Three Act Structure
Breaking Down Star Wars: A New Hope's 3-Act Structure
Most films are generally broken down into three acts, commonly known as the Three Act Structure. Screenwriting requires one to learn the ins and outs of the Three Act Structure for film and a great script is usually written in this format.Today we’re going to break down the Three Act Structure for film, and we’ll analyze Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and examine it’s First Act, Second Act, and Third Act.
The First Act of a film is the Exposition of the film and it establishes the characters, the setting, and the main goal of the protagonist (main character). This is also called the “ordinary world” and it is where things are status quo until the protagonist decides to embark on the adventure presented before them.
The Second Act of a film is the bulk of the journey for the main protagonist(s) of the film. They have to face obstacle after obstacle and overcome each one in order to get closer to their goal. If they fail, they learn something new that pushes them towards their goal. After each obstacle, the stakes usually get higher and higher and the protagonist’s investment in the mission increases.
The Third Act of a film consists of the Climax and the Resolution. The climax of the film is the point of highest tension or drama and it’s when the main forces come together for one final encounter. This is usually the final obstacle the protagonist has to face in order to conquer their goal. After the climax, the protagonist has finally finished their objective and the story dwindles into a peaceful resolution (usually!).
Now let’s look at the Three Act Structure of the film Star Wars: A New Hope. In the first act of the film we’re introduced to Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. Our main protagonist is Luke Skywalker who lives at home with his aunt and uncle. Obi Wan presents Luke with the adventure of learning the “Force” and going on a journey for the purpose of defeating the Empire (bad guys). Once Luke decides to embark on that journey, we are taken out of the First Act and we start the Second Act.
During the Second Act of Star Wars, Luke and his crew face a slew of obstacles such as running away from Jabba the Hut and Stormtroopers, arriving at the planet of Alderaan only to find it destroyed, being captured by the Imperial Forces (bad guys), and witnessing the death of Obi Wan Kenobi; including many more obstacles left unmentioned. Finally Luke Skywalker decides to embark on the final attack on the Death Star of the Imperial Forces, and this propels us to the Third Act.
The Third Act of Star Wars contains the climax of the film which is the assault on the Death Star. This is the culminating battle between the forces of good (Rebel Fighters) and the forces of evil (Imperial Forces). It’s the point of highest tension and drama and the Rebel Fighters succeed in their mission. What follows in the last act is the resolution where everyone is happy and Luke has accomplished his goal of defeating the Imperial Forces and learning the skills of a Jedi.
Now, the Three Act Structure in Screenwriting is not found in ALL films and many films opt out of it, but it does remain the industry standard and is found in most screenplays and films. The Three Act Structure has many different parts that we have not covered today, which when analyzed, give much depth to many of the films that pass before our dazzling eyes.
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