The Fractured Personality of Darth Vader

Just when you think you know everything about a hideously disfigured, Jedi-killing cyborg Sith Lord, something new arrives to cause a disturbance in the Force.

I saw a meme the other day that mentioned how some psychologists are using Vader and his pre-Sith identity, Anakin Skywalker, to explain certain psychiatric disorders to their students. With my curiosity piqued, I did some searching on the 'net and it turns out that the meme was right. According to a 2010 article from, psychiatrist Eric Bui and researcher Rachel Rodgers have been using Anakin/Vader to teach their students about borderline personality disorder (BPD). As the article explains, "(Anakin) Skywalker hit six out of the nine borderline personality disorder criteria as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). He only needed to meet five criteria to qualify as suffering from the disorder. ... The researchers also suggested that the success of the "Star Wars" prequel films might partially rely upon how teens can relate to the troubled Anakin Skywalker. Only adults can be diagnosed with to borderline personality disorder under the current DSM-IV guidelines, but Bui and Rodgers pointed to several studies that suggest the disorder is fairly frequent among teens."

Bui's publications regarding the psychology of Anakin/Vader was also covered in a 2007 article in Wired, which provides an overview of each of the traits that make the notorious Sith Lord meet the criteria of BPD: "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." ... 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)."

For as much as some have dismissed the Star Wars franchise as little more than special-effects driven fluff that's designed to sell toys, there's so much going on within the saga (in the characters, in the set designs, in the conceptual art, etc.) that I can see why fans are still enthralled with something that's over 37 years old. The complicated psychology of Anakin/Vader is just one of the saga's more intriguing and unique aspects. In fact, Bui's work reminds me of an article I read many years ago (and that I can't find right now to cite), where the author compared Luke Skywalker's desire to "save" his father from the Dark Side in Return of the Jedi to the behavior of some adult children toward their abusive parents, particularly parents who suffer from alcoholism.

To paraphrase Han Solo, "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for antipsychotic agents and mood stabilizers, kid."


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