Darth Vader is one of the most misunderstood characters in the Star Wars universe.
Even those who don’t identify as Star Wars fans understand him as the ultimate villain. But, they’re all flat wrong. Sure, he killed a lot of people and made some poor marriage decisions, but there’s a much deeper dive into the psychology of Darth Vader.
I’ve been obsessed with Vader since May 25th, 1977. As a psychologist, I use his personality as a way of teaching children and families about anxiety, giftedness, and fear.
This foundation of anxiety is rooted in Darth Vader’s history.
Before we came to know Darth Vader, he was known under the name of Anakin Skywalker.
To understand a little about his upbringing, you should know that his mother was a slave, he had no father, and there was no end in sight to his own slavery to his slave-master, Watoo. As a 10-year-old boy, he believed he could control his destiny and free his mother and himself.
With that in mind, he built C-3PO and risked his young life by pod racing with the hopes of winning their freedom. Think about that. He was 10. Under no circumstances should a 10-year-old be expected to handle such pressure, even if that pressure was self-imposed and for good. His meticulous planning and execution showcased just how exceptionally bright and driven he was. But what exactly was he motivated by?
I suggest Anakin’s fear pushed him from the very beginning.
Shmi, Anakin’s mother, saw the fear in her son imploring him by stating, “You can’t stop the change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.” Anakin feared change. She could see he was attempting to control many things which were far outside of his ability.
In therapy, I help fearful and anxious kids understand that they are primarily motivated by fear and are desiring to control things they cannot control. Most often, they are attempting to control another person, their family, or even the unknowable future.
We see this later on in the Star Wars franchise when Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, struggled with the same issues. Yoda once said in speaking of his training, “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was… what he was doing.”
Yoda was speaking of mindfulness and being in the present. Helping my clients stay in the moment and focus solely on the control they have over themselves is one direction I take in my sessions to combat their anxiety.
Anakin, through his teenage and young adult years, was always trying to exert control over things outside of his ability. His constant worry about his mom, his girlfriend, and the need for peace and justice often had to be corrected by his mentor, Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan frequently urged Anakin to be mindful—to stay in the moment and manage the task at hand.
Soon enough, Anakin started working with the Chancellor, Emperor Palpatine. He quickly understood Anakin’s nature and his psychological predisposition to fear—and he took advantage.
Anakin was the embodiment of the anxiety “lies” we tell ourselves.
These lies can include What if I don’t do well on a test? What if not doing well means failing my grade? Or even, why are my parents running late? Have they been in a car wreck?
Similarly, Emperor Palpatine planted the lie in Anakin’s mind that he would lose his wife but that together they could control the unthinkable: death itself. In believing this lie, Anakin’s fear was magnified and fully turned into anger and hate. And thus, he becomes Darth Vader.
And even as Darth Vader, he continued to strive for his original goal: peace, justice, and control.
He said to his son, “Join me and together we can end this destructive conflict and rule the galaxy as father and son. You can destroy the emperor, he has foreseen it.” Similar to someone with anxiety, Vader’s plan had good intentions. The problem often lies in the strategy in which we approach our plans.
Anakin, as Darth Vader, continues to live in fear and strives to control all the things which he ultimately cannot. In the end, Vader relinquishes control and becomes selfless in the act of saving his son. By controlling his own actions and letting go of his fear, he returned to the light side of the force.
One of my goals as a psychologist is to help my anxious and fearful clients find a way to let go of their fear, embrace the moment, and join the light side. Understanding Vader and his hero’s journey is not only relatable but easily grasped by even the youngest kids.
Vader, you’re our hero!