June 7th, 2010
12:56 PM ET

What is Darth Vader's diagnosis?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

The manipulations of  Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader in the "Star Wars"  saga, have long been ascribed to the Dark Side of the Force. Now, psychiatrists suggests that the actions of the Jedi Knight could be used in teaching about a real-life mental illness.

A letter to the editor in the journal Psychiatry Research explores just what is wrong with Vader. French researchers posit that Vader exhibits six out of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder. Unstable moods, interpersonal relationships, and behaviors are all characteristics of this condition, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. It affects 2 percent of adults, mostly young women.

The young Anakin Skywalker was separated from his mother at an early age, and his father was absent, factors that could have contributed to borderline personality disorder. His "infantile illusions of omnipotence" and "dysfunctional experiences of self and others" are also indicative of this condition from an early age.

The researchers argue that Vader experienced two "dissociative episodes," one when he exterminated the Tusken people after his mother's death, and the other when he killed all of the Jedi younglings. He often showed impulsive behavior and had difficulty controlling his anger. He also may have showcased a disturbance in identity by turning to the dark side and changing his name.

Darth Vader may thus be used to educate the public about borderline personality disorder and help combat stigma associated with mental illness.

But Emory psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth.com's mental health expert, has a different take. In the original three movies - which are the last three chronologically - Vader appears to be under the control of an evil emperor, making his character difficult to ascribe to a psychiatric disorder.

UPDATE: Dr. Raison would like to clarify that his comment was specific to Darth Vader and not to Anakin Skywalker. "Anakin is a much better exemplar of personality disturbance," he says. "On the other hand Darth Vader laid down his life to save his son and kill the evil emperor when all was said and done. Perhaps there is a lesson here, too, on type casting people who struggle with personality disturbances?"

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soundoff (687 Responses)
  1. Jim McCarten

    Sounds like some French psychologists have "I need my head lopped off with a glowing red lightsaber" disorder.

    June 7, 2010 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Spock

    Annakin turned to the dark side in an effort to save Padme from what he believed was certain death. Who among us wouldn't do the same for a loved one? Just the other day, in fact, I pretended to be Republican so I could get my thirsty daughter a drink from the Tea Party convention occuring in our local park. I'm not sure this rises to the level of borderline personality disorder, but then again I am not a Frenchman.

    June 7, 2010 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Robert

    I was a teacher, tutor, and mentor for 25 years. Anikin Skywalker's situation/condition is very real, and I have seen it in particularly intelligent, initially well-meaning adolescent males I have worked with. Anikin was a highly intelligent, well-meaning young adult whose good intentions Emperor Palpatine took advantage of for his selfish purposes. The result of course was successful manipulation that ultimately destroyed the victim - after he had destroyed others per the manipulator's wishes. I have certainly seen this, but what is more common is the the conscientious, brilliant young man who is literally driven bad by people close to him abusing him out of acute jealousy or failure to comprehend that level of ability. So yes, Anikin's condition is very real, and it illustrates some serious problems in our culture. I conjecture that many young soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have/will have this condition because of what they saw and experienced. Call it acute social pathology that is learned, not inherited.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Noocrat

    "But Emory psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth.com's mental health expert, has a different take. In the original three movies – which are the last three chronologically – Vader appears to be under the control of an evil emperor, making his character difficult to ascribe to a psychiatric disorder."

    Uhh.....well, this article is kind of misleading.

    The diagnosis in the original article states that it is for Anakin Skywalker in the prequel films. A far-cry from the man he would later become.

    Would you consider 18-22 year old you to 45 year old you to have identical mind sets? Kind of silly.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jedi master yoda

    for my ally is the force... and a powerful ally it is! life creates it, makes it grow. luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. you must feel the force around you...

    June 7, 2010 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Joe

    Next we'll find at that Chewbacca's attachment to Han wasn't due to a life debt, but rather to low self esteem / self worth and a constant need for reassurance and approval from others.

    Poor poor insecure Chewbacca.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RaiGunn

    The thing is, is that Anakin did have super powers. He was the most naturally talented of the Jedi's. He really did have the weight of worlds on his shoulders. In the fiction of the Lucas Universe, these were real conditions. Our DSM IV takes the stance that these are examples of grandiose behaviors and as such I do not think they can be compared side by side with what Anakin was experiencing.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. sf in ky

    da-da-da-daaaa-daaaaaaaa. da-d-d-da-da. da-da-d-daa-daaaaa. da-da-da-daaaaaaa. (star wars theme in case you didnt figure it out)

    long ago in a galaxy far, far away... someone thought they would waste time writing a psycho-analysis on darth vader. unknown to this person was that darth vader was constructing a secret weapon, with enough power to vaporize the brains of french researchers with with the force...

    seriously one of the best comments sections i have ever read.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. TomATL

    As the son of a borderline personality disorder father, I have on many occasions described my father as Darth Vader.
    There have been many times when I have felt like Luke Skywalker 🙂

    June 7, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Yoness

    Give Darth a break...
    His wife left him, his best friend burned his face off and his mother got raped by sand-people. I would be messed up too...

