UCL’s Star Wars Class #2: Star Wars Storytelling

This is the second set of notes of the UCL Star Wars class 2015. Last week we discussed how the reception of the Star Wars saga is deeply affected by the generational differences between the target demographics of both trilogies, Generation X and the Millennials. This week we want to take on the narrative structure of the Saga and unearth the traces of ABC-ABC rhyming in the visuals and in the ‘Hero’s Journey’ viewpoint on the saga. But more importantly, how that ABC-ABC rhyme reveals the clues of a far more profound ABC-CBA rhyme that leads to Mike Klimo’s ‘Ring Theory’.

Star Wars Story-telling

Story-telling is what we do all day, every day at any time and everywhere. So Star Wars does not do anything else but what we all do any way. What sets books, pictures, films and other media apart from the stories we tell each other during our every day business is partly the nature of the stories being told and partly the form in which we tell them. Many daily-life stories are transported via verbal and non-verbal communication and communicated sometimes almost casually without much thought going into presentation. With media products, classes in school/university and performances this is of course different.
One way in which the Star Wars films try to tell their story is by the visual elements. Another method, as we will see today, is via an intricate structure that connects the different parts of the six film saga. There are those who hold the view that one reason for the strong emotional appeal of the Star Wars Saga on many of the fans is exactly this structure. Not because viewers would consciously consume it, but because it works on a deeper level of perception. But let’s first turn to the pictures.

Visual story-telling

The iconic example

SWOpeningThe opening shot from Episode IV makes one thing clear right from the start: the underdogs are in the little ship and the humongous one is an agent of evil in pursuit. Yes at the same time is also throws us into a bit of a confusion as the pursuers are not painted in dark or red colours, nor does their ship look particularly evil. In fact the Star Destroyer’s iconic characteristic is that they project an aesthetic of no-nonsense efficiency. The Imperial design is not there to say ‘look how awful and bad I am’ but its message is the far more terrifying ‘we are swift, cool and efficient in our delivery of fear’.
The visual image also makes another thing abundantly clear: namely that this is a place of many planets and worlds. The second planet in the background is unrealistically close so as to be just another planet in the same solar system. But Star Wars always depicts solar systems like this because the narrative is that this is a galaxy of many worlds.

An example from AOTC

tumblr_m8l2npT0ua1qzwk3bo6_250Padme’s dress from the fireplace scene in Attack of the Clones. She an Anakin have a very uncomfortable conversation about the impossibility of love and the constraints placed upon their lives by their previous choices. Padme’s dress reflects all these facets. Not just her body is visible strapped together, the costume also make her arms feel restrained to the viewer. Finally the ‘choker’ resembles a black gloves hand grabbing her throat. Everything in the picture speaks of great restriction, tightness, pressure, stress in dark colours that contrast with the warm glow of the log-fire which, in effect, takes on a foreboding and dangerous aspect as well.

Images talking to each other across films

On the left of the image below we see at the top Darth Vader in Episode IV, hermetically sealed away in his suit and a meeting of imperial officers discussing the insignificance of the power of the Death Star. Vader is defiant yet seems an artificial being in an utterly artificial world that has shut out any colour but pragmatic blue and business grey. An environment isolated within the vacuum of space, disconnected from any other reality than that of Imperial burocrats who (as is announced in this scene) can now govern regionally without Senate interference. Vader is the ‘outcast’ one ‘with a sad devotion to an ancient religion’ i.e. to old for this new order. Of course his rebuke has become a household phrase: “I find your lack of faith … disturbing”. On the left-bottom is young Anakin Skywalker at sunset. Anakin’s slavery years are coming to a definite end at this point in The Phantom Menace. But he is still branded an outcast by the Jedi Council which is no less narrow that the Imperial Officers in IV and no less certain of it’s invulnerability. He is tested but considered ‘to old’ to begin training. He is the only child in the room, he is as alone as Vader in the picture above. Though this setting is in the middle of a busy metropolis (Coruscant) its aloofness is illustrated by the wide view surrounding the Council.

