Movie Structure Breakdown: Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back

PosterFormat: Movie

Released: 1980

Written By: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan

Directed By: Irvin Kershner

Run Time: 122 minutes

Character: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia


A character in an Imperfect Situation faces Oppressive Opposition as he pursues an Initial Goal. But when there is a Disturbance to his routine, he faces a Dilemma regarding his situation, and must assume a New Role.

Luke, Han, and Leia have set up shop on the inhospitable planet, Hoth (the imperfect situation), to elude the relentless pursuit of the Empire (oppressive opposition) while the Rebels figure out their plan of attack (the initial goal). But when Imperial scouting probes land on the planet, Luke receives a message from Obi-Wan, and the Empire attacks the planet (the disturbance), Luke must choose between rendezvousing with the Rebels or going to Dagobah (the dilemma) to become a card-carrying Jedi (the new role).

The Imperfect Situation: Because they are being relentlessly pursued by the Empire, the Rebels are forced to take up residence on a frozen wasteland planet.

Initial Goal: Luke and the gang hide out from the Empire and bide their time until the right moment.

Oppressive Opposition: Despite the events of A New Hope, the Empire still rules the galaxy with an iron fist. They have the Rebels confined to an icy wasteland.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Disturbance: Imperial scouting probes land on the planet, shattering the relative peace. When Luke goes to investigate, he is captured by a Wampa and receives a Force-O’gram from Obi-Wan.

Turning Point One – The Dilemma: Start Time: 18 of 122 minutes (14.7%) – The Empire arrives at Hoth and launches an all-out assault on the Rebel base.

Another Imperial design flaw.
Yet another Imperial design flaw.

The Rebel forces are scattered in the wind. Luke must decide between staying with the Rebels or going off by himself to follow Ben’s instructions and visiting Dagobah. Han and Leia must choose between going their separate ways and leaving together.

The New Role: Luke: If Luke goes to Dagobah, he will once again become a Jedi pupil.

Han/Leia: If the pair leaves together they will become fugitives on the run from the Empire.

Act Run Time: 37 of 122 minutes (30.3%)


The character Learns the Rules of an Unfamiliar Situation and faces Incidental Opposition in pursuit of a Transitional Goal. But when he receives a Reality Check, he makes a Commitment to his New Role.

Act Start Time: 37 of 122 minutes (30.3%)

Luke travels to Dagobah (the unfamiliar situation), a slimy, mud hole populated with dangerous wildlife (incidental opposition), where he hopes to find the Jedi Master, Yoda, and become his pupil (the transitional goal). But when he crashes his X-wing in the swamp, effectively marooning himself (the reality check), he meets an annoying, green puppet who turns out to be Master Yoda (the commitment).

Han and Leia are chased by Star Destroyers (the unfamiliar situation) as they try to escape the Empire (the transitional goal). But when they discover the ship can’t go to lightspeed, and they must navigate an asteroid field (the reality check), they hide inside an asteroid that turns out to be a giant space worm and must recommit to fleeing (the commitment).

The Unfamiliar Situation: Luke: Luke arrives at Dagobah. The place gives him the creeps. R2 is nearly eaten.

Han/Leia: Han and Leia are pursued by a formation of Star Destroyers and realize the hyperdrive motivator has been damaged.

Transitional Goal: Luke: After receiving a message from Obi-Wan in Act One, Luke goes to Dagobah to find Yoda and become his student.

Han/Leia: Han and Leia attempt to avoid Imperial capture.

Incidental Opposition: Luke: Luke deals with life on the swampy Dagobah. R2 is eaten by a swamp monster, but ultimately spit out. Luke has to contend with some weird, little, green guy who wrecks his campsite and steals his flashlight.

Han/Leia: Han and Leia take the wrong exit vector and are pursued by a star destroyer. When they realize the hyperdrive has been damaged, they can’t escape their predicament.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Reality Check: Luke: Beginning to believe it was a mistake to come to Dagobah, Luke meets an annoying local who says he knows where to find Yoda.

