The year was 1977. I stood with my sister outside a movie theater in a line that curled around the building. My father towered beside us, his light Irish skin going red. It was hot, like only Arizona can be. The sun blazed in the sky and heat waves shimmered up from the concrete. I was sweaty and tired, but I didn’t care. I was five years old, and my world was about to change.
Thirty years later, this lingering memory makes me wonder. After all, why should a sci-fi space epic have such a lasting affect on a writer trying to pound out gritty, little crime tales?
I realize now that Star Wars was one of my first creative writing teachers.
Elements of the basic patterns of fiction (The Quest, The Initiation, The Union, The Choice) are each recognizable in the Star Wars saga. Luke’s decision to accompany Obi-Wan to Alderaan turns into a QUEST for Princess Leia, a quest that forever changes Skywalker. Luke’s quest leads him to Yoda who INITIATES him into the role of a Jedi knight. Han and Leia, despite their differences and despite obstacles (like being frozen in carbonite), are drawn together, an example of the UNION. Luke and Anakin are both confronted with a life altering CHOICE, at the high point of their story’s plots.
Today, as I take a crack at my first professional screenplay, the original Star Wars also serves as a textbook example of structure.
According to acclaimed screenwriter Syd Field, act one introduces the main character and launches the stories chief premise. This occurs approximately 30 minutes into the film, depending on its length. About 30 minutes or so into the original Star Wars, Luke finds his aunt and uncle murdered and agrees to accompany Obi-Wan on his mission. This decision is the first plot point, an event that moves the action forward.
By the end of act two, our heroes have faced several obstacles: the tractor beam, storm troopers, and the trash compactor. These event lead to the second plot point, the death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Vader. This gloomy event, together with Han Solo’s refusal to join the attack on the Death Star, is necessary for the dramatic, happy resolution of act three, where Luke succeeds in blowing up the Death Star.
Perhaps the younger generations will look to the Harry Potter books for inspiration, but for me and mine it was Star Wars. It wasn’t simply groundbreaking special effects or fantastic creatures that put our butts in front of the screen, time and time again. It was a story told well.
So, how about you, murder fans? With the 30th anniversary behind us, what are your first memories of the original Star Wars? And did the films influence any of the writers out there?