Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977): The Movie Structure Archives
- Genre: Sci-fi
- Writer: George Lucas
- Director: George Lucas
(Check out this post going more in depth on A New Hope and the rest of the original trilogy: How Star Wars Became a Modern Myth)
Act 1 (1%-25%)
- Hook: Darth Vader intercepts Princess Leia’s ship while seeking plans stolen by rebel forces who hope to destroy the Death Star.
- Inciting Event: Leia possesses the stolen plans and hides them with a droid named R2-D2, recording a plea for help and sending the droid to find an old Jedi friend on Tattooine.
- R2-D2 and his friend C3-PO land in the desert of Tattooine where they’re captured by Jawa traders. Stormtroopers also reach Tattooine in search of the droids.
- Key Event: Luke Skywalker, a farm boy on Tattooine, buys R2-D2 and C3-PO with his uncle, taking them home to help with the farm work. C3-PO reveals that they’re part of the rebellion against the Empire and Luke discovers the secret message left by Leia.
- When R2-D2 runs away the next morning, Luke and C3-PO go after him only to have the trio attacked by Sand People. They’re rescued by Ben Kenobi, an old friend of Luke’s, who takes them back to his home and reveals his identity as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He sees the distress call from Leia and offers for Luke to join him in helping her. Luke refuses, saying his place is on the farm, but agrees to take his father’s lightsaber that was in Obi-Wan’s care.
- At the Death Star, Vader gets a moment to display the power of the Force and the Dark Side, attacking a general who dismisses the powers of the Force compared to the technological power of the Death Star.
- First Plot Point: Upon returning home, Luke finds that his aunt and uncle have been killed by the Stormtroopers searching for R2-D2. Now with a personal reason to hate the Empire, Luke joins Obi-Wan to find a ship that can take them to Alderaan to rescue Princess Leia.
Act 2 (25%-75%)
- Leia is shown locked in a cell and it’s implied that Vader is torturing her to locate the rebel base.
- Luke and Obi-Wan arrive in Mos Eisley with the droids where they’re confronted by a squad of Stormtroopers. Obi-Wan displays his proficiency with the Force and tricks the Stormtroopers into letting them pass. He and Luke make their way into the Cantina to find a pilot willing to transport them to Alderaan.
- Here they find Chewbacca and Han Solo, who they convince with some effort to transport them to Alderaan aboard the Millennium Falcon. Han’s debts to the mob boss Jabba the Hut are also introduced. The group escapes Stormtroopers guarding the ship bays and set out for Alderaan.
- 1st Pinch Point: Leia resists her torture but is forced to watch as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star.
- Luke trains with his lightsaber in transit to Alderaan, and Obi-Wan teaches him about the Force.
- Midpoint: Upon reaching where Alderaan should’ve been, Luke and his friends find nothing but an asteroid belt. While they wonder what could have happened, the Millennium Falcon is pulled aboard the Death Star. The group must escape, made even more complex when they realize Princess Leia is also aboard the Death Star.
- Obi-Wan leaves the group to shut down the tractor beams holding the Millennium Falcon. While he’s gone, Luke and Han disguise themselves as Stormtroopers and make their way to the cells, bringing Chewbacca along as a fake prisoner.
- After taking down the guards, Luke and Han free Leia while Vader purses Obi-Wan.
- 2nd Pinch Point: To escape from Stormtroopers, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca jump down an empty shaft, only to get trapped in a trash compactor. The group desperately calls to C3-PO to turn off the compactor and are saved at the last moment.
- Meanwhile, Obi-Wan sneaks through the Death Star, shutting off the tractor beams before confronting Vader.
- Third Plot Point: Under pursuit from Stormtroopers, Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca escape to the Millennium Falcon. Obi-Wan duels with Vader, accepting defeat and death in order for Luke and the rest of the crew to escape. Luke watches as Obi-Wan dies and is distraught by this loss, but Obi-Wan’s ghost urges him to escape.
Act 3 (75%-100%)
- Luke mourns Obi-Wan’s death as the Millennium Falcon escapes to the rebel base. Unknown to them, Vader has placed a homing beacon on the ship and tracks them to the rebel base. Han leaves the rebels once they arrive, deciding his own obligations are more important than fighting a losing cause.
- Climax: As the Death Star approaches the rebel base, Luke and the other rebel pilots scramble to destroy it with the knowledge they gained from the stolen plans.
- Climactic Moment: In the decisive moment, Han Solo returns to save Luke from Vader’s ship, giving Luke the opening he needs. By trusting the Force Luke is able to fire the torpedoes and blow up the Death Star, saving the rebellion.
