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The Story Structure of Solo

Discussion in 'Solo' started by Jayson, Jun 20, 2018.

  1. Jayson

    Jayson Resident Lucasian

    Dec 24, 2015
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    I've talked about this a few times in other threads, and it has raised a few questions each time that I bring it up, so I figured it probably merits it's own thread.

    (In part, this thread is also a continuation of a conversation that was cut off with @cawatrooper in a different thread that was shut down before our side-tangent could be completed.)

    My position on Solo's story structure is that it doesn't follow the current standard for major blockbuster film narrative structure.

    The standard structure currently for blockbuster films in regards to narrative structure is something along the lines of the following:

    This means that the protagonist not only goes through Setup, New Situation, Progress, Complications & High Stakes, Final Push, and Aftermath in the OUTER JOURNEY, but also goes through Living Fully Within Identity, Glimpsing, Longing, or Destiny; glimpse of living life in Essence, Moving towards Essence without Essence without leaving Identity, Fully committed to Essence but growing Fear, Living one's Truth with everything to lose, The Journey complete, Destiny achieved in the INNER JOURNEY simultaneously.

    Not only is this simultaneous, but each side feeds the other. The Outer Journey pushes upon the character so that they are propelled into situations which force them to face their Inner struggles, and their Inner Journey changes the way they react and the choices they make such that it changes their Outer Journey.

    A very simple and easy example of this is the first Matrix film.

    STAGE 1
    (most of stage 1's time in the script is actually soaked with a prologue that shows us the action world outside of Thomas Anderson who we meet towards the end of act 1...we basically catch Anderson at the end of stage 1 which very rapidly turns into stage 1)

    Thomas Anderson lives fully immersed in his identity as Thomas Anderson and is set in his world as the normal 20th century world and regular life we are all familiar with.

    STAGE 2
    Thomas Anderson is quickly shown to long for something more, and is invited to take a peak behind the curtain and follow the white rabbit. He rejects this at first, but his curiosity pulls him into a new situation where he runs into Trinity and is teased, but then left back in his normal life as if waking from a dream.

    STAGE 3
    Thomas Anderson then goes through a series of events which progressively challenge his notion of reality, and moves him ever closer to leaving his regular life behind (point of no return), all while slowly eroding his sense of self-identity, and positioning him to move towards accepting the nagging sensation of his real self instead of his false identity known as Thomas Anderson.

    Point of No Return
    Thomas Anderson is quite literally handed a physical choice of two pills; one will return him to the world he has always known, and he will restart his life as Thomas Anderson in full ignorance of everything he has seen and learned so far, and the other will jolt him into a new world and new self.

    STAGE 4
    Thomas Anderson, having chosen the option to not go back, and therefor having crossed the point of no return, becomes fully committed to the new and complex reality and self (which he defines as Neo), that he wakes up to and finds himself rapidly thrust into an ever increasing threat that he is unable to accept as being capable of handling.

    STAGE 5
    Neo accepts his place in the new world, and believes it to be a matter of correcting Morpheus' view that Neo is "The One", believing firmly that he is "Not the One", but at this point fully accepts himself as Neo and nothing else. He accepts that there will be a choice to make between his life and Morpheus', and is determined that his choice will not be Morpheus' life; essentially accepting a suicide path with quite literally everything to lose. This happens builds to a boiling point of Neo pushing an "all-in" plan to save Morpheus.

    STAGE 6
    Neo is chased down, shot, and dies but comes back to life; reborn not only fully as accepting himself as Neo, but is now fully Neo, and as such no longer has any limitations and achieves his full destiny and cleans up the remaining pieces left from the climactic big push from STAGE 5.

    This is a great example of modern narrative structure because the INNER and OUTER JOURNEY's are so on the nose and exposed. There's no hidden metaphors or interpretations required as the character literally has one identity, one world, and a new identity and new world, and his inner journey is critically linked to aptitude and function in the external world quite literally.

    Most films are much more subtle, but they basically fall along these lines currently.

    Old films also did this, so it's not like this wasn't ever around. You'll hear or read professionals and teachers talk of old films like they had flat characters and you just sent those flat characters on stories and that the modern film doesn't accept that.
    Well, that's really quite incorrect.

