TRILOGY BUILDING Part III: The Star Wars and Halo Sagas

You will will be.

The trilogy (of articles) is complete!

Here’s the third part of our analysis of the story structure behind great Science Fiction and Fantasy sagas, using the original Star Wars Trilogy and the Halo Trilogy as focus points. I’d like to thank James Robert Martin for his fantastic work on these essays, and I invite you to revisit Part I and Part II and to post a comment below.


by James Robert Martin

With this final article in the trilogy story mapping series, we come to the heart of any great epic – the storyline. But with any trilogy, there is something more than just a mere story running through the heart of it all. There is something which raises the level of structure from mere narrative to the creation of a legacy encompassing not only the current story, but indicative of a rich history and of a future rife with potential new adventures.

With any saga, we typically begin with a Universe in Peril. Generally, this peril is in the form of a menace lurking at the fringes of our story as the opening scenes play out, but which becomes ever more apparent as the story progresses. As with any universe in distress, there is a demand for someone, anyone, to fight against this threat. Enter the Unlikely Hero. This hero accepts the responsibility (generally from an authority figure, or Elder) for embarking on a Perilous Quest.

Saga Act 1: “A Universe in Danger sends out a Call to an Unlikely Hero who accepts the Charge of an Elder and sets off on a Perilous Quest.”

Let’s examine these pieces with regard to our first subject saga, the original Star Wars Trilogy, and then we will revisit these steps with Halo later on in the article. In Star Wars, we start out with a small Consular Ship being fired on by a gigantic Star Destroyer, which is emblematic of the people of the Star Wars universe being oppressed by the evil Galactic Empire. Such is the Universe in Peril in the Star Wars saga. A Rebellion has erupted, demanding the overthrow of the dictatorial empire, but they need someone to spearhead their efforts. And so we come to a diminutive young boy on a backwater world seemingly untouched by the Empire, but also unaffected by any kind of prosperity save for that of gamblers and thieves. Luke’s desire to rise above the desolate future that awaits him on Tatooine leads directly to his discovery of his true destiny, and his joining the Rebellion to fight their oppressors. His shepherd on this early stage of his journey is Obi-Wan Kenobi, the “Elder” who charges Luke with his Perilous Quest. Luke’s quest: the task of becoming a Jedi like his father, and in the process, fighting against the corruption and brutality of the seemingly-invincible Empire. Luke’s first stage in his journey leads to an initial victory against Darth Vader and the Empire, destroying the first Death Star. But this is only the beginning of his quest, as we all know.


Star Wars Trilogy Step 1: “Luke Skywalker follows Obi-Wan Kenobi into a larger universe and scores a victory against the evil Empire and Darth Vader.”

Star Wars Trilogy: Act 1 Diagram

As we enter Act 2A of our Saga, our story continues to expand as we meet new Characters and Allies, and travel to new Realms. This generally takes place to broaden the horizons of, and further develop the Quest undertaken by, our Unlikely Hero and his allies. These locations play host to a number of new Skirmishes with the enemy, as well as some very interesting Tests of Loyalty for our characters, both new and old. A major piece of our mid-point is The Betrayal, which affects the course of the rest of the saga.

Saga Act 2a: “The Journey finds New Characters and Allies, Fantastic Realms, First Skirmishes and Tests of Loyalty as the quest is given a New Urgency.”

For the Star Wars saga, we have a staggering number of new characters and allies (as well as some new villains.) We meet Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett (and a number of other Bounty Hunters), a variety of Imperial Officers, and let’s not forget The Emperor and Yoda. This stage of our saga opens on the ice world of Hoth, and travels to completely new locales from there – Dagobah and Cloud City at Yavin. Visiting these locations provides several opportunities in the development of the Star Wars saga; in the case of Hoth, we are reminded of what led to this point in our story, and we are brought up-to-speed with the characters we’ve come to know. The first major skirmish of this stage of the saga takes place here, as the new rebel base comes under siege by the Empire, Luke battles the Wampa as his Jedi skills continue to develop, and Vader narrowly misses out on his other goal not just to discover the new Rebel Base, but also to find those who handed him defeat at the Death Star – namely, the one in whom he so strongly detected the Force.

