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Saga Plot structures.

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Count Yubnub, Oct 2, 2013.

  1. Count Yubnub

    Count Yubnub Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 1, 2012
    Following a post on the Original Trilogy forum about ANH's 3-act plot here, I thought it might be fun (for some), to look at the basic plot structures of all 6 films, and the differences between them. I'm sure there are people here who know this stuff better than I do, and those individuals are invited to correct and/or educate me.

    Ep.1: TPM.
    This movie has an easily identifiable 3-act plot of the "overcoming the monster" variety.
    Act 1: Evil guys invade a planet, in response to which
    Act 2: a gang of heroes forms, who
    Act 3: defeat the invaders.
    I take it that act breaks occur when Padmé leaves Naboo, and when she decides to return to Naboo, respectively—the decision to return to Naboo representing the main character development.

    Ep.2: AOTC
    AOTC also has a 3-act structure based on the traditional mystery; the movie is very much structured like classic Bond movies. What I'm less sure about is where the break between Acts 1 and 2 is. You'll probably agree that Act 3 starts with Obi-Wan's arrival and arrest on Geonosis. I'm guessing act 2 starts with Obi-Wan leaving for Kamino, and Anakin and Padme leaving for Naboo. Anything else?

    Ep.3: ROTS
    ROTS's plot has a very clear classical 5-point dramatic structure:


    Exposition: Introduction of characters and character relations: Space battle, Anakin comes home to his wife.
    Inciting incident: Anakin has vision of Padmé's death.
    Rising action: War continues, Anakin hears Yoda and Palpatine on losing someone you love and their solutions to this.
    Anagnorisis: Anakin learns Palpatine is a Sith Lord.
    Climax: Anakin stop Mace from assassinating Palpatine, pledges himself to the Sith.
    Falling action: Anakin does evil stuff, helps Palpatine establish Empire and kill Jedi.
    Resolution: Anakin is defeated by Obi-Wan. Padmé dies of broken heart, thus rendering Anakin's vision a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Dénouement (catastrophe): Anakin becomes sad cyborg; Yoda and Obi-Wan go in hiding, and hide Anakin's children.

    Ep.4: ANH
    Like TPM, ANH has an easily identifiable 3-act plot of the "overcoming the monster" variety.
    Act 1: Death Star and Luke are introduced.
    Act 2: Luke rescues princess.
    Act 3: Luke slays Death Star.
    Act 2 starts when Luke decides to become a Jedi and go on his adventure; Act 3 starts when Tarkin says "I'm taking an awful risk, Lord Vader. This had better work."

    Ep.5: ESB
    ESB seems to have a less conventional plot structure than the earlier episodes. For as far as I can see it's part chase movie (Good guys chase bad guys; good guys escape; then, good guys chase bad guys; good guys escape; then, good guys chase bad guys; good guys escape, etc.) and part of it is another 5-point structure, though less traditional than ROTS:
    Exposition: Introduction of characters and character relations.
    Inciting incident: Obi-Wan's ghost tells Luke to go to Dagobah to learn from Yoda.
    Rising action: Empire chases Han et al. (see chase stuff above); Luke goes to Dagobah, meets Yoda.
    Anagnorisis: Luke has vision of friends in pain.
    Climax: Luke decides to go to Dagobah.
    Falling action: Luke goes to Dagobah, confronts Vader.
    Resolution: Vader tells Luke of his true parentage.
    Dénouement: Rebels escape, Luke heals, prepares to find Han.
    The reason why I'm calling this less traditional than ROTS is that inciting incident, climax, and resolution are not as closely connected to each other.

    Ep.6: ROTJ
    One way to divide it all up into a 3-act structure is:
    Act 1: Tatooine, Dagobah.
    Act 2: Endor, up until Ewok village.
    Act 3: Action engages on three levels: space, Death Star, Endor.

