Part V: Rings Within Rings
Before we move on to closing the ring, I want to briefly discuss another requirement of ring composition: rings within rings. If you’ll recall from the seven rules of ring structures, “Some rings emphasize the division into two halves by making each half a ring.”
And this is exactly what the Star Wars ring composition does.
Adding yet another layer of complexity to an already intricate structure, each trilogy—or half of the composition—is itself a smaller ring within the larger outer ring. However, they’re not exactly like the kind of rings we’ve discussed so far. Rather, the third film in each trilogy repeats and varies elements from the previous two films to create, among other things, a sense of coming full circle, both structurally and thematically. Let’s look at a few quick examples:
Return of the Jedi, for instance, starts by deliberately mirroring the opening shot of A New Hope, as an Imperial Star Destroyer flies over the camera with a planet below.
Like A New Hope, Jedi begins on Tatooine. The first part of the film focuses primarily on C3PO and R2D2, the same two “lowly characters” we followed at the start of A New Hope. And the droids are once again on a mission to deliver a holographic message.
However, the third film in the original trilogy is far from being a simple retread of the first film’s plotline. As Anne Lancashire explains in her 1983 essay on Jedi, “Once More With Feeling,” the end of the film “structurally sums up all the previous Star Wars battles: aerial dogfights over a Death Star as in A New Hope (and including the Falcon against Star Destroyers, as in Empire); a land battle involving a power generator and Imperial Walkers, as in Empire, and a duel between Luke and Darth Vader, as in Empire.” 1
Turning to the prequels, Sith’s first act plays out in remarkably similar fashion to Menace’s: two “significant characters” (again, a Jedi Master and Apprentice) board a large spacecraft orbiting a planet and rescue a captured political figure. Small details correspond as well. For instance, notice how “destroyer droids” attack the Jedi near the start of both films.
But rather than structurally sum up the battles of the first and second films, the end of Sith represents a regression of sorts. If you recall, the end of Menace features a space battle, ground battle, and lightsaber duel taking place simultaneously. The end of Clones features both a ground battle and lightsaber duel. The end of Sith, therefore, features only a lightsaber duel.
Like Menace, the elaborate end duel in Sith climaxes with Obi-Wan cutting a “Sith Lord” to pieces. In Menace, Obi-Wan jumps out of a pit, over Darth Maul’s head, and then slices him in half. Afterwards, Obi-Wan promises his dying mentor Qui-Gon that he’ll train Anakin. With his final breath, Qui-Gon says that “He [Anakin] is the chosen one.” In Sith, it’s Anakin who tries to leap over Obi-Wan. But Obi-Wan sees it coming, and dismembers him. As his former apprentice lies dying, Obi-Wan yells, “You were the chosen one!”
Also of note: Darth Maul, with his horns and red and black visage (representing the “evil within us,” 2 according to Lucas) actually prefigures the infernal landscape of Mustafar and Anakin’s eventual fall from grace. Thus, late in Sith, we see Anakin with the same red and yellow eyes as Maul.
The end of Sith also returns to the capital city of Naboo with Padme’s funeral procession, mirroring the victory celebration seen at the closing of Menace.
Both Jedi and Sith also bring each trilogy thematically full circle. Lancashire, who has written extensively about the cyclical nature of Star Wars, argues: “Each episode in Jedi repeats, with variations, one or more episodes from the previous two films, to show successes by the central characters replacing what we now clearly see to have been earlier failures under similar circumstances; and the successes are achieved through the understanding and control of the darker emotions (hatred, romantic sensuality, fear, and the like). 3
Lancashire covers, among others, the Jabba’s Palace sequence, “a more elaborate and horrifying, though still comic, replay of A New Hope’s cantina sequence,” 4 and the duel between Luke and Vader on the second Death Star, a replay of their duel in Empire—two sequences that, through repetition and variation, demonstrate Luke’s final growth to maturity.
Sith, on the other hand, repeats, with variations, scenarios from the previous two films to show continued failures of the central characters largely through the inability to understand and control the darker emotions. For example, the second encounter between Anakin and Count Dooku (a vengeful Anakin beheads the helpless Count in cold blood) and more significantly, Anakin’s fear of losing Padme, a darker replay of his fear of losing his mother.
Frankly, this topic is easily large enough for its own essay. But for the purposes of the ring composition, it should be evident that the third film in each trilogy is, in part, designed to be a return to the first film, giving the story a kind of circular quality.
Continued on next page