On Dagobah, Luke continues his Journey toward becoming a Jedi in meeting Yoda, so he can fulfill his destiny of saving the galaxy from the Empire. It also marks the location for Luke’s major decision point in this stage of our epic, which we’ll discuss later. Finally, Yavin is the location for a number of major story points, not the least of which is the “Betrayal.” The Betrayal point for the Star Wars saga takes place when Lando hands his friends over to Darth Vader – one of the many Tests of Loyalty faced by our characters. Lando’s loyalty is tested by the Empire, pressuring him into handing over his friends or to lose his gas mining operation in Cloud City. Luke’s loyalty is tested when Obi-Wan’s image tells him to go to Dagobah, and he made the choice between following his mentor’s instructions (thereby continuing to follow his destiny) or meeting up with the Rebel Fleet at the rendezvous point. Han and Leia’s loyalty is tested when they resist torture at the hands of Darth Vader. It could also be said that Luke’s loyalty is tested again when he must face the decision later on to return to help his friends, or to stay and finish his training.

Luke's failure in the cave

Star Wars Trilogy Step 2a: “Luke trains as a Jedi with Yoda while his friends are captured seeking assistance from an old friend.”

Star Wars Trilogy: Act 2a Diagram

We have reached a key turning point in our saga, now. Our heroes face a Great Trial, one in which they often find themselves considering the nature of their quest or the likelihood of it succeeding. New Opportunities present themselves to our characters, even in the face of Escalating Conflicts which ultimately lead to a Spiral to Rock Bottom – the point at which all hope seems lost, or at least, success seems impossible. This is followed up by a Crucial Decision – the most important decision of the saga, this is when our Hero buckles down and plows forward in the face of insurmountable odds.

Saga Act 2b: “A Great Trial generates New Opportunities, Escalating Conflicts and a Spiral to Rock Bottom, forcing a Crucial Decision.”

In the Star Wars saga, Luke’s Great Trial is when he has a vision of his friends in trouble and must decide whether to follow his heart and go help them, or to follow Yoda’s wishes and stay to complete his training. He is faced with the choice of immediately helping his friends, no matter the cost, but satisfying his duty to his friends, or staying to honor his commitment to his Jedi training, which may be of greater importance to the Galaxy, but which will likely be of little help to his friends. As the battle on Cloud City heats up, our heroes are in danger of losing Han to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and ultimately to Jabba the Hutt. Lando leads an offensive to try to rescue his friend as Luke returns to Cloud City and seizes the opportunity to attack Darth Vader, even though he is not finished with his training.

Rock Bottom rushes up to meet Luke as he learns not only how woefully undertrained he is to face a Sith Lord such as Darth Vader, but also as he loses his hand, and learns of a terrible truth he would much rather not face. His Crucial Decision comes after his rescue by his friends; Luke has the option of giving up, but the support of his friends, the peril faced by Han, the Galaxy’s need for a savior, and the inner desire to learn more about his father and realize his potential as a Jedi all push Luke to forge ahead into the uncertain future.

Star Wars Trilogy Step 2b: “Luke abandons his training to save his friends and confront Vader, whom he learns is his father.”

Star Wars Trilogy: Act 2b Diagram

As we near the end of our saga, we know our final battle, the culmination of all of the action so far, is about to happen. However, we still don’t know exactly how it will turn out. In the final stage of a Trilogy or Saga, we first experience a Rallying of the Allies, a literal rallying of the troops in which all interested parties make their presence known and actively dive into the events of the final stage. This rally leads directly to our Final Battle, a culmination of hostilities between the opposing forces of Good and Evil.

During this final massive battle is typically a Revelation, either of something unknown to our hero, to our enemies, or to all sides involved. This Revelation serves as a device to Turn the Tide of battle, either because of the surprise factor, or because it swings the power in one direction or another. Following the Turning of the Tide, comes Ultimate Victory. Our Unlikely Hero achieves the Goal for which he/she has been working since embarking on his or her journey in the first leg of our saga.

Saga Act 3: “The Rally of the Allies leads to Final Battle, a Revelation, the Turning of the Tide, and Ultimate Victory.”

