan and Lawrence Kasden
- Director: Ron Howard
Act 1 (1%-25%)
- Hook: A young Han steals a cruiser and a tube of coaxium, a raw form of hyperfuel, to show to his girlfriend Qi’ra. The two hope to escape their life as slaves to Lady Proxima with these new tools.
- Inciting Event: Han in brought in to face Lady Proxima for failing to meet a quota. He tries to sweet talk his way out of it but fails and her guards beat him.
- Key Event: Fed up with his treatment he tries to steal a weapon from one of the guards but fails again. They prepare to shoot him and Qi’ra tries to intervene. To protect himself and Qi’ra he pulls out a rock and throws it through a skylight, blinding the guards and burning Lady Proxima. Guards pursue the duo as they make an escape.
- 1st Plot Point: In trying to escape from Lady Proxima’s guards while leaving the planet, Han and Qi’ra bribe an Imperial guard with the stolen coaxium. The guard grants them passage off the planet but officers catch Qi’ra before she can escape with Han. He vows to come back for her one day.
Act 2 (25%-75%)
- Years later we find Han as a foot soldier in the Imperial army. He finds out his commander, Tobias Beckett, is the leader of a pirate gang and tries to bargain with him to escape the army. Beckett refuses, giving Han away as a traitor to the other officers, who throw Han into a “beast pit” where he meets and befriends the Wookie meant to kill him, Chewbacca. The two new allies convince Beckett to recruit them for his gang, which he does.
- Now a part of Beckett’s gang, Han and Chewie assist in a heist to steal refined coaxium. The heist fails when the Cloud-Riders gang attacks, resulting in the death of Beckett’s wife Val and right-hand man Rio.
- After the heist goes south, Beckett reveals he was working for Dryden Vos, leader of the Crimson Dawn syndicate, and must go to face him. Han goes with him and promises to help him steal a new shipment.
- 1st Pinch Point: The group goes to Vos’s headquarters where Han meets Qi’ra again, now working as Vos’s right hand and personal escort. Vos threatens the group for failing with the first heist, but Han claims they will steal a new shipment from Kessel, a dangerous proposition as coaxium is highly unstable. Vos agrees but forces Qi’ra to join them as “supervision.”
- The crew hunts down Lando Calrissian, hoping to use his ship, the Millenium Falcon, to complete the Kessel run. Han tries to win the Falcon in a card game, but Lando cheats and wins at the last moment. Despite this, Qi’ra convinces him to join them and to loan them the Falcon. There is a growing romantic tension between Qi’ra and Han, however Qi’ra refutes this, reminding Han of the danger of Vos.
- The group reaches Kessel and sneak into the mines by tricking the guards into thinking they are there to reach a legitimate deal. They instigate a droid riot and Han and Chewie help free the enslaved Wookies, all while Han hunts down the coaxium they need. They get it to the Falcon and retreat, through Lando’s droid L3-37 is destroyed.
- Midpoint: On the retreat they run into an Imperial blockade, likely alerted due to the riot on Kessel. Han pilots the Falcon deep into an unmapped super-storm to find their way around before the coaxium explodes. They encounter a gravity well and are in danger of being sucked in, but Han avoids this disaster through his piloting skills just long enough for Beckett to rig the coaxium into the fuel line of the Falcon, giving them the power to escape.
- 2nd Pinch Point: Their run a success, the group lands the Falcon on Savareen to process the coaxium, making it stable. Lando flees with the Falcon soon after they land, angry that it has been so badly damaged. This leaves the group at a faceoff with the Cloud Riders where their leader, Enfys Nest, reveals herself to them. She states that her gang are not criminals, but rebels, working to weaken the Empire and the syndicates to protect the common people.
- During this, Han develops sympathies for the rebel cause and recruits Qi’ra, Chewie, and Beckett to trick Vos out of the coaxium, giving it instead to the Cloud Riders.
- 3rd Plot Point: Han, Qi’ra, and Chewie meet with Vos and claim to have brought the coaxium as requested, but Vos reveals Beckett as his inside source. Beckett has told Vos their entire plan in exchange for protection, betraying Han and the rest.
