The Empire Strikes Back – another 9 step story structure breakdown

This blog began with a breakdown of the story structure for Star Wars a New Hope a little over a year ago here. I’ve planned on giving the remainder of the first three movies in the franchise the same treatment. So here is The Empire Strikes Back.

Protagonist: Luke Skywalker – Inner Demon/Weakness – “The Force” might be strong in this one, but he is not a Jedi yet.

Antagonistic Force: The Empire, of course, but on a more personal level for Luke, the dark side of the Force. There are two plot threads in this story.

1. The hook

The Empire are all out to find the rebel alliance and destroy them. Probe droids are sent all over the galaxy, and one lands of the ice planet Hoth. Han and Chewie go to investigate. “It’s a good bet the Empire know we’re here.” The rebel alliance goal is to survive.

For Luke, the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi tells him he must find Yoda to continue his Jedi training, which is his goal.

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

The rebels are hiding behind an asteroid field on a frozen planet. Life is hard, adapting equipment to the cold, Luke getting lost in the snow and Han rescuing him establishing the depth of relationship and loyalty between them. This is used in the story later. Preparations for evacuation begin now they the rebels know their hiding place is no longer safe.

3. First Plot Point aka Inciting Incident – the protagonist’s plans have to change here at around the 20%-25% point in the story, and they must now engage with the antagonistic force.

The AT-AT walkers arrive, and the laser bolts start flying in what is, in my opinion, one of science fiction’s most iconic battle sequences.

4. Wandering response – reaction to the inciting incident

It’s a losing battle, rebel starships flee for a rendezvous point, Han Solo is forced to abandon plans to pay off Jabba the Hut and escapes with Princess Leia. The Millennium Falcon is broken (again) and hiding out in an asteroid field (“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1”) is their only hope. Fortunately, they find a cave to hide in, but everything is supposed to go wrong in the wandering response phase, so it is not a cave, it is the insides of a space worm.

Meanwhile Luke, having ditched his X-Wing into a swamp, loses patience with an annoying little green man who turns out to be the Jedi Master Yoda he seeks. While struggling to control the force he confronts the dark side in a creepy cave that doesn’t turn out so well.

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

Darth Vader will not allow asteroids to get in the way of his pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. When Vader and the Emperor Palpatine communicate, they agree that Luke will either be turned to the dark side of the force or destroyed.

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

The Millenium Falcon escapes from the space worm then:

C3P0: “The odds of successfully surviving an attack on an Imperial Star Destroyer are approximately…”

Leia: “Shut up!”

But we are in a phase of the story where the heroes fight back but are not yet succeeding. So when the Falcon floats off it’s hiding place on the back of the star destroyers bridge Boba Fett the bounty hunter follows them.

Meanwhile, Luke’s training with Yoda moves on, and his X-Wing is pulled out of the swamp by Yoda.

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

Han, C3P0, Leia and Chewbacca escape to Bespin and the care of his old ‘friend’ Lando Calrissian. But the bounty hunter led Darth Vader and company there first so C3P0 gets dismembered (again), Lando has betrayed them, so they all get captured, and Han Solo is tortured in an attempt to lure Luke to Vader then frozen in carbonite.

Luke’s training is doing OK, but he senses the danger Han Solo is in, and since the loyalty between them was established with Han rescuing Luke at the beginning of the story, the inevitable happens. Luke is in a dangerous state where he may be tempted by the dark side when quits his training to rescue his friends and confront Vader. It is a trap, Luke will be captured and frozen in carbonite or 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 deal Lando made with the Empire to maintain their independence keeps changing and Lando eventually changes sides in an attempt to rescue Han.

Too late for Luke to avoid this, he arrives for his confrontation with Vader.

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

Luke’s fight with Vader ends badly for him, but at least he escaped being frozen in carbonite and taken the emperor for “conversion to the dark side” and he survives and escapes.

Leia, Chewie, and Lando fail to rescue Han, but at least they escape and rescue Luke when he uses his force powers to somehow “speak” to Leia and ask for help.

The resolution of this story for the rebels was to survive the Empire striking back. Arguably, Luke is not the main catalyst for this, but in the wider story his part is yet to come.


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