    I'm not sure that works entirely as Act 1 has barely anything to do with Act 3, except for establishing that Luke's powers have grown and that he has matured, and is almost a Jedi knight. IMO there's just too much going on to construct a simple breakdown. I suppose that's part of the idea; it feels like you're watching a bunch of episodes from a Saturday morning serial put together. So, definitely the most pulpy of the lot. Any other ideas? Is there a 5-point structure buried in there somewhere?
    Samnz likes this.
  2. ATMachine

    ATMachine Jedi Master star 4

    Feb 27, 2007
    It's worth pointing out that the plot structure of ANH is essentially lifted wholesale from The Lord of the Rings. This is much clearer in the second draft, where instead of the Death Star plans Luke has to bring the magical "Kiber Crystal" to the Rebel base so as to ensure the destruction of the Death Star.
    VanishingReality likes this.
  3. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    Your analysis of Episode I makes me think that the queen was actually the protagonist, which I suppose is true, since she's the only one who seems to go through a dramatic change (from a complete rule-follower to a risk-taking battle leader). Her hero's journey is as follows: She does not believe in taking risks, and relies on the established order of the Republic to protect her planet and her people. On her journey to petition the Republic's leaders, she discovers through Qui-Gon's risk-taking with Anakin, the value of having the courage to invest in one's instincts over one's desire for safety. Unfortunately, when she finally petitions the Republic's leaders, her instincts tell her the Republic is now inefficient and her people will die. Having learned the Lesson of the Second Act from Qui-Gon, she must now make the choice to either trust those instincts or fall back to rational prudence, a "well, there's nothing I can do about it for now". She decides to trust her instincts, and at this very point forges the courageous character within herself to free her people immediately or die trying. This is the journey I wish was dramatized more concretely with all the other elements serving it. Oh, well.
  4. Count Yubnub

    Count Yubnub Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 1, 2012
    The Lord of the Rings? What makes you think that? ANH is "rescue the princess and slay the dragon," in three acts. Lord of the Rings doesn't do anything like that--it's not even a three-act story, it's far more complex than that.

    Well, yes. IIRC Lucas called it "Padme's story, as seen through the eyes of the Jedi," or something like that--I forgot the exact phrasing.

    But, "in my analysis" as you say, the story is a hybrid between a single-protagonist story and an ensemble cast ("Act 2: a gang of heroes forms"), just like in those old Japanese films like "Seven Samurai," or some classic dramas. The most important character is Padmé, as it's her story, and obviously she's the one who undergoes character development, in Act 2.

    What do you mean? What's missing, in your opinion? I'd hate to derail the thread, though.
  5. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    Doesn't the "gang of heroes" form the minute Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Jar Jar jump off the balcony and free queen and her captives? That's basically the "gang" that stays the same throughout the movie (with the single exception of Anakin joining). Is doesn't seem to me like they are "forming" throughout Act 2.

    Very quick examples, then. The queen decoy switch could have been made clear to the audience before she ventured into Tatooine, so that she could be identified as the same person who has to make decisions for the planet. The senate scene of bickering beaurocrats could have been intercut with scenes of oppression of Naboo, to dramatize the hopelessness of the Republic's ineffectiveness. Her character could have been less resolved during her first office meeting with Palpatine, and more tempted to resign her struggle, making the moment of decision to take matters in her own hands more pronounced. Something more concrete should have emphasized the importance of immediate action right before her decision to take matters into her own hands. Things like that.

    P.S. I'm curious as to why you put "your analysis" in quotes. I think it's pretty objectively true that your analyzing the films.
  6. Sarge

    Sarge Chosen One star 6

    Oct 4, 1998
    One of the reasons AotC is my least favorite is that I couldn't tell when the climax came, or if there really was a climax. Was it the arena monsters? The Jedi rescue? The clone battle? The lightsaber duel? The next lightsaber duel? Or the next lightsaber duel? It felt like it was just one thing happening after another, none of them leading to a resolution or consequence. I found it very unsatisfying. All the other movies had very clearcut emotional highpoints, but not AotC.
  7. Samnz

    Samnz Jedi Master star 3

    Sep 4, 2012
    I pretty much agree with you. I find it interesting that it seems like the Lucas-only written films (TPM, ROTS, ANH) have much clearer plot structures than the movies he hired co-writers to work with him (AOTC, TESB, ROTJ). I'm also sure that my relative dislike for ROTJ stems from its rather messy structure.

