Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

For “Star Wars” Fans: Diagnosing Darth Vader

This morning I found a critical bit of news on my keyboard (left by Eric). Our house is obsessed with “Star Wars” as of late. So I was fascinated by the following article published by (What was especially shocking to me was the bit about Winnie the Pooh being both OCD and ADHD. Then again, if my last name was Pooh, I think I’d have some personality disorders as well.)

SAN DIEGO — Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, suffers from a controversial mental condition and could use some couch time in a shrink’s office, a team of researchers declared this week.
“He’s suffering. And he’s suffering from a disorder,” said Dr. Eric Bui, a psychiatrist in Toulouse, France, who co-wrote a study that diagnosed one of the most villainous and heroic characters in the Star Wars canon as having borderline personality disorder.
According to the authors, who reported their findings at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in San Diego, Skywalker meets the criteria for the condition: He has difficulty controlling anger, stress-related breaks with reality (after women in his life die or leave), impulsivity (dangerous pod racing), obsession with abandonment (those women again) and a “pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of ideation and devaluation” (hello, Obi-Wan).
In another sign that he’s borderline, the authors argue that Skywalker suffers from an “identity disturbance.” After all, he did become Darth Vader after being “very unsure of who he was and what he wanted.”
The diagnosis came to Bui, a Star Wars fan, as he watched the series. “I thought to myself, ‘That guy is crazy.’ But he’s not crazy. He’s borderline.”
Carolyn Kaufman, a clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio, said the diagnosis holds up in many ways, although Skywalker might also suffer from histrionic personality disorder and bipolar disorder (manic depression).
The latter condition causes intense mood swings, and “Anakin could be said to display symptoms of both depression and mania, especially since mania is often irritability instead of the stereotypical happiness,” Kaufman said. “Some get so irritable they start fights, for example. I once had a client in a manic phase try to strangle a friend for teasing him.”
Skywalker’s prognosis is mixed. On one hand, some “personality disorders are relatively resistant to treatment,” said psychologist Steve Sultanoff of Irvine, California. “Yes, they can be treated, but the treatment is likely to (take) years.”
Study co-author Bui said psychotherapy — “long term,” he added with a laugh — would be the best treatment for Skywalker, although he might prescribe a drug to help him sleep.
Bui had mixed feelings about prescribing an antidepressant like Prozac and said he’d avoid tranquilizers like Xanax that could leave Skywalker addicted or send him into “disassociation” (a rupture with reality).
But would Skywalker even go into therapy? “Because of his narcissistic tendencies he would perceive himself as ‘above’ that,” said Sultanoff, who thinks Skywalker also suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, at least in Star Wars Episode II.
Why do we care about the psychoanalysis of a Star Wars villain? Because the diagnosis helps explain why teenagers — no strangers to borderline personalities — find Skywalker so appealing, said study co-author Rachel Rodgers, a psychologist in Toulouse. They may like him, she said, “because he’s very similar to them.”
Plus, serious-minded people have long tried to figure out what’s wrong with characters, from Winnie the Pooh (ADHD and OCD) to Tony Soprano (possible sociopathology).
As for the 30-year-old Star Wars series, “We’re probably lucky nobody has started analyzing the lightsabers as phallic symbols,” said clinical psychologist Kaufman. “Come to think of it, someone probably has.”

And by the way, “Star Wars” debuted exactly 30 years ago (on May 25, 1977). And the most popular character (as ranked by fans on is Han Solo, followed by Darth Vader. That says something significant about our collective psyche, but I’m not sure what.

  • Anon

    After I saw “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back” numerous times during the ’70’s, I had many dreams of being pursued by Darth Vader, and I used those dreams in self-analysis.
    The Vader of the first two films was a fantastic, hybrid creation – voice of James Earl Jones, height of David Prowse, the breathing through the “respirator.” A great villain and a true “shadow” archetype.
    However, I was extremely disappointed with the second trilogy and the way it systematically demythologized the figure of Vader, and, not surprisingly, made the character dull dull dull. I choose to forget the second trilogy because, IMO, it was bad.

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