The Han Solo movie: a problem with stakes
I was absolutely UNDERWHELMED by the Han Solo movie. But, walking out of the theater, I wasn't sure why. Why did I walk out feeling, MEH? Why was my mind wandering throughout the viewing? The audience in the theater was quiet and respectful, so I wasn't distracted. The movie itself was, by all technical definitions, a "good movie"--meaning, the acting was on par, the special effects were on par, and the film itself was of the same high quality as the other Star Wars installments. So, why did I feel so, MEH?
I had to think about this for quite a while after seeing it. I needed time pinpoint WHY I didn't give a shit about—AND THERE IT WAS. I didn't give a shit. I DIDN'T CARE. THAT'S why I walked out of the theater—my wife as well, feeling, MEH.
The Solo movie had an issue with stakes. No, not steaks. There was no juicy, crisp on the outside, nice and tender and pink on the inside, meats. STAKES. The stakes in a story rest in the story's potential consequences. In the story's conflict, what does the protagonist have to LOSE? What are they risking, and for what potential gains?
Kurt Vonnegut pointed out that in the craft of storytelling, all characters must want something, even if it is a glass of water. Why? Because those wants and desires inform the conflict, and the conflict, is the story.
Did the characters in Solo all want something? Uh, yeah. For the most part. Han wants to get back to bae... aaaannnddd that's really the only super compelling desire moving the plot along. Is it enough? It's enough to get us from one event to another. But there's a problem with Han's desires and all the stakes that come along with them.
The problem: we already know the outcome.
Can you still enjoy the ride? Absolutely. But the lack of stakes in the film is absolutely why so many walked away from the film feeling, meh. I heard a lot of, "it wasn't bad," and, "it was ok/pretty good," and my favorite, "I enjoyed it more the second time." (I find that one hilarious and I'll tell you why in a minute.)
Han's big goal? Get with THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS. I mean, Qi'ra .
Here's the thing. We know he ends up with Leia. So... who cares about his fling with Qi'ra ? Is it fun to see origin stories? SURE! Is it fun to enjoy the ride even though we know the outcome? IT ABSOLUTELY CAN BE. But then, why did ROGUE ONE work so well for me, and SOLO fell flat? The answer lies in the fact that we already know Han. We know his fate. In Rogue One, we had no clue what was going to happen to those characters. We knew a lot of people died on that mission to get to the Death Star plans, but we didn't necessarily see the ending of that film coming. The stakes were high for us as an audience in Rogue One. In Solo, we were going through the motions.
Does that make it a bad movie? NO! Absolutely not. It's a fun romp. But it's lack of stakes made a lot of people I know utter the phrase, "I enjoyed it more the second time." WHY? Because when you watch something for the second time, knowing how it turns out, you can set aside, more easily at least, your desire for high stakes and engrossing conflict. The second time, you can relax and enjoy the ride. And that's really what the Solo film is good at. Being a fun ride.