    Here, I'd say Act 3 starts with Anakin/Padmé heading to free Obi-Wan or Mace gathering Jedi to free Obi-Wan on Geonosis (right after Palpatine was given emergency powers). What makes it plausible for me is that Lucas (DVD commentary) refers to Palpatine's emergency powers as the "climax" of the film and it's not uncommon to start your third act not too long after the climax and because that's the point when things start to get resolved (the love story, the Clone Wars begins etc.).
    I agree with you on the start of Act 2. I'd say Anakin's and Padmé's departure marks that point (rather than Obi-Wan's).

    Lucas refers to Palpatine's creation of the army as the climax, which makes sense - especially in respect to the overall story of the Saga.
    An emotional cimax would be Anakin's blackout on Tatooine when he wipes out the village.

    When it comes to the climaxes of the films, I'm a lot less sure, though, than when it comes to plot structure.
    TPM: seems easy, Anakin winning the race determines the further flow of the story. So probably that (alternatively the destruction of the Droid Control Ship)
    AOTC: Palapatine's emergency powers, as confirmed by Lucas.
    ROTS: Anakin's turn, Windu's death
    ANH: appears to be the destruction of the Death Star (shouldn't there be something earlier in the film?)
    TESB: Vader's reveal or Luke deciding to leave Dagobah.
    ROTJ: I'm clueless. It must be the blow up of Death Star II, right?
    Other thoughts?
    Ezon Pin likes this.
  8. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    What if the climax of each prequel movie is Palpatine's promotion? In TPM, his nomination to Supreme Chancellor, in AOTC, his being granted emergency powers, and in ROTS, his ascendency to emperor?
  9. Count Yubnub

    Count Yubnub Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 1, 2012
    You're right. Well, so either I should have Act 2 start earlier, or find a slightly different description of the breakdown.

    Well, OK--like I said, I don't want to derail the thread.

    Sorry, I don't know why I did that. I think I meant to just put "analysis" in quotes.

    Now that is an interesting point. IIRC though, I don't think the actual plot of AOTC was co-written by Hales, I thought he just did some of the dialogue.

    Besides, I don't think it's all that messy, I think it's a pretty straightforward Bond-type plot. An event leads Bond to investigate. Car chase, but henchwomen gets killed by Bond Villain's Number Two (Jaws, or what have you), but Number Two gets away. Bond investigates lead, leads him to discover stuff, and the plot thickens. Bond finds Number 2, and confronts him. Bond contacts M, who tells him to arrest Number 2. Car chase. Bond secretly follows Number 2 to Bond Villain's secret underground volcano/island cave lair, where Bond Villain (Let's say, Scaramanga) is building his Doomsday Device. Bond gets caught and (along with Bond Girl) is about to be sacrificed to sharks (with or without lasers on their heads), but he manages to escape. Just in time, M and his minions show up, and there' a great battle between Bond Villain's and M's minions, but after confronting Bond Villain he manages to escape with the Doomsday Device plans. The end.


    (Yeah, I've omitted the bit where Anakin and Padmé are doing their Sound of Music/Wuthering Heights/The Searchers thing, but that's just a subplot, IMO.)

    That's a good point.

    As far as my limited understanding of these things goes, "climax," in terms of plot structure, really has two meanings: in a more traditional 5-point dramatic structure (in classical Greek or Shakespearean drama), the climax is the turning point; typically when the protagonist makes a central decision that determines the rest of the plot (in a tragedy, that decision is a bad one), but it can be something else, like an event. In a typical 3-Act Hollywood type movie, the "climax" tends to refer to all of the big actiony stuff at the end (of which AOTC had plenty). So I agree that in the first sense of the word, the climax occurs when Palpatine announces his military creation act.

