Students of psychiatry learn about all kinds of psychopathology, but it can be hard to take textbook definitions and imagine how they manifest in actual people…and, you know, others. So a group of psychiatrists, noting that Star Wars is “timeless, universal, and incorporated into shared culture,” recently diagnosed the psychological disorders displayed by the film’s characters. They suggest that the resulting diagnoses, which were rounded up into a series of papers published in Academic Psychiatry, can be used as teaching tools to offer insights into how psychiatric illnesses affect behavior. The greatest takeaway for students of psychiatry and film alike might be that nearly every Star Wars figure—like most of us, really—could do with a little talk therapy.
Susan Hatters-Friedman and Ryan C. W. Hall, both psychiatrists and university professors, include analyses of Star Wars characters from both the light and the dark side of the force in their findings. The duo provide not only clinical diagnoses, but go a step further, offering possible reasons why certain characters have developed the conditions they exhibit.
Darth Vader, who spent his childhood as a slave, consequently suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, which seems entirely understandable. As a means of coping, Hall and Hatters-Friedman posit, he’s grown into a dissociative adult, who often projects his own negativity onto others. The two researchers suggest these traits, along with a few others, indicate Vader may be suffering from borderline personality disorder.
Hall and Hatters-Friedman also run through a number of possibilities for Yoda, with both supporting and refuting evidence presented. If Yoda’s quirky speech pattern isn’t species-related, he might be diagnosed with “surface dyslexia”—except that his manner of speaking doesn’t quite correlate with the way that disorder generally manifests. Williams syndrome could be another possibility; that is, if sufferers didn’t have an average IQ of 60, which is far lower than Yoda’s insights and apparent intelligence suggest. Perhaps Galactic Basic Standard isn’t his native tongue, which might explain some of Yoda’s odd phrasings, but that hypothesis runs contrary to his vast vocabulary and capability with idioms. The research team settles on the possibility that Yoda is simply malingering, or “intentionally speaking in this unusual manner for secondary gain.”
Jabba the Hut, based on his “cruelty and disregard for life,” is pegged as a potential psychopath. C-3PO, who is “repeatedly so preoccupied with rules and protocol that dysfunction often ensues,” may be living with undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. Jar Jar Binks is almost certainly struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
And Luke Skywalker, who lost his parents young, has been abandoned by his peers and is struggling to find his own identity in the face of having one imposed on him by his uncle, offers “teaching points about mental-health evaluation in an angst-ridden teen”:
In A New Hope, Luke is an 18-year-old male, who is having conflicts with his “adopted” family; is not meeting obligations such as chores; acquires a new peer group, which puts him in conflict with authority; starts expressing new strange religious beliefs; starts hanging out in bars; and is engaging in reckless behavior (e.g., spying on sand people) not to mention potential animal cruelty with “bullseye[ing] womp rats in [his] T-16 back home.” All this culminates in his having auditory hallucinations and grandiose beliefs that he is saving the galaxy. When all this is taken into account, one may start to lean toward a diagnosis of prodromal schizophrenia. The problem with this formulation is that he does actually have Force powers and did actually save the galaxy.
So Luke isn’t exactly delusional, considering his kooky visions are in line with reality. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gleaned from his story. As researchers note, “the abstract teaching point—regarding considering the possibility of prodromal schizophrenia and how it is often not recognizable until after a full-blown psychotic event—remains.”
Han Solo, for the record, "defies characterization." Unless, of course, his normalcy is a way of masking his pathology. Hall and Hatters-Friedman also float the idea that he might be "a high-functioning antisocial whose charms have blinded the authors of this paper to his true nature."
While diagnosing the mental states of a bunch of fictional characters in a galaxy far, far away may seem absurd, it’s not a new practice. Students of psychiatry and psychology often learn about how conditions look by taking apart the personalities of those who exist only in works of art.
"There is a long history of using literary characters to help students learn about mental health concepts," Hatters-Friedman told the UK’s Daily Mail. “Many schools and training programs have film clubs or nights as part of learning about mental health, whereby without violating patient confidentiality, all of the trainees are able to see the same ‘presentation’ and discuss a mental health condition."
There’s the added benefit of offering students a recognizable character with widely known personality traits as examples of how psychological conditions manifest beyond the pages of textbooks.
"It's to reinforce. It's to give a mental image," Hall said in an interview with the Week. "This is meant to be fun—a tool to teach people of all types, whether it be patients, a medical student who may have no interest in the subject, or for people who are interested in it to just geek out."
"Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Use of Star Wars’ Dark Side in Teaching" and "Teaching Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: The Light Side of the Force" are both available for download online.
(h/t Daily Mail)
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