Part 3 of the Star Wars saga begins with a massive Rallying of the Allies, as Luke masterminds a rescue of Han involving Leia, Lando, Chewie, and even the Droids teaming up toward this common purpose. Rallying together to rescue Han naturally drives the action forward as the old gang is back together and ready to continue to fight for their goal. In between our heroes and this goal stands the Final Battle which begins on a number of different fronts: Luke’s final battle begins when he learns from a dying Yoda a fact that the viewer and even Luke has already begun to suspect – that Vader truly is his father, and that he will only fulfill his destiny when he confronts his father once and for all. The Final Battle continues on Endor as the Rebellion battles the Empire under the watchful eye of a new Death Star, while Luke hands himself over to Vader for the final confrontation.

There are a number of Revelations which take place in the Star Wars saga – the first true revelation is the confirmation of Vader’s identity. As the third leg of our saga continues, we have the revelation to Luke that Vader and the Emperor intend to turn him, Luke’s inadvertent revelation of his sister (and Leia’s subsequent revelation of this information to Han), the Emperor revealing that the under-construction Death Star is in fact fully-operational, and finally, the ultimate revelation that Luke’s “father” truly wasn’t dead at all; Anakin still existed at the heart of Vader and reemerged to help save his son in the end, so son ended up turning father back to the light, instead of vice-versa. This revelation is nicely highlighted on-screen by the removal of Vader’s mask – both a physical and spiritual revelation: Anakin lives, if only for a bit longer.

The Turning of the Tide occurs when Luke once and for all refuses to succumb to the Dark Side. As Luke’s anger grows, and the closer he gets to destroying Vader out of hate and anger, the more the tide of battle seems to break against our heroes. As Luke finally turns from the Dark Side, even though the Emperor reveals the full might of the seemingly incomplete battle station, our Heroes still rally to their “Ultimate Victory” – defeating the Imperial Forces, ultimately destroying the Death Star itself and putting an end to the Imperial oppression once and for all.

Star Wars Trilogy Step 3: “The Rebel Alliance defeats the Empire once and for all while Luke confronts and defeats Darth Vader and manages to turn him back to Anakin Skywalker as Anakin destroys the Emperor, fulfilling the prophecy that he would bring balance to the force.”

Star Wars Trilogy: Act 3 Diagram

Let us now reexamine these steps in a completely different medium, that of video games, as we revisit the story told in THE HALO TRILOGY…

Saga Act 1: “A Universe in Danger sends out a Call to an Unlikely Hero who accepts the Charge of an Elder and sets off on a Perilous Quest.”

In Halo, the existence of the entire human race is threatened by the potential for a hostile alien race learning of Earth’s existence. To prevent the discovery of Earth, our initial Elder, Captain Keyes, initiates the Cole Protocol (designed to protect the existence of Earth) and also orders a recently-thawed Master Chief to the surface of the ring to continue the fight. Now, it may be easy on the surface of things to ask, “What makes Chief an ‘Unlikely Hero?’” Look at it this way. Chief is a genetically-engineered super soldier with a built-in organic computer. But that’s not all. He’s only one in a line of many super soldiers (or Spartans) who have been engineered for his purpose. So, the unlikelihood of our hero lies strictly in the nature of this one-time man compared to the “average” human being, as well as in the fact that he is essentially taking on an entire alien force by himself. What are the odds that out of all the Spartans created, this SINGLE one has a chance of stopping an entire alien force? Not high, but such is the nature of the Unlikely Hero. The first leg of his Perilous Quest comes to an end with the destruction of the first Halo device, but it is tempered by the knowledge that the rest of the Covenant is still out there, and so is the threat of a newly-discovered parasitic life-form, The Flood.

Halo Trilogy Step 1: “Master Chief, a genetically-engineered super-soldier, joins Captain Keyes and Earth forces to strike a blow against the malicious Covenant and Flood.”

Halo Trilogy: Act 1 Diagram

Saga Act 2a: “The Journey finds New Characters and Allies, Fantastic Realms, First Skirmishes and Tests of Loyalty as the quest is given a New Urgency.”