Act 3 (75%-100%)
- Climax: Han reveals he knew Beckett would betray them and that the coaxium he brought to Vos was real. Meanwhile, Vos’s elite guards are killed by the Cloud Riders, leaving Vos defenseless. Beckett flees with the coaxium and with Chewie as a hostage.
- Climactic Moment: Qi’ra kills Vos, and sends Han after Chewie, but instead of following him as she promised, she reveals her allegiance to the Sith. Han rescues Chewie from Beckett, being forced to kill Beckett in the process. The two have a moment of understanding together, Beckett telling Han that all he ever wanted was a good, peaceful life with Val. Han stands beside Beckett’s body with Chewie and watches as Vos’s ship flies away, knowing Qi’ra has abandoned and betrayed him.
- Resolution: Han and Chewie show up as Lando’s hangout with Han challenging him to a round of cards once again. The bet is the Falcon and this time Han wins the match by stealing Lando’s cheat card. Han and Chewie fly away in the Falcon towards Tattooine, discussing their next heist.
Character 1: Han Solo
- Han Solo begins his character arc seeking the power to decide the path of his own life and the life of Qi’ra. The two are kept as child slaves on the planet of Corellia, and Han turns to theft to barter for their freedom. When he escapes but they catch Qi’ra, he seeks the power to go back for her, but in terms of his arc this is the same. Han is a cog struggling to break out of a much larger system, one that seems made to entrap him at every turn. He is pessimistic, self-interested, and more than willing to sell others out for his own goal.
- Han’s arc progresses through his time working with Beckett, and his experiences challenge his self-interested behavior. He shows a moral compass that was absent before, putting himself in the path of danger on behalf of Beckett, Chewie, Lando, or Qi’ra. He agrees to go with Beckett to meet Vos, even after Beckett warns him to run away, and puts himself in the line of fire by speaking up with his idea for the Kessel run. His guise of being only out for himself never changes, but his actions reveal a sense of right and wrong that rests below the surface. Despite this, his goal doesn’t change; he wants to take Qi’ra away with him to live a new life, one where both would have the power to decide their paths.
- Han’s lowest moment marks the end of his arc in Solo, and sees him reverting to his own self-interests (likely because Solo needed to dovetail with the roguish portrayal of Han in the original Star Wars trilogy, where he undergoes essentially the same arc across three movies). Han proves his core of morality by risking his own goals to help the Cloud Rider rebels, but the betrayals of both Beckett and Qi’ra are so punishing that he will not stick his neck out again until many years later, at the climax of Episode IV: A New Hope. Ironically, his desire to have a life with Qi’ra where they would be free from other’s control is crushed by Qi’ra’s own power. She has gained the power to determine her own path, but doesn’t follow Han, instead valuing security more than freedom.
Character 2: Qi’ra
- Qi’ra’s arc starts in the same place as Han’s. Both are slaves on Corellia, and both are seeking power to determine their own lives. But while Han gets off of Corellia, Qi’ra does not. Based on hints from later dialog we can surmise that Lady Proxima further tortured her. She ultimately escaped by selling herself to the syndicates. Her desperation for a better her life leads her to give herself over to other powerful and abusive individuals, hoping to gain some of their power for herself. This leads her to Vos, where the story catches back up with her.
- Qi’ra’s arc continues through her journey with Beckett’s gang in fits and starts. She has gained a significant amount of power and respect through her association with Vos and relishes in this where she can. But she also struggles against her desire for freedom as is still controlled by Vos’s whims. Han opens a door of adventure and self-determination to her, but the danger of Vos holds her back, along with her own need for security.
- Just like Han, Qi’ra’s lowest moment is also resolves her arc. After killing Vos she is presented with an open choice; flee with Han, or absorb Vos’s power into her own. Ultimately she abandons Han, choosing power over true freedom. By allying with the Sith she ends on a negative arc, giving into her flaw instead of overcoming it.