    Take, for example, Captain Blood, from 1936
    Peter Blood starts off as an apolitical doctor, who cares nothing for politics or allegiances, having had his fill in his past, and will not act to correct political injustice right at his doorstep. Yet he ends up evolving into a pirate leader fueled by an intolerance for political injustice and when he sees a chance once again before him to take action directly against such injustices, it comes in the form of an offer to BE government itself, and this time around he seizes the opportunity. Sure, his core values of humanitarianism don't change much, but that's not really the focus of the narrative - his struggles to be involved are the narrative focus. Even once he takes over being a pirate captain, while his resolve for pacifism has been chipped away at this point, he still attempts to retain an apolitical stance of being for no society but his own self and his ship.

    He is forced to resolve this part of himself by going from someone with virtually no comrades or friends, not even a maid who likes him, to a man tossed by outside forces into the friendship bonds of those suffering with him. He grows a little sense of belonging to a larger group than himself, and is willing to belong to a larger purpose than his own designs with his fellow slaves who turn fellow pirates, and here he takes up yet another in the need to survive; to be a leader because that is the only way he feels able to control the conduct and order of the society of this new ship. Then he finds a calling to care to fight for Port Royal, which he resists, but then does after learning the King has changed, and because Arabella has made the place personal and given him motive to care and be involved, as has his experience of being a slave under her, and then her a slave of his later. And lastly takes the final steps to joining the government and taking Arabella's hand; now no longer a solitude individual with no people or allegiance, but instead a man who allows himself to be very much defined by his bonds to people and allegiance.

    This is just one example, but most films from the era had a level of complexity of like fashion full of character arcs and motives.

    The difference isn't so much that an Inner Journey was ever, as a standard, absent, but that it wasn't as explicit as today's narratives.

    True, many of the characters of old films were much more stalwart, but they were still flawed and driven to an inner growth of their views and self identity.

    By contrast, we don't tend to see quite so many stalwart individuals now, and we have far more deeply invasive digging going on into the character's psyche than we did in the 30's and 40's. That has changed, but that's a matter of cranking the formula to 11; not an issue of it not existing previously.

    So what's happened is that the form has evolved and adapted to audience jadedness as audiences continually become adjusted to the newer and newer levels of shock, awe, and wonderment.

    However, as I noted, there's always been a subset of films which are exempt from partaking in character driven narratives.
    Those are the common ground of old serials, and exist even still today in episodic television shows which lack a series-long narrative arc for the characters. There are fewer and fewer purely episodic television shows as the past decade has pushed the industry demand for continuals ever greater, but they still exist in sparse form.
    The other form which the "flat" story still exists is in horror and action films; though not exclusively.
    Both of these genres also have long running history of including character driven narratives (e.g. Rambo, The Shining).

    And then there's the Pulp Fiction (not the movie, "Pulp Fiction"; the genre).

    Pulp Fiction was typically a serial in old films, but Lucas kind of took his love of that form and breathed a different life back into it by adapting it into a film form.
    Star Wars: A New Hope is a sort of hybrid mix between a character driven narrative and pulp fiction, really.
    It's mostly pulp fiction where characters are very flat with almost no introspective narrative development, but it does have this superficial skin of character development layered over the top ever so slightly.
    We don't dive deeply into the character's minds like we currently are doing with Rey or Kylo, but we get a sense of their struggles - all-be-it, very annotated and slight.

    Lucas blew this over once again to Indiana Jones, and this time punched up the pulp fiction notion even further, as Lost Ark has effectively no arc for Indiana Jones at all. He's pretty much the same guy at the end that we met at the beginning, and the only thing that has changed too terribly much is that he's gotten through some relationship problems - for now - with a woman, but they don't really ever resolve any of their problems...they just argue and their arguments fuel romance scenes that don't offer any real closure to their problems with each other.

    Jones is a very flat and pulp fiction character. He's there to be an idolized icon of machismo, much like James Bond (which is what Jones is; Lucas saying 'let's do a Bond film', and that spinning off into becoming a 'what if Bond were an archaeologist?').

    So Lucas did something a bit unusual in that he brought the serial superficiality and high-adventure focus to the feature length blockbuster film level.