For Halo, we are introduced to the Covenant Hierarchy, including a variety of Prophets (the high religious figures of this alien race) and specific warriors in the Elite and Brute ranks, like the soon-to-be Arbiter and Tartarus. We also meet Gravemind, a mysterious, potentially neutral character out for his own good, and whose involvement pushes the saga in a completely new direction. Our locations span to a new Halo ring installation, the Covenant’s mobile capital city known as High Charity, and while it is certainly not new to the reader, the Halo saga visits a new location – that of a war-torn Earth where the Covenant is already making a stand.

Loyalties are put to the test in very unique ways in the Halo saga. Our first test of loyalty comes with the introduction of a new character, who would become The Arbiter. He is accused of being a heretic for allowing the first Halo to be destroyed, but he is offered the opportunity to save face by serving the Covenant in hunting down other heretics. He can choose to refuse and be executed, or agree, thus serving the Covenant, but almost surely committing himself to death in the process. In choosing to remain loyal to the Covenant, he ends up aiding the development of the Halo saga in ways unforeseen at this point in the story. Later on, however, loyalties are again tested as Chief and The Arbiter are rescued by the mysterious Gravemind and asked to work together to prevent the activation of the Halo, thus helping to save Gravemind as well. Do they remain loyal to their separate races and refuse to help the hive mind of the Flood, or do they agree to work together to prevent the activation of the Halo in order to save all life in the Galaxy?

A number of conflicts (Skirmishes) are taking place at this stage of the saga, and continue throughout the central episode – Thel ‘Vadam (the Arbiter) is being tried for Heresy, the Covenant Fleet attacks Earth and battles with Earth’s Navy, Keyes and Johnson fight their way through enemies to find the Index in hopes of preventing the activation of the installation, Master Chief tracks down the Prophet of Regret and battles him, the Fleet mounts a widespread attack of the Halo installation which throws Chief into the path of Gravemind, while at the same time Tartarus captures Keyes and Johnson before they can get to the Index, and then casts the Arbiter into the depths also to be found by Gravemind.

There is a two-stage betrayal at this point of the saga. Interestingly, Betrayal can take the form of either side being turned on by one of their own. More commonly we see a hero stabbed in the back by a supposed ally, however, in the Halo saga, the Arbiter is first betrayed by Tartarus. When ‘Vadam agrees to cast off his identity and become the Arbiter he is doing it to redeem himself in the eyes of his faith, however, Tartarus still views him as weak and a traitor to his kind, leading to this ultimate betrayal. Unwittingly, this betrayal by Tartarus leads to the Arbiter teaming up with Master Chief for the rest of the saga. The larger betrayal occurs when Gravemind, having enlisted the help of both Chief and Arbiter, spreads the parasitic Flood onto the recently crashed human ship In Amber Clad. Gravemind was merely providing a distraction for our two newfound allies while he gave the Flood time to spread itself to the human Naval vessel.

Halo Trilogy Step 2a: “Chief battles the Covenant hierarchy and finds a new ally in Arbiter, who was betrayed by one of his own kind.”

Halo Trilogy: Act 2a Diagram

Saga Act 2b: “A Great Trial generates New Opportunities, Escalating Conflicts and a Spiral to Rock Bottom, forcing a Crucial Decision.”

With the Halo saga, the Great Trial is multifaceted – as a massive battle rages, Master Chief faces off against the first of the prophets (Regret) after which he is cast into a crevasse by an orbital bombardment. The Arbiter is also cast down, by a vengeful Tartarus, leading to the truly big challenge, Master Chief deciding to work with his perceived enemy, The Arbiter, to aid a neutral-at-best character named Gravemind. The decision to work together opens up entirely new Opportunities that would not exist without this newfound spirit of cooperation. Master Chief is sent to High Charity to attempt to quell the Covenant Uprising, while the Arbiter works with Johnson and Keyes to track down the Index. As a result, the ongoing conflicts become more immediate, and more intense. Arbiter confronts Tartarus about the betrayal of the Prophets (that the Great Journey would really destroy all life) which enrages Tartarus and results in a battle. Chief’s battle on High Charity results in the Flood spreading to the installation during the crash of High Charity. Things are spiraling out of control FAST, and they quickly hit Rock Bottom all at once – the activation of the Halo, along with the continuing spread of the Flood, the realization that the Haloes won’t shut down and can still be activated en masse, and Cortana voluntarily staying behind on High Charity to sacrifice herself and destroy the city if needed. The decision made seems to be the only thinkable decision – for Chief to return to Earth and protect it from the Covenant, and for the band of heroes to attempt to prevent the activation of the Haloes from the Ark.