SWPoetry5On the right we also see two panels. he top one depicts Luke Skywalker in Episode IV, after sunrise racing towards his homestead after he discovered Imperial Storm troopers raided and killed the Jawa’s in search for R2 and 3PO. And unknowingly on his way to a complete change in the course of his life. At the bottom right we see Anakin from Episode II speeding towards the left in search of his mother now that he has heard she was kidnapped and is probably dead. Where for Luke this tragedy is the beginning of something new, illustrated by the bright daylight, for Anakin this is the end of something. After these two events Luke entrusts himself to Obi Wan’s teachings while Anakin distances himself from that same Obi Wan.
What these last pictures seems to suggest is that there are connections between the films, the images used in the films and the narratives that run deeper that this just being a sequence of stories that chronologically follow one another.

Light sabres and Light-sabre duels

As another example of how visuals are used to tell the story it is interesting to contemplate two very iconic star wars ingredients: Light sabres and the duels that are fought with them in the films.

BoF gifJust think about lightsabres for a moment, not about their technical (im)possibility but about their visual meaning. The wielders of lightsabres are using light as a weapon. But also, somehow they control this most volatile of all ‘elements’ … light! Lightsabres are visual descriptions of who and what their bearers are. A lightsabre is on the one hand the Jedi’s most personalised item. Finding the little kyber crystal that gives a lightsabre its power is a personal journey for the Jedi learner. The crystal fits the bearer. While at the same time, once constructed the sabre can be wielded by anyone (with more or less proficiency of course). There is nothing that prevents Han Solo from using Luke’s lightsabre in Episode V, there is nothing that prevents Luke from using Anakin’s lightsabre in Episode V. The lightsabre is a deeply persona artefact, built with the personality and character of the one who constructs it, but it is also just a tool to be used and abused by others. Though Sith lightsabres all come in the same red colour, they nevertheless are also personalized. Who would mistake the curved-hilt lightsabre of Darth Tyranus, i.e. Count Dooku, for the double-bladed of Darth Maul. As for the Sith, the lightsabre itself is a metaphor for what the Jedi are and are becoming. Dooku is the one who bent himself and his ways as he silently fell to the darkside while in Maul’s case the double-blade choreography just fits exactly with his raw and almost uncontrollable energy. Lightsabres are indicators of personality and of dedication to a cause, the Jedi cause in most of the on-screen examples we see. No wonder Anakin Skywalker keeps losing his lightsabre. No wonder that particular sabre even escapes Luke.

When lightsabre battles occur in Star Wars they are not just melee combat between protagonists and antagonists. Lightsabre battles are almost always about relationships, about shifting destinies because of those relationships. Anakin battles Obi Wan, but never Sidious. Yoda battles Sidious but there the lightsabre skill is not decisive, even the Force skills are not decisive. The battle between Yoda and Sidious is not about a relationship between the two. Just like the fight between Obi Wan and Grievous is not … hence that too ends in a different way. What renders Yoda helpless against Sidious are the parts and ruins of the Senate that are falling down on him. Yoda is helpless against the fall of Democracy, or Freedom. Grievous, this montrous construct of a dehumanized technology is, in Obi Wan’s words, brought down by an equally uncivilized blaster hitting him in the heart. Technology taking the last bit of ‘humanity’ left in Grievous. In Yoda’s fight with Dooku in Episode II there is a relationship aspect as we are dealing with former Master and Apprentice. The battle of the blades signifies the breaking of a relationship though it had already become a distant one. Of course the fiercest such battles in the Prequel Trilogy is the one between Obi Wan and Anakin. At the same time hardly any other fight establishes that point as clearly as the battle of the heroes. This is the shattering of Ani and Obi’s connection, it is the definitive descent of Anakin into darkness and it is the final moment where Obi Wan starts getting lost in his ‘lies that are true from a certain point of view’. The following fanvideo elaborates on that point how the battle visually narrates the break down of Obi Wan and Anakin’s bond.

When Anakin and Obi Wan battle it out, their Force powers match, their lightsabre skills match but Anakin’s arrogance is his undoing. As he slowly loses his personality, his lightsabre passes on to Obi Wan and eventually to Luke. For Obi Wan the world ends right there on Mustafar, and is never restored to its former form. Obi Wan’s exile begins where he abandons Anakin having neither the strength to save him from suffering and probable death, nor the strength to save the galaxy from Darth Vader by striking that last blow. This fight is as much Anakin’s defeat as it is Obi Wan’s. The battle of heroes has only losers, no winners.

