Darth Vader is one of the most misunderstood heroes in the Star Wars universe. People see him as a bad guy or even evil. But, I disagree with this assumption. Sure, he killed a lot of people and made some poor marriage decisions. But there’s a much deeper dive into his psychology.
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.
Vader was born Anakin Skywalker. His mother was a slave, he had no father and there was no end in sight to his own slavery to Watoo. And as a 10-year-old boy, he believed he could free his mother. To that end, he built C-3PO and risked his young life by pod racing with the hopes of winning their freedom. No 10-year-old should be expected to handle such pressure. The pressure was self-imposed. He was exceptionally bright and driven. But driven by what?
I suggest Anakin’s fear pushed him from the very beginning. Shmi, his 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 control.
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. Luke Skywalker, Anakin’s future son 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 only control themselves is one direction I take in my sessions. Anakin, through his teenage and young adult years, was always trying to control things outside of his control. He was worried about his mom, his girlfriend, peace, and often had to be corrected by Obi-Wan to stay in the moment and manage the task at hand.
The Chancellor quickly understood Anakin‘s nature and his psychological predisposition to fear. And he took advantage of them. Anakin was the embodiment of the anxiety lies we tell ourselves.
These lies can include will my parents be home on time, will they be in a car wreck, or what if I don’t do well on a test? 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, fear was fully turned into anger and hate. And thus, be becomes Darth Vader.
And even as Darth Vader, continued to strive for his original goal which is peace and justice. 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.“ That doesn’t sound so bad to me. But it’s how he goes about his strategy which is the problem.
Anakin, as Darth Vader, continues to live in fear and strives to control all the things which he ultimately cannot control. In the end, Vader ultimately relinquishes control and become selfless in saving his son. By controlling his own actions and letting go of his fear, he returned to the good 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.