Character 3: Tobias Beckett
- Beckett begins his arc much like both Qi’ra and Han. He is seeking power, in this case through money, to get out from under the syndicates. He hopes to lead a peaceful life after one last heist, but this desire is setback when Val dies saving him and the shipment of coaxium is lost. His goal continues to be freedom, but now he must pursue it through other means.
- Beckett, like Han, struggles with his self-interested behavior, but his struggles are much less pronounced. The loyalty and cleverness of Han endear him to Beckett, and Beckett must decide between doing what’s right for Han by guiding him on his journey, or doing what’s best for his own goal.
- Ultimately, like the rest of the main cast, Beckett undergoes a negative character arc. In betraying Han he is fulfilling his own goal, but also giving into his flaw. He ends the story dead, a result of this betrayal. He finishes his life admitting to Han that he was proud and tremendously fond of him, but that his own goal of freedom was more important than Han’s life.
Theme: The power to be free.
Solo hammers its theme into every aspect of its characters with little variation. This isn’t a bad thing, but it compounds issues we will see later under pacing. As it stands, each major character struggles with a personal quest for power, but not power for its own sake. Power is a tool with which to gain freedom and control over one’s own life. Han seeks power to free Qi’ra, Qi’ra seeks power for security over her life, and Beckett seeks power to free himself from the syndicates. Even Vos seeks power by acquiring coaxium, which will elevate his syndicate above even the Empire. The Cloud Riders seek power to further the rebel cause, and L3-37 seeks power to end the enslavement of droids. Only Lando seems content with his place, and he is arguably the character with the most freedom from the start, just significant enough to matter but not enough to gain the attention of more dangerous forces.
Just like the characters, Solo’s plot is tied to quests for power. Each character seeks power and thus drives the plot forward based on these goals. Even the maguffin of the film, the coaxium, is raw hyperfuel, necessary to power space travel which is a sign of freedom.
As we touched on, one of the main symbols in Solo is the coaxium, which comes up at every major plot point as a symbol of both major themes. However other symbols are present, such as the repeated idea of the enslaved versus their owners. Han and Qi’ra are slaves on Corellia, Qi’ra a slave to Vos, droids are enslaved by organic life, the Wookies are slaves on Kessel. Even the Cloud Riders work to free the enslaved people on Savareen. Two smaller, but no less important symbols are the act of flight and gambling. Space travel is the key to Han and Qi’ra’s freedom at the start of the film, and Qi’ra has a taste of freedom while flying with Han. Alongside this, gambling provides an opportunity to gain power through wit. Han fails in this at the start of the film, but learns hard lessons throughout the movie and succeeds in the resolution. Solo uses a variety of repeated symbols to reinforce its theme.
When looking at the outline above, the issues with pacing may not stand out too much. The first half of the movie may seem heavy, but nothing excessive right? Right? In actuality, if you looked at the time stamps of these events, the structural Midpoint of Solo falls around the 1.5 hour mark, well past where it should. This means the entire second half of the movie from a structural standpoint, takes up only 30 minutes. I checked and rechecked my outline, but from a story structure standpoint the retreat from Kessel fits all the roles of the Midpoint. If we went by time stamps, Han would only just be meeting Lando at the Midpoint.
To compound this, none of the three primary characters undergo a complete character arc, meaning there is little resolution or catharsis to speak of. The audience is still reeling from the sudden jump in pace when the movie attempts a final scene in Lando’s hangout. As it stands, the story feels lopsided in its pacing, moving slowly and feeling bloated right until the end, at which point it zips along so quickly it may leave your head spinning.
While this movie uses its symbols well and keeps its theme applicable in all aspects of the story, the issues of pacing take a lot away from the broader journey. Han, Qi’ra, and Beckett could have benefitted from a longer run time during the Climax and Resolution, but because of the bloat and inefficient writing in the first half, these important character moments come off rushed. Han’s arc feels pointless, as it is the same arc he goes through at the start of a New Hope. Because of this movie’s nature as a prequel his development was limited. Ultimately, Solo is a film with tremendous potential that was hampered by poor balancing and the need to dovetail with the original Star Wars trilogy.