When Luke battles Darth Vader in Episode V, he does so with the most personal of Anakin’s former possessions. In a direct sense Anakin not only faces his heir, his blood but also all that he could have been. Only in Return of the Jedi does Luke battle Vader with Luke’s own personality, after he has recovered himself and constructed his own sabre. Yet at the end, he throws this weapon away. That is a remarkable act for a Jedi beause of the deep personal connection to the weapon. That is more than just a small symbolic action. It is a sacrifice of himself analogously to how he threw himself away at the end of Episode V.

Star Wars Rhyming patterns
What we saw earlier is that some images and some themes seem to be interlinked between the 6 films. In this section I want to spend some time on establishing the visual and narrative rhyming patterns that are most easily detected: The ABC-ABC rhyme. After that we will briefly turn to a much more involved narrative structure that reveals itself superficially in a ABC-CBA rhyme but goes much deeper than that.

[1] The basic pattern in the 6 films

  • A: The Phantom Menace
  • B: Attack of the Clones
  • C: Revenge of the Sith
  • A: A New Hope
  • B: The Empire Strikes Back
  • C: Return of the Jedi

So let us look at these paired films separately! I am first just going to look at how this rhyming happens narratively before I draw any conclusions from it.

The Phantom Menace / A New Hope


Note that there is a definite article in the first title and an indefinite in the second but both are ‘announcing’ some arrival. But ‘hope’ is always a response to something that came before whereas a ‘menace’ is something coming forward potentially without a ‘before’. The following table lists a number of remarkable narrative similarities, though this list is by far not exhaustive.

TPM_1It is evident that there is a very similar structure at work here! In particular the fact that the two characters that narrate the opening sequence, the two Jedi in TPM and the two droids in ANH is a clear sign that at the start of these two trilogies were are getting different perspectives on what may turn out to be a very familiar story. Note that the final Episodes of both Trilogies also have opening sequences narrated again by two Jedi in the prequels and two droids in the Originals. This is evidently not a coincidence!

But there is something else. In A New Hope it is completely evident that Grand Mof Tarkin is, for all intents and purposes, the number two in the Empire after the unseen and undisclosed Emperor who has just disbanded the imperial senate. At the end of A New Hope this number 2 in command dies in the destruction of the Death Star while the number 3 in command, and Sith Apprentice, Darth Vader survives. Yet in The Phantom Menace a subtly twisted version of this occurs. Darth Maul, the Sith Apprentice, who clearly is the number two (as the Trade Federation idiots even confirm explicitly) also dies in a battle gone awry. So Maul’s death mirrors Tarkin’s death and in both cases they were subordinate only to the number 1 Sith and yet … it seems like there is an inconsistency in the fact that Maul has no clear and present successor and Tarkin was not a Sith Apprentice. We will see such things occurring again!  So let’s turn to the next pairing!

Attack of the Clones / The Empire Strikes Back


Note that there is a ‘forward motion’ in the first title and a retaliatory motion in the second. These two titles again confirm that the Prequel Trilogy is the one moving forward, the one where initiative lies whereas the Original Trilogy is the response, the return or the recovery. In these two films you also find a lot of similarities in the narrative.

TPM_2There is a very subtle game played in these narratives with the split of the trilogy triplet (3-2+1 or 3=1+2) and the number of ‘chasers’. Now you might argue that it is Django Fett who is chasing Obi Wan and not Boba. But Boba has an extremely active part in Attack of the Clones and Lucas shows us his reactions to the ongoing pursuit more than he shows us Django’s reactions. What’s more, Anakin and Boba share an interesting ‘reversed parental deficiency’ in the sense that where Anakin is miraculously born without a father, Boba is ‘miraculously born without a mother. Compare that the Vader’s chase of Han and Leia. Here you might argue that Boba chases Han and Leia as well, however in a way he doesn’t actively do so but rather is just an instrument of Vader’s chase. The Attack of the Clones chase through the asteroid field near Geonosis occurs after a role reversal because initially it is Obi Wan who was chasing Boba and Django. But remember that before in Empire Strikes Back Vader chases Han and Leia, Han had been coming up behind Vader in the finale of A New Hope. This ‘delayed synchronicity’ of the chase reversal may seem to be just a result of a forced interpretation, but I will come back to similar delayed synchronicity later on!

