Ring Theory, Parallels, and Rhyming in The Force Awakens

A revolutionary new idea called “Star Wars Ring Theory” has taken the internet by storm, and even inspired a forthcoming documentary. The ring theory proposes that the Star Wars saga is set up to mirror itself using “ring compostion” in a ABC-CBA pattern. The mirroring is set up through parallels and common recurring themes. More basic than the ring theory is the idea that the different movies of the trilogies “rhyme”, with parallel themes and scenes that compare and contrast for added impact.The real question is, are the makers of the new sequel trilogy (ST) aware of this structure to the Star Wars saga, and do they have intentions of continuing it? How many glasses of wine into the conversation would it take for Lucas and Abrams to start talking about stuff like this?


Direct Parallels and Rhyming

Significant among the evidence to a deeper structure of Star Wars comes from a behind the scenes video on TPM in which George Lucas says of Anakin destroying the droid control ship:

Instead of destroying the Death Star he destroys the ship that controls the robots. Again, it’s like poetry, sort of, they rhyme. Every stanza kind of rhymes with the last one.

So clearly George Lucas was thinking of a larger structure to the Star Wars saga. If we look at direct parallels between the movies, we can see some of this kind of rhyming start to shine through. Under this model, we have movies like The Phantom Menace “rhyming” with A New Hope due to parallel scenes with Anakin and Luke. Their humble beginnings on Tatooine, leaving to become Jedi, etc. In the second film of each trilogy they lose an arm/hand. The list goes on…

In a recent interview with GQ, John Boyega commented on the story of his character Finn by saying

His story is so epic. It’s a story that’s never been seen before, but it also mirrors the stories of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

It’s interesting that he would use the word “mirror” here. This would suggest that some kind of rhyming or mirroring is being used to compare characters. What could he mean? Perhaps it is because his character has humble beginnings as a storm trooper, like Luke’s humble beginnings. There are rumors that Finn will lose his arm fighting Kylo in TFA, although that seems out of order in the movies, as it is usually in the second film of the trilogy. Or perhaps because Finn is a character that has a change of heart, and joins the good side after once being more concerned about petty things like Han was about money, his character parallels Han.

All of these are possible, and it is also possible that specific scenes and scenarios are meant to directly parallel the stories of the original saga. Now let’s take a moment and look at Rey’s story.

Rey begins life on a desert planet. She has nothing and is kind of held back from something bigger. A new rumor from MSW suggests that she was left on Jakku by her parents, and that she may even have it worse than Luke. But all the main protagonists in the saga seem to have grown up on desert planets and have a penchant for fast moving, hovering vehicles.



What other direct parallels do we know of? How about this:

The Phantom Menace A New Hope The Force Awakens
Anakin lives humble life on desert planet Luke lives humble life on desert planet Rey lives humble life on desert planet
Aging mentor Qui-Gon dies at the end while fighting Darkside user Aging mentor Obi Wan dies at the end while fighting Darkside user Aging mentor Han Solo dies at the end while fighting Darkside user
Droid control ship destroyed by Anakin Death Star destroyed by Luke StarKiller base destroyed by Poe

So one thing is for sure, it doesn’t seem like the parallels are super-exact like they were between the PT and the OT, in this example, otherwise Rey would be the one to destroy the StarKiller base. They are breaking form a bit with the ST, and there are other cases of switching characters in the parallels between OT and PT, so that is fine.

Another complication here is the idea of the Joseph Campbell monomyth. Meaning, each of these stories are using common hero archetypes in such a way that it is hard to see what is a parallel from one trilogy to the next and what is referencing the same motifs from the wellspring of storytelling that goes back to antiquity.

Ring Composition

What about Ring Theory? We have this quote from GL again suggesting that the structure of the saga might be more intricate than we thought (credit to starwarsrigntheory.com):

The interesting thing about Star Wars—and I didn’t ever really push this very far, because it’s not really that important—but there’s a lot going on there that most people haven’t come to grips with yet. But when they do, they will find it’s a much more intricately made clock than most people would imagine.