    Maybe when Padmé decides to take matters into her own hands and go back to Naboo?

    I hadn't thought of that. Maybe if you want to squeeze ANH into a 5-point structure, how about this:
    Inciting event: Luke buys the droids, finds Leia's message, Obi-Wan tells him about the Force & stuff.
    Rising action: barely any.
    Climax: Luke decides togo on his adventure.
    Falling action: almost the entire movie.
    Resolution: destruction of the death star.

    One possibility that struck me is that the climax (in terms of turning point) might be when Luke decides to throw his lightsaber away?
  10. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    I still don't understand why. Do you not think it's an analysis?
  11. Count Yubnub

    Count Yubnub Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 1, 2012
    I suppose I wanted to put "analysis" in quotes to distinguish my layperson attempt from a serious scholarly analysis. But I really don't remember what exactly I was intending when I wrote that sentence.
  12. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    Lol, sorry for derailing. You're a lot humbler than I am. ;)
  13. Samnz

    Samnz Jedi Master star 3

    Sep 4, 2012
    I think you can certainly call his proclamation of the Empire as the overall climax of his 3-movie plot. I wouldn't call it the climax of ROTS, because ROTS really focusses on the personal story (like Count Yubnub says).

    You mean AOTC, right? I called ROTJ a bit messy ;) . Because - as you said - threre is a visible disconnect between the individual acts.
    AOTC seems rather clear to me, too. The 1. Acts establishes the situation: the Republic is in turmoil, there have been assasination attempts, the characters are reintroduced. Then Act 2 starts to develop the love story (after they have left) and Obi-Wan starts to investigate. His investigations (Jango Fett, disconvery of the Amry) ultimately lead to the climax (emergency powers) and he gets arrested. Finally, the 3. Act starts with everyone heading to Geonosis which resolves the conflicts (negatively: beginning of the Clone Army; positively: admitting love for each other).

    I agree. There are two understandings of a climax. The more traditional "climax" and an "climax of excitement", as I call it.
    Take AOTC: Palpatine's creation of the army is the tradiational climax of the film while Padmé's "Look!" and the appearance of the Clone Army to save the day functions as the "exciting climax" (and finally starts the war).
    Another example would be TPM: traditional climax either Anakin's victory or your suggestion, Padmé's decision (which seems appropriate, since this is Padmé's story) to go back. Exciting climax woudl be the destruction of the Droid Control Ship.

    I'm not sure. I think that film really works better in a 3 act structure. As you said, 5-point structered films tend to end bad while ANH is almost the ultimate triumph of good.
    I just thought about the escape from the Death Star as the tradional climax of the film. A large part of the film dealt with them trying to reach Leia, because she needed the secret plans. So with Leia and the plans on the DS, the galaxy'S destiny really depended on their escape. The Death Star blow put would remain the "exciting climax", then.

    Possible. I'm really rather clueless about ROTJ. It seems a bit late, however, ROTJ basically restarts after they finally left Tatooine. I think you could call it the climax of the central part of the film, yes.
  14. Darth_Nub

    Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Apr 26, 2009
    On a completely different note, yesterday it occurred to me that the 'Prequel Trilogy' isn't a 'trilogy' at all. It's a triptych:

    A trilogy, however, is defined thus:

    So while the OT is a 'trilogy' - three related stories - the PT is very much three parts intended to be appreciated together, and can't exist without the other parts. It's a trilogy of sorts, but the relation of each part to the others goes much deeper than that of the separate parts of the OT, and as a result, it can be defined as something different.
    (Not better or worse, before anyone jumps on that)
  15. HevyDevy