Revenge of the Sith / Return of the Jedi


Again we find a forward motion in the first title and a responsive motion in the second. And of course there are plenty of narrative similarities.


When Return of the Jedi came into the cinema’s the Emperor was a new villain. Of course he had been referred to and seen in a holographic image in Empire Strikes Back but he had not appeared on the stage as an acting participant in the unfolding drama. In Revenge of the Sith we encountered General Grievous for the first time, at that moment Dooku’s death had just promoted Grievous to being second in command of the Separatist forces after Darth Sidious, the hidden number 1. So here is a strange ambiguity, In Return of the Jedi the ‘number one’ (Emperor Palpatine) comes to the forefront early in the film while in Revenge of the Sith the Emperor only comes to the forefront at the end of the film. Finally there is another stunning reversal in this pairing that almost seems like a ‘mistake’. The big space-battle in Revenge of the Sith is where the story starts, whereas the big space battle in Return of the Jedi is at the end of the film. Also, the trilogy triplet in the battle at the start of Revenge of the Sith is split up differently from how they are split up in Return of the Jedi in the final battle. A mistake?

Like in the case of the previous two pairings, there is a lot in these pairings that makes sense, but there are these few strange ‘inconsistencies’ that seem to point at something else. If we compare what happens in these two trilogies to the ‘Hero’s Journey’ that most people believe Star Wars is closely modeled after we will see these issues crop up again!

The Hero’s Journey
The first ‘deeper ‘level of interpretation of such narratives that is quite commonly discussed in the media as strongly associated with Star Wars is Joseph Campbell’s notion of the Hero’s Journey. George Lucas himself has alluded to this frequently in interviews and indeed the Original Trilogy seems to closely follow this structure that is found in many mythological stories. You can find the Hero’s Journey also in, for example, Aragorn’s narrative in the Lord of the Rings and in Harry Potter’s story-line. Many films that have been made after the Original Trilogy have been emulating this pattern rather overtly with Eragon an example of almost total substitution without any of the creativity and originality. It is quite likely that Generation X’ers who went to see the Phantom Menace in 1999 were expecting to see the repeat of the Hero’s Journey but now for Anakin Skywalker rather than for Luke. My summary of the Hero’s Journey would be like this;


Within this spirit the Star Wars Saga consists of two hero’s journeys, one in each trilogy, which almost unavoidably would generate and ABC-ABC scheme which we undoubtedly can find in the movies. Hence in this view the two trilogies could either be telling the same story, which they don’t, or they could be telling a story where the deeper interpretation of the story follows from making a comparison between the two journey’s. The rhyming that we found suggests that this is the case and so do many of George Lucas’ comments made in the press about how Anakin and Luke faced similar choices at similar points in their lives.

But there are two deeply unsatisfying aspects of viewing Star Wars this way. Anakin’s story is not really a hero’s journey between Episode’s I and III. Even if you would try to view it as an inverse-hero’s journey where at the end Anakin establishes himself as an ultimate villain (which is what fans were expecting of the Prequels) that does not happen either. Anakin’s storyline from episode I to episode III is one of utter downfall and at the end of it Darth Vader is a decimated, ruined and destroyed character. Episode III ends at the deepest and darkest moments. In fact Anakin’s journey is not even a Hero’s Journey between Episode’s I and VI. A Hero’s Journey does indeed have a mid-point that represents a moment of despair where the hero finds her/his true strength and makes a come back that leads to victory. But Anakin’s abyss is in many ways far too deep to ever come back. Anakin engages on-screen in the murder of children (Episode III), a genocide against his own religious Order (Episode III) and is directly complicit in the genocide against an entire planet (Episode IV). These are not the kind of ‘mistakes’ or ‘errors of judgement’ that a hero can lightly be apologized for.