—George Lucas, Vanity Fair, February  2005

According to the Ring Theory, this intricate clock involves “Ring Composition”, in which the rhyming has an inverted structure. If you haven’t read the Star Wars Ring Theory, I suggest you head over to the source and prepare to have your mind blown. Under this scheme, we have this structure:

image credit: The Prequels Strike Back

In the Ring Theory, we have the notion that the Star Wars saga has a inverted structure, with TPM mirroring RotJ, and RotS mirroring ANH. The evidence of this is staggering. It is in fact too voluminous to do justice to it in this post, so again check out the original Ring theory site for details. Here is a taste:

The Phantom Menace Return of the Jedi
Movie begins with a small ship landing on the Droid control ship. Primitive group (Gungans) defeating a technologically advanced group (Droids). Ends in a space battle where a Droid control ship is destoyed. Movie begins with a small ship landing on Death Star II. Primitive group (Ewoks) defeating a technologically advanced group (Storm Troopers). Ends where the Death Star II is destroyed.
Attack of the Clones The Empire Strikes Back
Begins in a city in the clouds, and ends with a land battle on a desert planet. Obi Wan is captured and used as bait to lure Anakin. Obi Wan is offered a chance to join Dooku to destroy the Emperor/Sith. Begins with a land battle on an ice planet and ends in a city in the clouds. Han is captured and used to ultimately lure Luke. Luke is offered a chance to join Vader to destroy the Emperor/Sith.

…and much much more. You’ll notice with AotC and ESB we have an inversion of the themes. Desert -> Ice, and the order of the events if flipped.

The first question we have to answer is, how would the ring continue in the seventh episode? Would it parallel TPM and RotJ or would it parallel RotS and ANH? With two trilogies the ring is clear, but with a third? This is by no means clear what it should be. If we take the “Primitive defeating Technologically advanced” example of Ring composition listed above, we can ask if there any battles in TFA that could mirror the Ewoks and Gungans? As far as I can tell, the answer is no. That suggests being more like RotS and ANH.

Two scenes that strongly parallel between ANH and RotS in this scheme involve the violent deaths of large groups of people. While ANH had dozens of Jawas slaughtered by the Strormtroopers, in RotS we had Anakin wipe out dozens of the remaining Seperatist leaders. While in ANH we had the death of millions because of the destruction of Alderaan with Obi Wan feeling it through the Force, in RotS we had thousands of Jedi killed because of Order 66 with Yoda feeling it through the Force. Again the order in which these take place in the movies are flipped, true to the “inverted mirror” form. I think this means that if this is where the parallels are going, we will see two scenes that parallel these. First, we have the attack at the beginning by the StormTroopers on some village on Jakku. This attack is ultimately what causes Finn to leave the First Order. Next we have the attack on Maz’s castle where some number will likely be wiped out by the StarKiller weapon. Seems to hold up. Makes you wonder if a Jedi felt it somewhere, like Luke perhaps?

Next we have the idea of our heroes being trapped “in the belly of a whale”, to use the language of Joseph Campbell in his scholarship on the Heroes Journey. In ANH, we have our heroes trapped inside the Death Star. In RotS, we have Obi Wan and Anakin trapped inside The Invisible Hand, General Grievous’ ship. The time at which these events take place in the two movies is again reversed, with ANH happening toward the end, and RotS happening at the beginning. In the Force Awakens, we have our heroes trapped inside the First Order Star Destroyer:

Obi-Wan and Anakin with R2D2



Admitted, the stormtrooper “disguise” motif is nowhere to be found in RotS.

We might also consider scenes like the Force-choke, which are prominent among the connections pointed out in the Ring theory and speculate if we will see Kylo Ren Force-choke somebody:




Again, we have an inversion of when this takes place in the two movies ANH and RotS. We can probably expect something like this to happen by the hand of Kylo Ren, but who could he choke? A villager on Jakku? Teedo for not talking about where the saber is? Lor San Takka?

I think all I can say about this is it is too early to tell. We only know so much about the movies and the best parallels are yet to come. However, my hunch is that JJ will take a little more liberty with the structure of the movie than GL did. Indeed, it may be that all JJ wants to do is just parallel ANH (the evidence does support this). It’s also possible that something different is going on. If Finn loses his arm in this one, there could be less structured mirroring happening.

GL kind of built up a clockwork almost to a fault. It’s possible that he spent so much time worrying about the structure of the PT that he painted himself into a corner and didn’t spend as much time as he should on certain little details, like dialogue in some places. This, of course, ended up rubbing some fans the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong. I love the PT. In some ways more than the OT, and that’s saying something because I’m an old school Star Wars fan. But it does seem that the focus was on the bigger art piece, and not on some of the little details. Let me be clear, it is the structure of the two trilogies, and what the PT brings in terms of the rhyming that I love most about Star Wars. Indeed, it is the structure and mirroring of Star Wars that enables more theorizing about what will happen than you will find in any other franchise. We can predict what will happen because we can expect mirroring once we know the structure. With that said, my hunch is that with the ST, they will get a little more loosey-goosey with the overall structure, but still keep some solid parallels. In this way, they will be more free to develop the story to its fullest. Time will tell, and the speculation is half the fun.