    Now, Solo, is much more this version than it is the modern character driven narrative.
    This is what the serial or pulp fiction form looks like.

    You can quickly see that this is the same as the image above, but it's only the OUTER JOURNEY.

    There's nothing much going on for the INNER JOURNEY here.
    That doesn't mean that we NEVER see our character have doubts, or feelings.

    It just means those things aren't DRIVING the narrative arc in unison with the OUTER JOURNEY.

    When you look at Solo, you get what @cawatrooper noted:

    Stage 1- Setup: This is what is referred to as the "normal world". Or rather, Han on Corellia. Obviously he's already making moves to get off the planet, but I think that's implied that's part of his normal world too. He's not happy there, and wants to leave with Qi'ra.

    Stage 2- New Situation I see this in Han on Mimban, as he wants to be with Beckett's crew.

    Stage 3- Progress: The train heist, obviously. Han jeopardizes the entire mission due to his old values (See bottom of this post for a brief point on that).

    Stage 4- Complication, higher stakes: The introduction of Crimson Dawn, the Kessel heist

    Stage 5- Final Push: Controntations on Savareen (particularly the ones with Voss and Beckett).

    Stage 6- Aftermath: The final Sabaac game​

    Which is a pretty good summary of the stages of Solo, and it also highlights the difference of Solo from the typical modern blockbuster.

    Han, in Solo, basically just goes through and learns how to be better at exactly what he wanted to get better at being, which was a form of what he already was at the beginning of the film.

    The only running narrative in the film is this notion of trust, but that's more a film theme than something Han goes through accepting and therefore changing something about himself.

    He didn't trust anyone except for Qi'ra at the beginning, and he doesn't trust anyone other than Chewie at the end.
    All that really happened in between is that he switched who he trusted, but not the amount nor the condition.

    Han actually has more of a character arc in A New Hope than he does in Solo, and his arc in A New Hope isn't very big. It is, in that he does a 180 on looking out for himself and looking out for others, but it's not focused on very much, and we don't really see him wrestle with this on-screen very much - it's mostly a scrap amount of one-off lines scattered around the edges of the film that comprises his character struggles, and his major character shift occurs entirely off screen as a surprise.

    But even still, A New Hope even has more character shifting and movement than Solo.
    Solo is pretty much a Bruce Lee movie.
    In walks the hero, rooster-sure. (apparently the actual, non-offense word is blocked?)
    The hero gets beat to hell and has to learn to adapt to an increasing threat and impossible seeming odds.
    Out walks the hero, rooster-sure.

    This is probably why the film felt empty to some of the audience.
    Because...well..it is.

    Now, personally, I was THRILLED to notice that this was happening when I watched the film.
    I LOVE that it's so damn bold as to whip out the long-dead serial and pulp fiction form and just hang it out there in full view of the world and not try to be anything other than JUST an adventure film.

    That to me is just bad[beep] and awesome!

    Some will see the same thing, however, and cite it as exactly what's wrong with the film.
    *nods* Fair enough. To each their own taste, and I can't say anyone's wrong for not liking Solo's flat character arc.

    I'm just personally delighted by it. :)

    So anyway, this is what I mean by Solo doesn't have a modern character driven arc to it.
    It has a narrative arc; it's just the OUTER JOURNEY arc only.

    #1 Jayson, Jun 20, 2018
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2018
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  2. Jayson

    Jayson Resident Lucasian

    Dec 24, 2015
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    Since I can't edit now...


    STAGE 1
    (most of stage 1's time in the script is actually soaked with a prologue that shows us the action world outside of Thomas Anderson who we meet towards the end of act 1...we basically catch Anderson at the end of stage 1 which very rapidly turns into stage 2)​
    <"turns into stage 1" corrected to "turns into stage 2">

    I've talked about this a few times in other threads, and it has raised a few questions each time that I bring it up, so I figured it probably merits its own thread.​
    <apostrophe removed on "it's own thread">
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  3. cawatrooper

    cawatrooper Dungeon Master

    Nov 14, 2016
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    Interesting points, @Jayson!

    I'll have to try to keep this in mind on my next viewing.

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