It was exactly this expectation that was blown to bits in the very first few minutes of The Phantom Menace leading, amongst other things, to the negative backlash by the fans of an older generation. When viewed as a hero’s journey the Prequel Trilogy is a rather poorly constructed failure without any kind of redemption in Episode III. In fact, disappointed fans saying that they would have expected a film like Episode III to actually be Episode II make, possibly unknowingly, exactly the point that the Hero’s Journey finds its darkest hour in the middle, not at the end. When you view I through VI as Anakin’s hero’s journey then it still does not work properly because in Return of the Jedi Anakin does not emerge victoriously and as an established Hero on the side of Good. Rather he finds Death, largely unknown by the Galaxy for who he was, in the presence of no one but his son.
So maybe a pattern should look more like this?


Interestingly from this perspective we note something peculiar about the parallels between Luke and Anakin. The victory at the end of The Phantom Menace is actually not a victory at all. Listen to the voices of the children when they sing their victory song

But now listen to this

The resemblance is not coincidental of course when you realize what the story is behind this supposed victory in The Phantom Menace.

Remind yourself that in the days of the Republic the first in power was the Senate, second was the Chancellor and ‘third’ if you like were the senators. Queen Amidala may, with the help of the Gungans, have secured peace and freedom for her people for a little longer. But in the end this is the moment where Palpatine rises from 3rd in power to the 2nd position. We see that event happening before our eyes as we hear the celebratory music that is however, not merely in a foreboding way, just a variation on the Emperor’s Theme. That musical trick is describing exactly what is happening. The victory on Naboo is a fake victory and in reality is a battle lost! But you might ask: what about Luke’s victory at the end of A New Hope?

Those who grew up in the Original Trilogy era will have come to see that as the Hero’s Journey’s initial success that identifies the hero as the true hero, albeit still lacking in training and a little unrefined. But when viewed as a rhyme on The Phantom Menace suddenly something else comes to the forefront. It is the destruction of the Death Star by the Rebels that eliminates Grand Mof Tarkin from the scene. Throughout A New Hope it is evident that Tarkin only submits to one, The Emperor, whom we have not yet seen at that moment. It is explicitly confirmed in the scene where the abolition of the Imperial Senate is mentioned, Vader’s position is explicitly confirmed by Leia when she identifies Tarkin as ‘holding Vader’s leash’. As I noted earlier: the Darth Vader of Episode IV is the 3rd in command, Tarkin is the 2nd and the Emperor is the 1st . But at the start of Episode V there can be no doubt that now Vader is the 2nd in command. The victory of the Rebels at Yavin, with the destruction of the Death Star, is a similar deeply flawed victory as it comes along effectively with the promotion of Darth Vader. But just like we saw a ‘delayed synchronicity’ between the pursuit reversals of Han & Vader v.s. the pursuit reversals of Obi Wan and Jango & Boba Fett, now we here also see delayed synchronicity between the promotions of an evil character to higher status and the fake victories in The Phantom Menace relative to A New Hope.

Rings & Closure
Of the Anakin Skywalker narrative we know what happens; In the six-episode narrative Anakin comes full circle and retrieves his humanity towards the end of Return of the Jedi. Anakin is born from a mother without a father, he dies with a son yet without his daughter. He was born innocent, without greed and at peace yet powerless as a slave to free those who are enslaved. He dies guilty but returned to a state of selflessness and at peace but powerless to keep the ones he loves from dying. It is circular, yet with a twist. Reading this arc as a circular arc and realizing that as far as the ABC-ABC pattern is concerned Luke’s arc, at least at the beginning seems to follows Anakin’s arc.

How about the end of Luke’s arc? Wasn’t the end supposed to be Luke’s final establishment as the hero by achieving the heroic victory over all evil? Let’s just look at what happens … Luke begins his arc as a farm boy, fatherless and unarmed (i.e. powerless). In the final minutes of Return of the Jedi Luke unarms himself by throwing away his lightsabre and he needs to let go of his father who dies in his arms. At the end of Return of the Jedi Luke is in a deeply personal way back where he was: a fatherless and unarmed man. But of course the journey has changed him completely. Anakin too, was utterly changed by his journey and yet the same, which is why we see Anakin in his pre-Vader shape as a force ghost at the end of Episode VI. He too has returned!