Han/Leia: In their attempt to escape, the pair realize the hyperdrive is broken. No lightspeed. When the Falcon comes across an asteroid field, Han attempts to navigate through it in search of a hiding place.

Turning Point Two – The Commitment: Start Time: 54 of 122 minutes (44.2%) –  Luke: Luke realizes the little puppet he’s been so impatient with is actually the great Jedi master, Yoda, he’s come in search of.

Punked you have been.
“Punked you just got.”

After initially denying Luke, Yoda agrees to take him on as a pupil at Obi-Wan’s request. Luke commits to fulfilling his New Role as Yoda’s padawan and learning the ways of the Jedi.

Han/Leia: Han and Leia realize the cave they are in is actually the belly of a giant space worm or something. Once again, they go on the run from Darth Vader’s Star Destroyers. They would seem to be stuck in their New Role as fugitives for the duration of the film.

Act Run Time: 24 of 122 minutes (19.6%)


The character stumbles into the Central Conflict and faces Intentional Opposition in pursuit of a False Goal. But when there is a grave Turn of events, he has a Moment of Truth.

Luke must contend with and avoid falling victim to the dark side of the Force (the central conflict), and pass Yoda’s intense training regimen (intentional opposition) if he is to learn how to become a Jedi (the false goal). But when he sees a vision from the future of Han and Leia being tortured in Cloud City (the turn), Luke goes to rescue them despite Yoda and Obi-Wan’s pleas to the contrary (the moment of truth)

Han and Leia are pursued by Darth Vader and the Empire (the central conflict), who have now hired a plenitude of bounty hunters to capture them (intentional opposition), as they travel to Cloud City to elicit help from Han’s pirate buddy, Lando (the false goal). But when C3PO is shot and Leia senses there’s something sinister afoot (the turn), Lando reveals his treachery by bringing Han and Leia to Sunday brunch with Lord Vader (the moment of truth).

Act Start Time: 61 of 122 minutes (50%)

The Central Conflict: Luke goes up against Vader and the Dark side of the force.

Han and Leia contend with the Empire’s pursuit.

False Goal: Luke attempts to learn the ways of the Force from Yoda

Han and Leia head to Cloud City to elicit Lando’s help in repairing the hyperdrive.

Intentional Opposition: Luke: Yoda’s training is intentionally designed to test Luke. He faces pseudo-Vader in the cave. Meanwhile, the real Vader captures his friends and tortures them to lure Luke to him.

Han/Leia: Vader hires bounty hunters to track down the Falcon. His personal star destroyer is now hot on the heels of the Falcon. Boba Fett doesn’t fall for Han’s ruse and follows them to Cloud City. Because he has a working hyperdrive, Vader arrives first and turns Lando against them.

Turning Point Catalyst – The Turn: Luke: Luke sees a vision of Leia and Han being tortured by the Empire in Cloud City. Yoda tells him it is a vision of the future.

Han/Leia: 3PO is shot by an unseen assailant, and Han and Leia get a sense something sinister is going on when Chewbacca finds the droid’s dismantled body.

Turning Point Three – The Moment of Truth: Start Time: 82 of 122 minutes (67.2%) – Luke: After listening to Yoda and Obi-Wan’s pleas for him not to go to Cloud City, Luke goes anyway. He decides that he is not the kind of person who would let his friends die and opts to fight Darth Vader instead.

Han/Leia: Lando reveals his treachery to Han and Leia when he brings them to Sunday brunch with Lord Vader.

Sunday Brunch
“I’d advise you not to insult his cooking.”

Act Run Time: 28 of 122 minutes (22.9%)


The character implements a Doomed Plan and faces Self-Inflicted Opposition in pursuit of a Penultimate Goal. But when an unthinkable Lowpoint occurs, he pulls himself together and discovers a Newfound Resolve.

