“It’s like poetry, it’s—sort of— they rhyme. Each stanza kind of rhymes with the last one.”George Lucas, The Beginning documentary about the Making of The Phantom Menace
This week, while procrastinating writing, I’ve been playing a whole lot of Minecraft while re-listening to episodes of the What the Force? podcast and their discussions of the Power of Myth and Symbolism in Star Wars. In particular, I’ve been fascinated with their discussion on Ring Theory with regards to the Vader Immortal VR series, and how the ‘rhyming’ aspect of Star Wars’ mythopoetic storytelling creates a collection of mythic tropes that act as the fundamental building blocks of a Star Wars story.
A nobody from nowhere holds a powerful secret about their origins that will change their destiny.
A selfish scoundrel has a change of heart.
A lonely monster asks the hero for their companionship.
In a time of political uncertainty, an oppressive regime grips the galaxy.
When someone who once fell to dark temptations learns to embrace compassion, they (metaphorically or literally) die and are granted divine spiritual rebirth.
When these tropes reoccur with different character dynamics and under different story conditions, we find meaning and emotional resonance not only in the ways that they are the same but especially in the ways that they are different. We’ll use the first trope to illustrate how meaning and emotional resonance is created with these ‘rhymes’:
When Anakin is groomed by the Jedi to be their Chosen One, his hubris becomes a tool of manipulation which Darth Sidious uses to lead him towards his dark destiny as Darth Vader, constantly reaffirming to Anakin that he is the strongest of all the Jedi and priming him to believe that he can save Padmé from death.
When Luke is confronted by his origins, it shatters his whole worldview and makes him reconsider what he thought to be his destiny. If a Jedi hero like his father can also be capable of such monstrosity, does he even want to be a Jedi? If his Jedi destiny is to face his father and destroy him, then can he even do that? Luke wants to be a hero and learning of his origins calls this want into question, and particularly when reframed by viewing the saga in chronological order, the dramatic question that this ‘rhyme’ proposes is whether or not Luke will fall to the dark side as his father did, which makes it all the more triumphant that he embraces his destiny as a hero by choosing to show Vader compassion and thus saving him from the prison of the dark side.
When Rey is confronted by her origins, it affects her story in a different way. When she goes to Luke on Ach-To, she is searching for someone to take the role of hero from her. She believes that, as a nobody from nowhere, she has no place in this story of dynasties and empires. All she sees herself as is a herald, a vessel or conduit for someone else’s story. She believes she can call Luke back to the fight, and, when that fails, she believes that bringing Ben Solo back to the light is the last hope. Yet, when she is confronted with the uncomfortable truth, the truth which she always knew – that her parents were nobody, that she is a no one with no place in this story – Rey becomes her own hero in spite of her origin, defying the role of being someone else’s vessel which she had resigned herself to. When she can’t find power from a powerful legacy, she finds the power she needs within herself.
In its cyclical structure, the myth of Star Wars feeds upon itself, creating a feedback loop of story beats, character archetypes, and thematic motifs that return in a way that intersects fresh and familiar which, at its best, imbues new meaning on these motifs with each transformative iteration.