The First Part, but Also a Whole

Many of the trilogies I’ve read try to stretch the classic story structure across multiple volumes. The first book is used to introduce the reader to the world and characters, launch the initiating event, and start the climb up the slope of the rising action. The second book is reserved for the bulk of the rising action and a handful of plot twists, while the third focuses on driving towards and executing the climax. Essentially, the reader is presented with one long novel, cut in three parts for the ease of binding.

While this sort of fiction sells, I do not think it is the best use of story. Instead, each installment should be self-sufficient. The first volume especially must have a satisfying emotional journey for the reader while leaving them craving more. I think this is where Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope invested its genius.

Any first installment in a series must do four things to help set up the rest of the work. First, it must establish the milieu and emotional draws for the reader. In A New Hope, this happens in the initial space battle. We immediately know that we are dealing with a science fiction setting with space ships and laser weapons and that the story will be a combination of wonder and adventure. Second, the first book in series must establish the status quo and introduce the large scale conflict. This is accomplished when we are told that Leia is involved in a rebellion against an evil empire. It must also establish an immediate conflict that’ll carry the plot for that volume and provide an inciting incident. In A New Hope, the off screen theft of the Death Star plans serves both of these needs. Finally, it must introduce a core cast of characters that we will follow through the series, both protagonists and antagonists. This is first done in the conflict between Vader and Leia, and then furthered through the rest of the movie to include Luke, Kenobi, Han, Chewie, and the droids.

For the most part, A New Hope does everything it needs to do in order to support the series in the first twenty minutes of the movie. The rest of the time is spent developing and addressing its own plot line. The infiltration and destruction of the Death Star is compelling enough in its own right to be a standalone work. It didn’t need Empire or Jedi. Rather, they built on its success.

When A New Hope was released in theaters, there was nothing quite like it on the market. It quickly became an international cultural icon. Nearly forty years later, the Original Trilogy has spawned hundreds of follow up novels, video games, comic books, and every other kind of consumer product imaginable. The success that the Star Wars franchise has enjoyed is staggering. Largely, I think that the success of the entire franchise can be traced back to how awesome A New Hope is from a storytelling perspective.


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