    HevyDevy Jedi Master star 4

    Apr 13, 2011
    Interesting thread. I don't have a lot to add, but I think the 5-point dramatic structure to ROTS applies quite well, and I thought Count Yubnub's synopsis here was fitting.
    Darth_Nub, nice observation. The prequels are definitely more dependent on the other prequels when compared to the style of the OT... however, would the links to other episodes, even links to the OT, make it something other than a triptych? It may be obvious, but I felt the prequels were designed with the whole six in mind to a much deeper degree than the OT. While the OT and PT work well as standalone trilogies, the prequels aren't fully resolved by themselves, and you cannot really appreciate the PT until you have seen the OT as well. Just a thought.
    Darth_Nub likes this.
  16. Darth_Nub

    Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Apr 26, 2009
    Very true. I was simply thinking of the PT in the terms that so many approach it - the 'Prequel Trilogy' as opposed to the 'Original/Classic Trilogy'. The relationship of the PT to the 6-film Saga is very different than the OT's, and its three episodes fit into that structure in a different way. The PT seems to exist in the six-film Saga as a single story, with SW/ANH as another, followed by ESB & ROTJ as a more connected two-part follow-up to SW/ANH.

    Although, going even further, you can find yourself confronted with TPM as a single story, followed by AOTC & ROTS as a two part sequel, then the singular SW/ANH again followed by its two-part sequel.

    However, IMHO, TPM isn't quite as standalone as SW/ANH, and was never intended to be so, which is why I view the PT as being more of a solid entity.
    When one compares Episodes I-III as a single structure to Episodes IV-VI as another, that's what I came up with - a triptych as opposed to a trilogy. It might well explain why many prefer one over the other.
    Visivious Drakarn likes this.
  17. HevyDevy

    HevyDevy Jedi Master star 4

    Apr 13, 2011
    Appreciate the response.
    On the prequels connection to the OT, I find much more of a consistent connect between the PT and 5 and 6. The themes and plot points lead into 5 more fluidly. While I'm aware that this is because of production order, I find it interesting that 3 and 4 connect on a more symbolic level. You really must use your imagination and fill in the blanks. For example, I find Obi-wan and Vader's confrontation a satisfying follow up to how we leave them in ep 3. The scene has actually been enhanced and the dialogue still rings true. Where Vader's line "when I left you I was but the learner" once referred to turning as a padawan, it is now directly a reference to Mustafar - Vader is admitting Obi-wan bested him. "Now I am the master" can be a direct jab at the Jedi - being a sith has given him something the Jedi didn't. Also, Obi becoming one with the force on death was always cool, but we now know this power (which is ironically similar to the power Vader sought when he turned) was obtained after An akin left him, hence Vader's surprise at Obi vanishing. While this can create an inconsistency - why can Vader force-ghost - you can easily imagine the force does him a favour because of his sacrifice (or maybe because he is the chosen one?)

    What you say about 5 and 6 as a single chapter being perhaps repeated with 2 and 3, I think highlights one of the strengths of the classics over the prequels. Rotj is IMO better connected to ESB than Rots and ep 2. While ESB is essential to Rotj, aotc's flaws mean rots can work without 75% of ep2. TPM and ROTS however I see as symbiotic counterparts. I've thought about it a lot since ep 3 was released and the more I analysed it the more I loved the duality of these two movies. They both make sense without each other, yet as inversions of each other they establish more. I don't want to start off-topic ranting on it, but a quick example is the japor snippet against Padme's red dress in TPM contrasting against a blue dress in two scenes in rots, including her funeral. One more for the hell of it is Padme defying Palpatine - "my fate will be no different from that of my people" - then Anakin doing similar 13 years later - "His fate will be the same as ours". Im fascinated by the duality of Star Wars generally.
    Darth Raiden likes this.
  18. Darth_Articulate

    Darth_Articulate Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 1, 2012
    I think if you look at ROTJ as the final steps to becoming a Jedi, then the rescue of Han Solo functions as the final training session. Luke comes to his "professor" (Yoda) with the knowledge refined by that training and Yoda passes him, saying his training is complete. However, he can't graduate until he confronts Vader fully trained. Then Yoda confirms Vader is his father and dies, propelling Act 2, in which the goal is to figure out how he's going to confront his father. I think Act 3 begins after Luke tells Leia he is going to surrender.