Halo Trilogy Step 2b: “Chief allies with Arbiter to stop the spread of the Flood and combat the Covenant, which may be closer than ever before to wiping out the galaxy using the Halo.”

Halo Trilogy: Act 2b Diagram

Saga Act 3: “The Rally of the Allies leads to Final Battle, a Revelation, the Turning of the Tide, and Ultimate Victory.”

In the Halo saga, the beginning of the third stage begins with Chief crash landing in Africa after arriving at Earth in the end of Halo 2. He is promptly joined by Johnson and The Arbiter (now a full ally) who mount an assault against the Covenant with a number of other troopers. The Final Battle has now begun. Our heroes continue to assemble (Keyes, Admiral Hood, and even 343 Guilty Spark) as the cornered Prophet of Truth manages to succeed in activating a mysterious artifact, which opens a portal to The Ark, the very installation the Covenant seeks to activate in order to fire all of the remaining rings. Our allies follow, and the battle intensifies as the Flood crashes High Charity into the Ark to continue spreading the parasitic life. Allies are captured and even killed as they battle to fulfill their goal of protecting the universe. To finally defeat the Prophet of Truth, Gravemind once again manipulates our heroes into showing him leniency by offering to help them defeat the Prophet. With the Flood’s help, they overpower Truth’s guards and rescue Johnson, ultimately killing Truth and preventing the activation of the Ark.

The battle is not yet over, however, as the major Revelation has yet to come. The Ark is not only an installation which controls all Haloes, it is also a manufacturer – the Ark is currently building a new identical Halo to replace the one our heroes destroyed in the first Act of the Saga! To address this, Chief realizes the time is right to rescue Cortana from Gravemind. Master Chief takes the battle to High Charity, to reclaim Cortana, which he successfully does, as her assistance is needed to destroy the new Halo. As the Revelation of the New Halo is made, a neutral character once again becomes an enemy – 343 Guilty Spark, built by the Forerunners as protectors of the Halo Installations, takes on the role of protector for the NEW Halo being built, since his Halo was destroyed. He defends it violently, and our heroes Chief and Arbiter have no choice but to destroy 343 Guilty Spark. After their battle, Cortana successfully uses the Index from the original Halo to activate the copy, effectively destroying the incomplete superweapon, and slamming shut the portal to Earth. Ultimate Victory is claimed in achieving their primary goal, but our heroes are believed lost and subsequently mourned on Earth. I smell another trilogy!

Halo Trilogy Step 3: “Our heroes rally around Chief to defeat the Covenant Hierarchy, while Chief and Cortana defeat 343 Guilty Spark, wipe out the Halo-constructing Ark, and seemingly sacrifice themselves to save the galaxy.”

Halo Trilogy: Act 3 Diagram

To see the FULL over-under comparison charts showing both sagas together, click the following links!

Star Wars and Halo Act 1 Diagram

Star Wars and Halo Act 2a Diagram

Star Wars and Halo Act 2b Diagram

Star Wars and Halo Act 3 Diagram

Whether telling the story of a simple farmboy taking his place among the ranks of history’s elite Force users, an unlikely hero venturing into enemy lands to destroy the weapon the main villain actively seeks, or a supersoldier going above and beyond the call of duty to save not only humanity, but all life in the universe, our saga steps are a foolproof way to structure a dynamic and moving epic story which entertains, inspires, and excites. Thank you for spending this time with us as we explore the nature of trilogies in comparing two of our favorite sagas. Stay tuned for more from Dan and me on Trilogy Structure, and whether you’re working on a one-act play, a television pilot, a spec script, or even your very own epic saga, whatever you do, KEEP WRITING!

James Robert Martin

Special Offer on Story Maps E-Books“Dan has created a book that is straightforward and full of valuable insight and guidance for screenwriters at different experience levels.”
-Laurie Lamson, Editor, Now Write! Screenwriting

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