- Resolution: The story of a New Hope closes with Leia honoring Luke and Han in a ceremony at the rebel base, showing the survival of the rebel cause and their new found heroes!
Character 1: Luke Skywalker
- Luke begins his journey an unremarkable farm boy, both straining against his boring life and unwilling to move beyond it. Both times Luke sees the SOS message sent by Leia he rejects the opportunity for adventure, instead holding himself back with his responsibilities to his aunt and uncle. Luke struggles to believe he is anything beyond ordinary, setting himself up for a coming of age story.
- As Luke struggles to reach Leia he begins to prove his ability to create change. He’s shown the ways of the Force by Obi-Wan and is encouraged to have faith in his abilities. Inside the Death Star, Luke takes charge, freeing Leia and surviving death in the garbage compactor.
- Luke’s lowest point comes as a two-parter with the death of Obi-Wan and Han’s decision to abandon the rebels. Obi-Wan’s death takes away Luke’s mentor figure and puts the power of the Force into question. Han’s abandonment only further damages this faith, because Han reasons there’s no use staying behind to fight a lost cause. Luke’s belief that he’s ordinary and unremarkable brings into question his ability to help the rebel cause. As far as he can see this is a suicide mission.
- Despite this hopelessness Luke persists and in the final moment lets go of technology to have faith in himself and his own remarkable skills. Han Solo returns to save him from Darth Vader and Luke accepts the power of the Force, using it to destroy the Death Star and save the rebel cause. He’s proved himself to be beyond the ordinary and has begun a trilogy long journey of growth.
Character 2: Han Solo
- Han’s arc begins with him isolated and selfish. He’s out to help himself and feels no obligation to anyone else. As a result he’s alone (other than Chewie, whose presence shows some redeeming qualities in Han early on), and has a variety of enemies following him. Upon meeting Luke and Obi-Wan, Han repeatedly shows that he’s unconcerned with their personal quests, only looking to pay off his debt to Jabba the Hut.
- Han’s arc progresses as he journeys with Obi-Wan and Luke. For the first half of Act 2 Han continues as a selfish rouge but repeatedly feels the need to assert his dismissal of the Force and the rebel cause, showing how it nags at him. His greatest moment of change comes once the group enters the Death Star, where Han begins to take charge and lead the group to safety, even at the risk of his own life.
- Han’s lowest moment sees him returning Luke and Leia to the rebel base and then abandoning them. He gets the money he was looking for and leaves to pay off Jabba, feeling the rebel cause is hopeless. It seems he’s decided his own interests are above the good of the broader world.
- This turns on its head when Han returns in the final battle to save Luke from Vader. Without this intervention Luke wouldn’t have been able to destroy the Death Star and save the rebellion. Han ends his arc in A New Hope surrounded by comrades, celebrated for his return and part of a proud organization.
Theme: The power of faith
A New Hope presents a theme of faith through most of its major elements. Its characters either seek faith in themselves or an external mission, or actively espouse the importance of faith. Obi-Wan implores Luke to “Trust in the Force” and without doing so Luke would’ve failed to destroy the Death Star. Han goes through a similar journey but needs to have faith in an ideal outside his own interests. By putting his friendship with Luke above his own safety and by trusting the ability of the rebels to survive, Han helps Luke in a pivotal moment that gives Luke the opportunity to overcome the conflict. Meanwhile, Leia and the rebels continue to have faith in their goals and ability to survive, inspiring that faith in those around them.
Closely tied to these character examples, A New Hope uses the symbol of the Force to embody this faith. The Force is a nebulous thing and multiple characters challenge its power and legitimacy. But those that trust the Force and think past what they can or can’t see are rewarded. Darth Vader has immense power thanks to the Force, and Luke breaks out of his ordinary life and into notoriety thanks to his faith in the Force.
Overall, A New Hope is consistent in this area, with only one section being poorly paced. The first half of Act 2 is barren compared to the rest of the film, lacking in terms of character or plot development and taking up only a short run time.
This leaves holes in the character growth of Luke and Han, squeezing all of their development into the latter half of Act 2. While not ideal, this isn’t the end of the world. The time given to introducing the world of Star Wars and the ideas of the Force was necessary and ultimately had to encroach on the time given to Act 2.
A New Hope is saddled with the difficult job of building a complex sci-fi world and belief/magic system, but it accomplishes these tasks well. Thanks to the next two movies, Luke and Han can more fully explore their character arcs, as they’re only serviceable in this movie. The entire trilogy sees a much more fleshed out and satisfying growth for these two and the plot overall. While not the best in the trilogy (personal opinions aside!) A New Hope lays a great foundation for the rest of the Star Wars franchise.