[2] The ‘ring’ pattern in the 6 films

In a beautifully delicate way we find embedded in the ABC-ABC rhyme of the 6 episodes enough clues to point us into two directions:
• Luke & Anakin’s arcs are not mere ‘Hero’s Journey’s’;
• Both arcs have a sense of closure and return to an analogy of the starting point;
It is as if someone left a deliberate trace in the ABC-ABC rhyme that, in order to fully understand what this tale is about, we should be considering an ABC-CBA structure.

  • A: The Phantom Menace
  • B: Attack of the Clones
  • C: Revenge of the Sith
  • C: A New Hope
  • B: The Empire Strikes Back
  • A: Return of the Jedi

This pattern re-orders two pairs, so let us have a look at the narrative similarities in the new pairings.

The Phantom Menace / Return of the Jedi

Earlier I remarked that in the ABC-ABC pairing there is this nice duality of forward-motion v.s. ‘responsive motion’ in the Prequel Trilogy v.s. Original Trilogy titles. What remains of that when we look at this new scheme? Well, it is the Return of the two Jedi Luke Skywalker (‘Like my father before me’) and Anakin Skywalker that is the actual response to the rise of the Phantom Menace of the two Sith. It was never Luke’s emergence as a new hope that was the parallel to the emergence of the menace! But naratively there is also enough that fits!

One reason why this pairing works so well is because of the pairing that also exists between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. Now that we saw we can view Luke’s arc as circular as well this pairing evidently visually tells that story of circularity. You might spot that Leia falling into Palpatine’s entrapping is accompanied by Han whereas Padme Amidala seems to have no such ‘sidekick’. Well of course she does have one, it is Jar Jar Binks. And just like Han carelessly walks into Vader’s trap in Empire Strikes Back because he is relying on an untrustworthy friend, so is Jar Jar falling into Palpatine’s trap in Attack of the Clones when he enables his unreliable friend Palpatine to persuade him into taking courageous action in the Senate. Jar Jar plays that part there although he is evidently not like Han at all, except for one more thing. Where Han expresses great skepticism regarding the Force in A New Hope, so does Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace when he talks cynically about ‘Maxi big da Force’.

Revenge of the Sith / A New Hope

Here two the new pairing of titles makes perfect sense, because the new hope that emerges is indeed the answer to the revenge of the Sith that had taken place. It never was the return of the Jedi that ‘answered’ this, it was the new hope. These new pairing not only make sense from an overall story-telling point of view but they make for an important moral break-through. The ABC-ABC rhyme has a ‘ti-for-tat’ or an ‘eye for an eye’ message to it. In the ABC-ABC form it is

  • menace rises -> hope rises in response
  • Attack -> Strike back
  • Sith’s Revenge -> Jedi Return

Within the much more ‘circular’ ABC-CBA rhyme we now suddenly find the title pairs

  • menace rises -> Jedi Return
  • Clones -> Empire
  • Sith’s Revenge -> hope rises in response

in terms of a moral message, this is a very different outlook. For the second new pairing we now can uncover something even more amazing when we look at the narratives. As if to press home the point that here we are approaching the turning point of the overall ring, their narratives run in opposite directions.


It is stunning to see that the Death of the number two villains in both of these sequences creates the opportunity for the ascent of one and the same new villain, Darth Vader. I think it is quite deliberate and momentous that both films with their, in a sense, reverse narrative hinge on a clear act of genocide at their mid-points. It is almost as if we are lead to contemplate that A New Hope and Revenge of the Sith are not merely occurring in succession of one another but that they are in a way re-runs of one another. Anakin’s change from Anakin to Darth Vader reaches a state of irreversibility through Order 66 and the killing of the younglings, after which you simply can no longer see him as a basically good guy that happens to make a few bad choices in his life. After those events Anakin is destined to go down deeper and deeper into darkness, as he confirms in Return of the Jedi. But similarly Darth Vader’s path to redemption begins with yet another genocidal act that he is a part of, bring home the utter darkness he is in, but also with the sacrifice of the one who wounded him (Obi Wan). That must have been the first flicker of light in the hate that manifested itself in him back on Mustafar.

