It’s been over 17 years since 1999’s The Phantom Menace was released in theaters, and over 11 years since the Star Wars prequels wrapped up with 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, and by now we all have our own very, very strong opinions on how successful the trilogy was or wasn’t. Some see them as the ultimate disappointment, films that failed to capture the magic of the original movies, while others appreciate them all on their own, different and unique from its predecessors.
But what if somehow we were all wrong, not about if they are good or not, but that they were far more interconnected with the original trilogy than we ever thought; an accomplishment in storytelling never before seen in cinema? How would all of our perceptions–good, bad, indifferent–change if it turned out that the prequels were a massive and unprecedented attempt to use an old technique to create a complex tale on a scale never before attempted? Because that’s exactly what the Star Wars Ring Theory suggests.
The Star Wars Ring Theory isn’t new: it’s been around for a couple of years, but it’s been on our minds since seeing Rogue One, the first real connection between the prequels and the original trilogy (though a small handful of us are still in the Snoke = Darth Plagueis Club). For two years Mike Klimo put together his massive and fascinating essay arguing that George Lucas was connecting all six films into something far more complex than we might have thought, by using an old technique found in ancient stories called ring composition.
“The story is organized into a sequence of elements that progress from a beginning to a well-marked midpoint. Then, the ring turns and the first sequence of elements is repeated in reverse order until the story returns to the starting point.”
So what does that mean? Think of it like this, instead of lining up the original sequels with their installment equivalent in the prequels, which would seem obvious (in this case that would mean that Menace = Hope, Clones = Empire, Sith = Jedi), they actually line up in a mirrored form (so Menace = Jedi, Clones = Empire, and Sith = Hope).
Confusing? Another way to think of it is like a poem with matching stanzas, in this case they don’t go “ABC ABC,” they go “ABC CBA.”
The Star Wars Ring Theory says that we shouldn’t be viewing these six movies as a straight linear tale, or even as parallel sagas about Anakin and Luke (though those elements are surely there too), but rather as a circle, which ends right where it starts. When we watch The Phantom Menace we should be thinking about how it relates to Return of the Jedi; the same with The Empire Strikes Back and Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
Your first instinct might be to say, “So what? Even if that’s right it doesn’t change how I feel about the movies.” But Klimo explains why it’s still worth considering.
“The scheme is so carefully worked out by Lucas, so intricately organized, that it unifies the films with a common universal structure (or what film scholar David Bordwell might call a “new formal strategy”), creating a sense of overall balance and symmetry.
At the same time, Lucas’s use of this ancient form revises our readings of the films and the saga as a whole, and opens up new ways of thinking about Star Wars. It also allows us to gain a much greater understanding and appreciation for the films, and gives us a deeper sense of the magnitude of Lucas’s accomplishment.”
His breakdown showing the use of ring composition, with countless specific examples from the paired films, is extensive, and worth any Star Wars fan’s time, especially because any chance to see the prequels, and yes, even the original trilogy, in a new light is a chance to appreciate them even more. It’s doubtful anyone will think less of the movies as a result of this theory, but it might just enhance how you feel about them.
At the very least it will offer a chance to watch the prequels in a different fashion, where instead of focusing on what you dislike about them you might be able to try and appreciate the attempt to do something massive and grand with them, even if it wasn’t clear at first.
It’s been a long time since we met little Anakin Skywalker. It would be nice to know it really was worth it, even if it took a long time to figure out why.
But what do you think? Does this theory have merit? Or is it just an attempt to make the prequels seem better and more important than they really are? Does it even matter? There’s a lot to discuss here, so do it with us in the comments below.