The Story Structure of the Original Star Wars Trilogy

A first look at the narrative elements behind The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

My journey is complete.

This morning I uploaded the third and final storyform for this, the week of Star Wars.

It started as a simple email question: Jim, what do you think about storyforms for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Success/Bad for Empire and Steadfast/Good for Jedi? Jedi sounded right, but I was sure that reflected the end of a storyform for the entire series, not the film itself. Empire felt wrong--it wasn't a Personal Tragedy story like The Dark Knight or Unforgiven. If anything, it was a Tragedy (Story Outcome of Failure and Story Judgment of Bad).

I tried to put it aside, but couldn't stop thinking about it.

If Luke is the the Main Character of Empire, who is his Influence Character? Vader? Maybe. Especially, if you consider the entire trilogy one single narrative of a son redeeming the father. But where did that leave Yoda and all the training on Dagobah.

Plus, The Empire Strikes Back was a seminal film in my history as a storyteller. One of the greatest films of all time. There had to be something else.

A couple of hours later and one run later, I finally found the storyforms for both films--and two for Empire.

The Empire Strikes Back

The first story pits Luke against Yoda over what it means to be good enough. Their relationship centers on the Physics of training and the skills needed to face Darth Vader. And Luke's personal struggle focuses on the facts of his family history.

The first storyform for The Empire Strikes Back

The Overall Story Throughline of this storyform proves most interesting. Darth functions as Protagonist, pursuing Luke in an effort to manipulate the boy into joining the Dark Side (Overall Story Throughline of Psychology and Overall Story Goal of Being). He will join us, or die explains the balance of conflict between the Goal and Consequence.

The second storyform centers on the relationship between Han and Leia. Sharing the same base narrative elements of Non-accurate and Accurate, this storyform sees the Overall Story Throughline of Physics. Asteroid chases and escaping from Bespin shaping the Overall Story Concern of Doing.

The second storyform for _The Empire Strikes Back

Han is Steadfast in this storyform; Leia supplies the meaningful Changed perspective. If there ever was a character who embodied the narrative element of Hunch, it would be Han Solo. From his guesses about Leia's affection for him to the classic I've got a bad feeling about this Han's motivation towards Hunch shifts Leia's perspective while guaranteeing her and Luke safe passage.

How else can you explain her sudden intuition, her "hunch", that they turn around to get Luke?

Return of the Jedi

This one amazes me the most.

Jedi's narrative always seemed to play different from the first two--and now we know why. Instead of continuing the trend of exploring Concerns of Doing and Being found in the first two films, this last episode shifts into an Overall Story Concern of Learning: learning that there is still good in someone turned to the Dark Side.

The storyform for Return of the Jedi

Luke's Steadfast motivation of Inaction stands out just as much as Han's intuition. From the moment we first see Luke until his final tossing of the lightsaber, Luke embodies the narrative element of doing nothing. The only time he breaks down is his brief use of his Solution of Protection when Vader threatens to turn Leia.

With *"I'm a Jedi, like my father before me" * Luke returns to Inaction and completes his Throughline with a Main Character Signpost 4 of Past.

This action also motivates Darth to a Changed Resolve. By tossing the Emperor overboard, Darth moves from an Influence Character Problem of Acceptance to an Influence Character Solution of Non-acceptance. He rejects the Dark side, no longer giving in to anger and hate.

The Trilogy as a Complete Story

With these storyforms in place, one thing is clear: there is no single storyform for the entire trilogy. Storyforms communicate narrative arguments and there is no appreciable argument for the original trilogy beyond these individual storyforms. The films tell their own stories.

(And Empire is so good, it tells two!)

Links to Storyforms in the Atomizer