Star Wars: A New Hope - Story Structure
Looking at key story elements from the 1977 film 'Star Wars: A New Hope'
Star Wars: A New Hope, originally released as Star Wars, opened on May 25, 1977. Since that day, film and fandom have never been the same. This is the film that kicked off the Star Wars franchise and changed the idea of what a film could be, both in terms of visual effects and revenue streams.
Writer/director George Lucas developed the idea for a space opera after he was unable to obtain the rights to make a Flash Gordon film. He wanted to create something that was more upbeat than films at the time, which were mostly dystopian opinions of 1970s American society.
Even George didn’t expect the overwhelming positive reaction from audiences across the country. The success of this film allowed him to continue the story, leading to the creation of the first trilogy and the Star Wars franchise.
Two large space crafts fly by, shooting at each other. This image perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film and the entire franchise.
If I had to choose an image that gets to the heart of what Star Wars is about, it’s this opening scene. It combines a unique premise (a battle in space) with advanced visual effects. What made Star Wars so special was not its unique “Hero’s Journey” story, but the innovative things that were done on screen.
The idea that drove George’s concept for the film was a “dog fight in space”. Everything else, you could say, acted as a vehicle to showcase what new technology could do for film and storytelling.
Luke purchases R2-D2 and C-3PO from Jawas on Tatooine. This event drags Luke into the storyline, because R2-D2 carries the plans to the Death Star (though Luke isn’t aware of this yet).
Act One Plot Point
The climax of the first act occurs when Luke’s Aunt & Uncle are both killed and the farm is destroyed by stormtroopers looking for R2-D2. Luke decides to leave with Obi-Wan Kenobi to help him deliver R2, along with the Death Star plans, to Alderaan.
It’s essential here that Luke now wants to leave Tatooine with Obi-Wan. Strong actions create strong characters. Luke needs to want to go on this journey instead of being reluctantly dragged into it. If the main character is constantly having things happen to them, other characters will begin to shine brighter.
Now that Luke is set to leave home and join Obi-Wan’s mission, we move into the film’s second act.
The Millenium Falcon is captured by the Death Star at the midpoint. This is a significant moment in the story because it inadvertently leads Luke and his friends to Princess Leia.
This event also draws Luke deeper into the storyline because it raises the stakes. His mission is no longer as simple as delivering a droid, like he thought in the first half of act two. His mission is now to deliver Princess Leia and the droid to the Rebels and defeat the Death Star with them.
Act Two Plot Point
This plot point occurs when Obi-Wan is killed by Darth Vader and Luke and friends escape from the Death Star. It sets up the third act and final battle, which begins with the Rebels creating a strategy to attack the Death Star.
In addition, Luke’s relationship with Obi-Wan, his mentor, has changed significantly. Now that Obi-Wan is physically gone, he begins to lead Luke spiritually through the Force.
Climax & Resolution
Luke and the Rebels attack and defeat the Death Star.
The Hero’s Journey
George Lucas prepared to write Star Wars by reading books on mythology and world religions. He researched children’s films and looked carefully at the story elements of fairy tales that made them successful. By crafting a classic hero’s tale, which is naturally relatable to a mass audience, and combining it with state of the art visual effects and film editing, he succeeded in creating something truly unique.
I grew up in the 1990s, so it’s difficult for me to understand just how visually stunning this movie would have been in 1977, but I imagine it was on par with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was released over a year before the moon landing changed the world’s perception of space.
Thanks for reading.
The Story Department is where I write about the story structure of films. I focus on identifying key story elements so we can see how these films work.
“Hollywood… Not a place on the map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream, wonder, and imagine.” -Michael Eisner at the dedication of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This idea serves as my catalyst for writing about film and story structure.
Hollywood, as a creative state of mind.
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