Some people really, really, really, really, really, really like Star Wars. Some people show this appreciation by dressing up like their favorite Star Wars characters and attending fan conventions like Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. Other superfans have made Star Wars their livelihood, taking an active role in the fan community by working for fanzines, adding material to the Expanded Universe (now called Star Wars Legends), and creating video games that take place in that galaxy far far away. Others simply consume as much Star Wars-related media as is humanly possible. As for Mike Klimo, well, he spent two years writing one article about why the Star Wars prequels didn't suck.
Over the span of 20,000 words, Klimo's Star Wars Ring Theory argues that George Lucas is a super-genius who spent the better part of 20 years making six very long movies as a pop-philosophy project, as intricate and symbolic as the Bible, meant to illustrate that there's no such thing as good or evil. In other words, the plot of Star Wars concerns the rise, fall, and redemption of Darth Vader, but Klimo argues that Star Wars itself is about how in the infinity of the universe, that rise/fall/redemption evens out into oneness. Not only that, but Lucas believed so strongly in his master vision that he was willing to ignore the fact that lots of people actively hated many parts of his story, because he was convinced people would get it eventually.
In this way, "Star Wars Ring Theory" is perhaps the definitive Star Wars fan theory site on the net—not because it can provide an answer to trivial bullshit like whether Greedo shot first, or how many toes an Ewok has, but because it functions as an urtext, indicating exactly how we should view the six live-action films. Under Ring Theory, the Star Wars films have a palendromic structure where in addition to their fairly obvious ABC/ABC parallels (Phantom Menace mirrors A New Hope; etc.), there's also an underlying ABC/CBA structure at play where every act in each film fulfills the same function as the act in the inverse position in its corresponding film and… Oh, just look at this chart from Klimo site:
Make sense? OK. Good. The point is, Klimo believes there's a lot more going on in Star Wars—especially the much-maligned prequel trilogy—than people tend to give George Lucas credit for. And after reading his site and speaking with him, I'm inclined to agree—Klimo points out that the films draw from classic modes of storytelling, referencing everything from the work of Carl Jung to dream interpretation to prove his point. His overarching idea, however, is that Star Wars is ultimately a Westernization of the Daoist concept of unification of opposites: the prequel trilogy follows Anakin Skywalker's descent from innocence into evil, while the original series traces Anakin's salvation through the last bit of love left in him, brought out by the innocence of his son, Luke.
Klimo and I chatted over the phone a couple weeks ago to discuss Star Wars, Ring Theory, and whether or not J.J. Abrams will monumentally fuck up everything George Lucas was working toward.
VICE: What inspired you to write your article?
Mike Klimo: I started out planning to do a series of articles about the prequels, but also Star Wars in general, addressing a lot of the criticisms that the movies have taken over the years, from '77 on. As I was doing all this research, I started to notice other parallels between the movies and it looked like, for example, the end of Phantom Menace. I think that a lot of people felt that there were a lot of parallels to the end of Return of the Jedi, right? You know, it's the Gungans coming together, with the people of Naboo to take on the Trade Federation? And there was this multi-strand battle and that sounds a lot like Jedi. And then I kind of realized that the beginning was kind of very similar to what was going on at the beginning of Jedi. And then, you know, I kind of took a look at the middle of the movie, and then suddenly, it was kind of like Holy shit! Wait a second! The beginning, and the middle, and the end all kind of match up! When I broke down the acts into sequences and then scenes, and then took a closer look at the plot points and even the camera work, I was like, "There's something going on here."
Did anything specific help bring everything together for you?
Around that time, I stumbled upon a book called Thinking in Circles by a social anthropologist named Mary Douglas. And that's when everything started to click. She was essentially describing what I argue Lucas was doing with those six pictures.
Do you think the yin-yang structure was intentional on Lucas's part?
The evidence, to me, is overwhelming that the structure exists—that this idea that there is a chiastic structure (you can call it ring convolutions). I think the evidence for that kind of speaks for itself.
You point out that there are a lot corresponding shots in the prequels and original trilogy, which I certainly didn't realize.
The structure, to me, is undeniable. But how we interpret that, and maybe how we derive meaning from that, that's a different story. Essentially, I just wanted to argue that this is what I think Lucas was going for just based on who he was as a filmmaker: the prequels were designed as a fall, and the originals were designed as a redemption. A lot of both material, he's kind of beat against each other in that way. One represents the light side of the force, and the other represents the dark side of the force. And, you know, like I show in the piece, it doesn't seem like it's a coincidence that while directly in the middle of Attack of the Clones, there's a figure of the yin-yang in the clouds, while Anakin just happens to be meditating. I would argue that that's certainly intentional on his part.
So it took you two years to write this?
Two years from cradle to grave, in terms of researching and trying to get up to speed on ring composition, and all the different kind of rules that go with it: the prologue, and the split into two halves, and the most important idea existing in the middle. Yeah, it was a pretty long process.
Are you a lot more interested in Star Wars as a literary object rather than just movies to obsess over?
Do you mean if I have a Stormtrooper helmet with George Lucas's autograph? [laughs] I mean, when I was growing up, I loved (the original) Star Wars. I obsessed over all the characters, the backstories, the details… As I got older though, I just went in a different direction. I got more interested in cinema. I kind of left Star Wars for a while and was just learning about movies. And by the time the prequel came out, I was far more interested in like Paul Thomas Anderson and shit like that. And then as I started learning more about George Lucas, I think I started to maybe admire Lucas. He was using Star Wars as a vehicle to kind of express larger themes and emotions.
What do you think about the upcoming Star Wars trilogy and the news that J.J. Abrams jettisoned George Lucas's outlines for the films?
I think George Lucas's Star Wars as we know it, I don't know that it will exist moving forward, but I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing. I mean, at this point, I loved the six films that he gave us and I think that there's just an enormous amount of just remarkable material there, but I'm excited to see other filmmakers come in and other writers come in and tell other stories in that universe. I think it'll be great.
Do you think the ring structure will continue?
I get the sense—just even from the clips and the trailers and some of the stuff—that it's very much going to parallel A New Hope just like The Phantom Menace did. But anything outside of that, I'm just not sure. I'd love to know if J.J. Abrams sat down with Lucas and if they ever talked about this, and how much he might know what went into just the structure of those six pictures.
What do you mean by the phrase "George Lucas's Star Wars?"
Episodes I-VI were very much the vision of George Lucas—you know, even with other directors and other writers helping out. But you know what? Part of me thinks it's not necessarily a bad thing that Abrams is taking over. And it's not because I know a lot of people who are thinking, Finally, George Lucas is gone and we'll have a good Star Wars movie. I would rather the new movies have nothing to do with George Lucas so that people don't have to second-guess them. Right now, it's like, "Well, how much is he involved?" or "How much are they keeping up his treatments?" You know what I mean?
You want a clean break.
People are still wondering, Well, maybe they're still using his outlines. Or maybe some of the ideas. And it's just… I think of it as just a distraction; it gets in the way. Let's just get on with it and tear the Band-Aid off.
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