George Lucas has always been something of a packrat when it comes to the bigger world of science fiction. Critics have charged him with borrowing from some of science fiction’s best-known stories, like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Frank Herbert’s Dune. With episode 5 of The Book of Boba Fett, we can now cite another huge influence: Larry Niven’s Ringworld.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for The Book of Boba Fett.]
In this latest episode, the show’s titular character took a breather while we caught up with the adventures of Din Djarin from The Mandalorian. When we last saw him, he relinquished his diminutive ward, Grogu. His latest bounty takes him to somewhere interesting: a ring-shaped space station, where his latest quarry works as a butcher. If you’ve ever played the Halo games or read Niven’s classic novel, you’d immediately recognize the massive structure.
Star Wars has never shied away from massive structures, like the Death Star in A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, the Ring of Kafrene in Rogue One, or Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back. The Expanded Universe introduced a handful of its own megastructures, too, like Corellia’s Centerpoint Station, the Amaxine Space Station from The High Republic series and seen The Rise of Kylo Ren comic series, and a Dyson sphere in the Iokath system. But this is the first time we’ve ever seen anything like it in this particular world, and that’s a little surprising that it’s taken this long for a proper ringworld to pop up.
The structure first appeared in science fiction canon half a century ago in Larry Niven’s 1970 novel Ringworld. When I interviewed Niven a couple of years ago about the novel, he explained that he had gotten the idea from a real scientific concept: a Dyson sphere, in which a civilization covers up its home star with a shell, in order to capture all of it energy output. “If you spin the Dyson sphere, you can get gravity along the along the equator,” Niven explained, “But nowhere else, so I just worked with the equator.” Niven’s Ringworld was born, and while taking part in a writer’s workshop, he figured out the story that eventually became the book.
The novel was popular with science fiction fans: after it was published in 1970, it went on to win the triple crown of science fiction awards: the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards, and he ended up including it in his established “Known Space” universe, and followed it up with three additional novels, The Ringworld Engineers (1979), The Ringworld Throne (1996), and Ringworld’s Children (2004), along with a handful of prequels and spinoffs.
Niven’s Ringworld is massive: it’s an object that traces a planet’s orbital path, like a thin ribbon around a light bulb. Put a spin on it, and the interior side of the ring has enough gravity to hold in an atmosphere. That interior? At 1.6 million kilometers wide, and with a 940 million kilometers in circumference, it boasts plenty of living room: 580 trillion square miles, or the surface area of three million Earths. Standing on the surface, you wouldn’t actually be able to tell that you were standing on an actual ring — it would appear as though there was a giant arch stretching up overhead.
After he introduced audiences to the concept, other authors borrowed it: Iain M. Banks utilized the concept as Orbitals in his sprawling Culture series (and mentions a couple of proper-sized Ringworlds along the way), while John Varley utilized living versions in his Gaea trilogy. Scientists have theorized the concept in smaller versions as well, like a Stanford torus station (where the ring is enclosed with a roof to hold in an atmosphere), or a Banks Orbital which is an orbital around a thousand kilometers in radius. In 2013’s Elysium, Neill Blomkamp used a Stanford torus designed by famed concept artist Syd Mead, in which Earth’s wealthy elite escaped the poverty and grime of Earth to live a life of luxury.
But the most famous usage comes not from literature, but from video games, in the form of the Halo franchise (and most recently in Halo: Infinite), where much of the action takes place. These versions aren’t nearly as massive at the ones that Niven imagined: they’re a mere 10,000 kilometers in diameter, although larger rings (30,000 kilometer) exist in the world as well. While they’re much smaller than the structures that inspired them, they still make for majestic, massive worlds.
The ringworld of Ringworld would dwarf what we’ve now seen in Star Wars, which looks on par with something like the Death Star: a massive space station that takes advantage of its spin to provide gravity for its inhabitants. As Din Djarin moves through the structure, it’s clear that it’s basically a city that’s been stretched out from end to end, a convenient interstellar hub for commerce and transportation in the galaxy’s Outer Rim.
What’s neat about this particular structure is that it does look like Lucasfilm has opted to borrow some elements from Niven: not only the circular structure, but also an interior, segmented ring that provides parts of the world with day and night cycles.
The entire structure is a nice nod to one of science fiction’s best-known works. It likely won’t be the last time we see one on screen: an adaptation of Halo is coming to Paramount Plus later this year, and while we haven’t seen an actual adaptation of Ringworld yet, there’s been no shortage of efforts to helm one. As of 2020, Amazon was working on a series based on the novel, with Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor set to direct a script written by Akiva Goldsman.