Recurring Themes and Plot Forecasting
When George Lucas created the Star Wars prequels – Episodes I, II, and III – he intentionally utilized recurring cinematic themes across parallel movies in each of the two trilogies. This is one of the things I dig most about the much-maligned tales of the fall of the Galactic Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire, if for no other reason than it adds the weight of destiny to the apparently-spontaneous events of the original films.
Most intriguing to me now, however, is that if these themes are honored in the new trilogy, they provide us specific clues about what must happen in upcoming (and as-yet-unnamed) Episode VIII.
Forget spoilers, leaks, and rumors. We may already have everything we need to sketch out key moments in the next Star Wars film.
What do I mean? Well, Lucas’s symmetry principle stretches from the overt to the amazingly obscure. For instance, take the title of Episode IV, the beginning of the original trilogy. It has three words in it – an article, and adjective, and a noun: “A New Hope.”
Just so, some may be surprised to realize that the (somewhat clunky) title of Episode I, the beginning of the prequel trilogy, was purposefully chosen in that it follows the exact same format. Article, adjective, noun: “The Phantom Menace.” (This game can be played across each of the six titles of the two trilogies.)
Episode VII, “The Force Awakens,” was a slight variation on the theme – article, noun, verb – but it was still a three-word title. Close enough in my book.
Confirming Recurring Themes in the Sequel Trilogy
Now, take something more central to the plot. One of the coolest plot symmetry moments between the original and prequel trilogies (to me) was symmetry between Luke and Obi-Wan.
In Episode I, young Obi-Wan Kenobi, then a Jedi apprentice, is separated from his master Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn while facing a red-lightsaber-wielding Sith. Unable to come to his mentor’s aid, Obi-Wan screams, “No!” as he watches Darth Maul strike him down:
And then, we zoom a generation later to Episode IV. Sure enough, we find young Luke Skywalker – a Jedi apprentice to an aged Obi-Wan – separated from the master Jedi while facing a red-lightsaber-wielding Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Unable to come to his mentor’s aid, Luke screams, “No!” as he watches the Sith strike down his former teacher and friend:
Now, you may see where this is going. Because these symmetries are some of my favorite aspects of the films, as the release of Episode VII neared, my wife had to suffer me rambling with nervous anticipation.
Did J.J. Abrams “get it”? Would he continue these many symmetries as he should as a continuation of perhaps the world’s first visual symphony?
I specifically called out the above moments (and others) to my wife, imploring her to understand the importance of these plot themes, declaring, “If this new Star Wars is going to be worth anything, then the new Jedi apprentice has to be separated from a mentor figure, who yells, ‘Nooo!’ as the mentor is struck down by a bad guy with a red lightsaber.”
Well, for anyone who’s seen it (and to my very pleasant surprise), we skip forward yet another generation in Episode VII to find young Rey, a force-sensitive Jedi-apprentice-to-be, separated from her mentor Han Solo while facing a red-lightsaber-wielding Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. Unable to come to her mentor’s aid, Rey screams, “No!” as she watches the dark Jedi strike down his own father:
Yes! Symmetry across three trilogies confirmed! And bonus points for reversing the father/son conflict twist in the process!
Thematic Forecasting in Episode VIII
So, by the same token, if Rian Johnson “gets it” with Episode VIII, there are several things (or variations thereof) that we really should see in the upcoming Star Wars episode in order to preserve thematic continuity. These beats include:
- The title of Episode VIII must be four words. (See: Ep. II, Attack of the Clones; Ep. V, The Empire Strikes Back.)
- Rey must have force visions of someone dear to her in pain. (See: Ep. II, Anakin of his mother being tortured by Tusken Raiders; Ep. V, Luke of Han Solo and Leia being tortured by Darth Vader.)
- Rey will be admonished by her Jedi Master (presumably Luke). (See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan to Anakin after losing his lightsaber; Ep. V, Yoda to Luke after failing to extract his X-Wing.)
- Rey’s visions must propel her to an ill-advised rescue attempt. (See: Ep. II, Anakin to Tatooine and then to Geonosis where he is captured; Ep. V, Luke to Bespin where he is lured into a trap by Darth Vader.)
- The rescue attempt will be against the explicit wishes of her Jedi Master. (See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan orders Anakin not to leave Tatooine; Ep. V, Yoda and Obi-Wan implore Luke not to leave Dagobah.)
- This rescue attempt will not be completely successful. (See: Ep. II, Shmi Skywalker dies shortly after being freed; Ep. V, Boba Fett escapes with Han Solo aboard the Slave 1.)
- As an ultimate price for her impulsiveness, Rey must finally have a hand cut off by a red-lightsaber-wielding baddie (presumably Kylo). (See: Ep. II, Anakin by Count Dooku; Ep. V, Luke by Darth Vader.)
- There will be a temptation moment while Rey is physically vulnerable, where Kylo reveals a surprising truth in an attempt to seduce her to join forces with him to destroy a greater evil (i.e., Snoke). She will reply, “I’ll never join you.” (See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan immobilized in a forcefield, where Count Dooku reveals Darth Sidious leading the Senate and offers to join forces to destroy the Sith; Ep. V, Luke’s hand having been severed, Darth Vader reveals his true identity and offers to join forces to destroy the Emperor.)
- After the confrontation, Rey herself will require rescue. (See: Ep. II, Anakin by Yoda; Ep. V, Luke by Leia/Lando/Chewbacca.)
- Rey must have a cybernetic hand installed by the final scene. (See: Ep. II, Anakin marriage ceremony on Naboo; Ep. V, Luke aboard medical freighter.)
- There will be cybernetic hand-holding/hugging at an overlook in the final scene between Rey and another main character. (See: Ep. II, Anakin and Padme overlooking a Naboo lake; Ep. V, Luke and Leia overlooking a distant galaxy.)
- Oh, and there should be a bounty hunter in there somewhere, and somehow, ideally a Fett. (See: Ep. II, Jango Fett; Ep. V, Boba Fett.)
This is by no means a limiting list, and there could be other symmetries – perhaps even broader symmetries across the trilogies. For instance, if some rumors are to be believed, Episode VIII more closely recalls Episode II, mirroring across Episode V with a new sort of trans-trilogy symmetry. According to the rumblings, Episode VIII begins with [[POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT]] an assassination attempt followed by an investigation, where one main character attempts to follow clues to track down the assassin, uncovering a larger plot. (See: Ep. II, attempt on Senator Amidala’s life that leads Obi-Wan on an increasingly-murky investigation.)
So… I suppose only time will tell whether or not the above forecast holds true. However, considering all of the time, pain, and effort that went in to establishing these symmetries – (you absolutely cannot create them by accident!) – I for one will be supremely disappointed should the above not appear in some way in Episode VIII.
J.J. set the bar pretty high for recapitulating these themes. Can you carry a tune, Rian?