Act Start Time: 89 of 122 minutes (72.9%)

Luke travels to Cloud City (the doomed plan), walking right into Vader’s trap (self-inflicted opposition) while trying to rescue his friends (the penultimate goal). But when Han is frozen in carbonite by Vader, and Leia is taken prisoner (the lowpoint), Luke arrives and has a shoot-out with Boba Fett and the Imperial Guard (the newfound resolve).

The Doomed Plan: Luke travels to and arrives at Cloud City in hopes of rescuing his friends.

Penultimate Goal: Luke tries to save Han and Leia from Vader.

Self-Inflicted Opposition: Luke: Having been told he is walking into a trap by Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Leia, Luke walks into the trap anyway.

Han/Leia: Han deals with the repercussions of not listening to Leia about Lando. He is tortured and encased in carbonite.

The Torture-O-Matic 5000. I never leave home without it.
“The Torture-O-Matic 5000. Never leave home without it.”

Turning Point Catalyst – The Lowpoint: Han is frozen in carbonite. Chewbacca warbles dramatically. Sad music plays.

Turning Point Four – The Newfound Resolve: Start Time: 98 of 122 minutes (80.3%)

– Luke arrives at Cloud City and shoots it out with Boba Fett. Heroic music plays. He has made his decision to face Lord Vader despite the protests of his Jedi Masters.

Act Run Time: 11 of 122 minutes (9%)


The character tries a Longshot and faces Ultimate Opposition while trying to accomplish the Ultimate Goal. But just when it seems All is Lost, he makes a Final Push against the forces of antagonism and either succeeds or fails.

Act Start Time: 100 of 122 minutes (81.9%)

Luke attempts to prove he is a Jedi (the longshot) by facing off with the most ruthless villain in the galaxy (ultimate opposition), in hopes of defeating him once and for all (the ultimate goal). But when Vader overpowers him, chops off his hand and reveals himself to be Luke’s father (all is lost),  Luke jumps into a chasm, is spat out beneath the city and calls for Leia to rescue him (the final push).

The Longshot: Luke will face off with Vader. Meanwhile, Leia and Lando will attempt to save Han and escape the city.

Ultimate Goal: Luke attempts to defeat the baddest dude in the galaxy to save his friends.

Ultimate Opposition: Luke must fight Vader mano-a-mano, until he loses a mano.

Turning Point Catalyst – All is Lost: Vader lures Luke into the corridor-of-a-thousand-things-hanging-from-the-wall and uses the Force to throw them at him, knocking him out a window. Luke hangs on by a thread. Meanwhile, Lando and Leia fail to save Han and are pursued by stormtroopers, as they make their way to the Falcon.

Turning Point Five – The Final Push: 109 of 122 minutes (89.3%) – Vader chops off Luke’s hand before revealing himself to be his father. Talk about a bad dad.

Luke, you are my sperm.
“Luke, you are my sperm.”

With no other options left, Luke throws himself into a seemingly bottomless chasm and is ejected from the bottom of the city. He Force-dials Leia, who demands Lando turn the Falcon around to pick him up. Leia and Lando retrieve him and try to escape, but the Falcon still has no light speed. R2 fixes it. R2 fixes everything.

Act Run Time: 20 of 122 minutes (16.3%)


Having accomplished (or failed to have accomplished) the Ultimate Goal, the character is shown living in a New Situation.

Act Start Time: 120 of 122 minutes (98.3%)

Having failed to defeat Vader, Luke now has a robot hand and will try to save Han from Jabba the Hut with the help of Chewie and Lando.

The New Situation: Han is a prisoner of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Lando and Chewie set off on a mission to go after him because nobody will miss those two if they don’t come back. Luke has a robot hand, just like his dad.

Act Run Time: 2 of 122 minutes (1.6%)

To learn more about six act structure, purchase your copy of “Actions and Goals: The Story Structure Secret” today!

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