Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – Story structure breakdown

As suggested on this web site’s home page, one of the subjects this blog explores are the nine points of story structure that screenplay writers and many novelists use when creating their stories.

Every story structure designed this way can be broken down into nine sentences or short paragraphs that capture the essence of the entire plot.

All good protagonists also need an inner weakness to overcome to succeed against the antagonistic force in the story.
Simple examples are Indiana Jones and snakes or Disney’s Dumbo and the feather he thought he needed to fly.
There are many other sometimes subtle, often psychological and more sophisticated weaknesses than these examples out there.

What follows lays bare the plot of George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. If you have never seen or read it and don’t want the story spoiled for you, stop reading now.  I am guessing most people know this story.

Protagonist: Luke Skywalker – Inner Demon/Weakness – Learning to trust “The Force”.

1. The hook

A rebel starship carrying stolen secret plans to a battle station known as the Death Star capable of destroying a planet is captured by Darth Vader, but not before the plucky Princess Leia secures the plans with two droids who use an escape pod to flee to the nearby planet of Tatooine.

2. The setup – what is normal life like for the protagonist?

Luke Skywalker, a farm boy who dreams of becoming a starship pilot, carries out his daily chores on a moisture farm looking after the escaped droids he purchased from the diminutive Jawa’s who captured them.

3. First Plot Point aka Inciting Incident – the protagonist’s plans have to change here at around the 20%-25% point in the story

On discovering that imperial storm troopers seeking the droids with the battle station plans have killed his aunt and uncle, Luke decides to accompany the mysterious Ben Kenobi on a quest to return the plans to the rebel alliance.

4. Wandering response – reaction to the inciting incident

Ben and Luke evade capture by the Imperial Storm Troopers and secure the services of Han Solo, a shady smuggler and his sidekick Chewbacca, a hairy Wookie.  They flee Tatooine bound for Alderaan, but find the Death Star has already destroyed the planet when they arrive.  They are captured.

5. Pinch-point – half way through the wandering response stage a reminder of what is at stake if the protagonist fails

Governor Tarkin aboard the Death Star with Princess Leia orders the destruction of Alderaan which is totally blown away creating a disturbance in the force sensed by Ben Kenobi.

6. Mid-point – at around the 50% mark in the story – the story has to turn around with the protagonist going on the offensive

Captured by the Death Star they discover the Princess is held captive and scheduled for execution.  Luke insists they mount an unlikely and heroic rescue of Princess Leia and then escape.

7. Fight back culminating in all is lost pre second plot point lull – an “it has all gone horribly wrong” moment.

Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca escape the Death Star as Ben Kenobi sacrifices himself keeping Darth Vader at bay.  The empire has secured a tracking device on their ship, the Millennium Falcon, and the Death Star tracks them to their rebel base.  They will surely be destroyed…

8. Second plot point – The protagonists learn the last new information they need in order bring resolution to the story – around the 75% point in the story

The rebels analyse the stolen Death Star plans and discover a weakness that can be exploited by small fighter craft.

9. Resolution where protagonist (Luke) must be the main catalyst for the event

Luke joins the desperate attack against the Death Star.  After R2D2 is destroyed and Han Solo, shamed by Luke’s earlier words into helping, fends off Darth Vader.  Luke switches off his targeting computer trusting only on the force to guide him as he fires his proton torpedoes scoring a hit on the Death Star exhaust port destroying it.

In Larry Brook’s terms  in his book Story Engineering, there are 6 core competencies to master, but the above is a good start with the most fundamental principle and is probably a revelation to any new possibly struggling author who has never come across this before.

It certainly was for me…

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