Many have commented that Obi Wan’s role in the Mustafar sequence is morally ambiguous. He leaves a suffering Anakin to die slowly, lonely and painfully and just walks away. By doing so he not just breaks the Jedi code but also forsakes his mission that Yoda sent him on to make sure Darth Vader does not survive. In the word fight before the sword fight he finally acknowledges Anakin’s Sith nature using the words: “only a Sith deals in absolutes”. Many moviegoers spotted how hypocritical that is being in itself a statement of absolutes. Obi Wan clings on to the old Jedi ways of the Republic when he faces Anakin on Mustafar and he cannot and will not let go. In the rerun of all of this Obi Wan allows Anakin to strike him down. When listening to the Obi Wan of Episodes V and VI I have always felt that Kenobi never fully realized which kind of a sacrifice he made right there … a sacrifice which possibly he should have made back on Mustafar if he wanted to pull Anakin back from the dark destiny ahead of him. Would Anakin on Mustafar have killed an Obi Wan willing to give his life … he didn’t kill Padme, I think he would have tried but quite possibly he wouldn’t have done it. But irrespective of that, in a sense Obi Wan’s sacrifice on the Death Star is his path to redemption for everything that went wrong on Mustafar. A sacrifice that Vader would face two more times, in Empire when he dueled his son the first time and on the second Death Star when again Luke threw himself at the mercy of a Sith.

Is this structure also reflected visually in the six-film sage? Let’s just have a look at one example: Compare the opening shots

You can find many more examples in Mike Klimo’s ring theory writings!

So what does this ABC-CBA structure of the narrative mean? And what is the interpretation of the fact that in the middle section ROTS-ANH we see an almost complete reversal of the narrative? According to Mike Klimo these choices reflect that George Lucas was, consciously, using a narrative device called a ‘ring composition’. A ring composition, as described in the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, contains the following elements.
Ring Composition

  1. Exposition or Prologue
  2. Split into two halves
  3. Parallel sections
  4. Indicators to mark individual sections
  5. Central loading
  6. Rings within rings
  7. Closure at two levels

We already noted Luke’s ring within Anakin’s ring (6.), we have seen the parallelisms of episodes II and V (3.), We identified the closure of stories on a deep level where the end of the journey is the beginning but in a profoundly changed way, as a kind of literary hysteresis loop. The split in two halves as well as the central loading are strongly emphasized by the possibility of reading Episode III and IV as a reversed-gear narrative but also as reruns.

As a last question I would like to look at to finish off today’s class is: What makes The Phantom Menace a ‘prologue’ or ‘exposition’. The answer to this is in manifold ways, but consider the following two:

  • The age of the main protagonist in TPM is exceptional compared to all other 5 films;
  • TPM sets up motives and themes that return in the remaining 5 films but that only then have their intended outcome;

Why did George Lucas start his Star Wars saga with such an exceptionally young ‘kid vader’ in such a light-hearted film with so much exposition? Now you know!

Certificate Participants need to submit at least 1 piece of course work chosen from the 3 homeworks I will set during these 10 week. This is the first
[1] Watch the following video

[2] Select one of the ‘rhyming’ sequences/shots and write an essay of 1500 words max about the sequence you have selected that covers at least the following points: (a) From which 2 films are the two shots, (b) why do you think they rhyme, (c) Do camera position and composition of the shots rhyme, (d) do color-patterns rhyme and finally (e) does this rhyme tell you anything about the larger story?

More to read:
About the Star Wars Ring Theory:
Filoni on story-telling

Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Ring Composition
Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition, Terry Lecture Series, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 2.

8 thoughts on “UCL’s Star Wars Class #2: Star Wars Storytelling

  1. A little correction. In the end of The Phantom Menace the Gungans and people of Naboo do not celebrate the victory in the battle but the newly formed peace between them which I believe was a deliberate contrast between the two endings.


    1. Well … it is true that the peace motive is definitely in that celebration! But I have the impression it was deliberately left ambiguous because of the fact that it was not a true victory but rather a step-up for Palpatine.


  2. It was better for Han to have an “untrustworthy” friend than for Bespin to have an “untrustworthy” leader who would not consider their safety first.


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