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I think I finally figured out the plot structure of The Empire Strikes Back

Discussion in 'Film & Television' started by Yora, Feb 1, 2020.

  1. Yora

    Yora Maester

    The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie ever and one I consider almost perfect. It's been hugely influential to me and I was always wishing I might be able to write stories that can recapture it's mood and atmosphere.

    But it also has always been to me the movie with the weirdest plot structure. The whole structure of the movie makes no sense. You first start on the ice world with Luke being away in the snow and Han and Leia having their thing in the base. Then they all have one scenw together as Luke is recovering after his rescue and then Luke goes away to fight the battle. Han and Leia don't really participate in the battle and go on their adventure in the asteroid field and then their adventure in the Cloud City, while Luke goes to Yoda. Only after Luke has fought Vader and lost does he meet up with Leia again and at that point Han is already gone. And they mange to run away and the movie just ends.

    This should not work! This is a complete mess that ignores all convention of adventure movie plotting. What are the heroes goals throughout the movie? What are they trying to accomplish that gets resolved in the end? This should be completely dissatisfying, but it's one of the greatest movies ever.

    I think I have finally figured out how the movie is structured and what motivations are driving the plot. The key to seeing the main thread that connects everything together and creating a satisfying sense of progress is to not look at what the jeroes want and do, but at the villain Darth Vader. From Vader's perspective, this movie is really simple.

    - Vader's mission is to find and destroy the rebell base and to capture the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, because he felt that he is strong in the Force.
    - His men find the rebel base and during the fight he sees the Milennium Falcon, the ship that rescued Luke when Vader almost hsd him, and allowed him to destroy the Death Star. Vader knows this ship is closely connected to Luke, so he orders his whole fleet to capture it. He had no idea where Luke is, but capturing the people on the Millenium Falcon might give him a clue.
    - Vader gets a call from the Emperor who explains to him that Luke is his son. This makes Vader change his plan to not kill Luke but capture him instead.
    - Since his fleet can't find the ship, he hires bounty hunters to search for it. When Boba Fett figures out where they are going, he tells Vader who sets up his trap. Han andn Leia are captured and he uses them to lure Luke to him.
    - Luke arrives and Vader tries to turn him. But he fails and Luke escapes. Vader concedes defeat and gives up his hunt. The End.

    What is Luke's goal? To be trained as a Jedi. He gets that in the middle of the movie with no real resolution. He then gets beaten by Vader and escapes, but that's not a resolution to either being trained as a Jedi or saving Han and Leia. Leia escaped, but Luke had nothing to do with that.
    What are Han's and Leia's goals? They are running away. But they don't even have a destination they want to reach. Just avoid being captured in the short term, but there is no external goal in the long term. They have an internal goal about working out their relationship, but that does not really end with any kind of conclusion. Han says "I know", which is super slick, but does not establish their relationship status. And then they are separated with everythig being still as open as at the start.

    Vader has a goal. Vader has a motivation. Vader has a plan, and he is making progress with his plan. And in the end, Vader gets a resolution. He fails, but it's still a resolution.

    Vader's "story arc" is really quite simple, but I think it's the critical component that makes the scenes of the heroes not seem like a complete random mess that goes nowhere. Because we see Vader doing his things, the audience gets a sense of progress. Luke, Han, and Leia get important character development, but the plot of this movie is Vader's plot.

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