    June 7, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dude

    My sister-in-law has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. Comparing her to Darth Vader is horrible. Darth Vader would be very upset.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Peter

    Thank you Anna, I have my new bumper sticker, and favorite line.

    As for Darth Vader having a mental illness, don't all bad guys have a mental illness. Will we use John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson to educate the public? If we want to stick with fictional characters, how about Hannibal Lector?

    June 7, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. 66Biker

    If you really want to throw a curve to a Psychiatrist, never refer to yourself as an individual. In other words, don't use "I", "Me", or "My", and use "We", "Us", and "Our" instead. It drives them crazy. 🙂

    June 7, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Brother Vader -

    Don't listen Darth.
    Cant let them put a brother down like that.
    Day in and day out surrounded by all those white storm troopers just has make you lash out once in a while.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Morgan

    The two "dissociative episodes" are from the new movies. Just shows how insanely bad the NEW Star Wars movies are.

    (See what I did there?)

    June 7, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Michael Walker

    I think great care must be taken before going down this course, as it has an excellent potential to backfire. Instead of equating a mental disorder with the trials of a fictional character, some less-than-intelligent people will begin to equate the mentally ill with a character from the movies thet is considered evil. This not only doesn't help, it actually makes things worse. I know I don't want to go there, I wonder if anybody should...

    June 7, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. CH

    I would have to agree with Mr. Obvious and the majority of people here. Well Darth Vader has a mental problem.. Hello! its a movie, I really hope that they did not receive a government grant to do this also because I think I would go nuts to know that our money was spent on something completely stupid.

    "Darth Vader may thus be used to educate the public about borderline personality disorder and help combat stigma associated with mental illness."

    Really?.. Seriously really.. If they need flash cards to combat a mental illness or a movie of all things.. Well I quit, game over.. tap out, Pretty sure some high mighty powerful figure (God or whom ever) just move humans below flea's... I can't believe I wasted my time reading this article.. all in all 5 minutes of my life I will never get back..

    June 7, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Anakin

    Uh, thanks for all the comments, but I am not sure if I should feel vindicated or call my therapist. *Sigh* Anyway, after I died, people can see right through me, and Obi and Yoda...Maybe they can help wen they get back from golf lessons.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Pam

    I read this and thought how stupid it was to diagnose a fictional character. Then I realized that there's probably a lot of people in the world to whom a fictional world is preferable to the real one (Twilight, anybody?). And the people who came up with these ideas are French researchers. Nuff said.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. really?

    dont these people have anything better to do? whats next? the reason behind khan's aggression?

    June 7, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Gov't money well spent

    .."Welcome to mental illness, we have a few new people here tonight.. Let me get this right... go ahead and introduce yourself.. Hi, I'm Stewie Griffin, and Im bent on world domination"... Hi Stewie.. and our other new member tonight is, go ahead and introduce yourself, and stop using your mental powers to choke the CEO of BP... "fine, I'am... Darth Vader.. I was 2nd in command of the Empire, and bent on galactic domination, until my son tried to kill me"

    June 7, 2010 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ERL

    My mom had BPD and sadly died from years of physical abuse to her body. This posting brought some comic relief to me tonight. I remember as a child referring to her bedroom as the Death Star.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. PizzaTheHutt

    "infantile illusions of omnipotence"? But they weren't, of course, illusions. He actually HAD magical superpowers. Does a superman allow silly mortals their foolish behaviour or does he pick up the universe and give it a good shake to make it behave in an orderly fashion? Anakin chose order. Of COURSE he then had to get rid of those superpowered hippies with their "dude! whatever!" attitude.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Darth Dave

    Darth is a Sith Lord, not a Jedi Knight. ... I know, I know. I'll retreat to my mother's basement now.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Barry

    Anakin Had no father he was the product of the Mitachlorians (sp?) producing a child born of a virgin. Not unlike Mithras and any number of Greek and Roman heros/gods. OH yeah and that Middle eastern guy.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. BJ

    Michael, God IS real, and he is pissed off at you.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Symbolic

    I have to say that of all the articles on CNN, the comments related to this particular one are the most intelligent I have yet to read. Even if the characters are silly and fictional, the story seems to have stirred a creativity in CNN commentors that I have yet to see elsehwere.

    June 7, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. HappyGilmore

    But in all seriousness ... I don't think it's so much a personality disorder as a simple fact of a teenager just wanting everything and wanting it now! Typical modern day kid with the 'me me me' attitude. Then he gets into something, and finds it's too late.

    Janey ... well put!

    June 8, 2010 at 00:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Mo

    Jamey... Your posting had me in TEARS it was so funny!!! luv it 😉

    June 8, 2010 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Nick

    "Infantile illusions of omnipotence?"

    I think you underestimate the power of the force!

    June 8, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. stuka

    Im not even gonna get into Boba Fett.......can we say bipolar?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. EnglishScholar99

    Why are you surprised at the diagnosis of a fictional character? We analyze fictional characters (both in film and in literature) all the time. Many characters in Shakespeare come to mind such as Shylock, Hamlet, Richard III, and Othello. It's not that far fetched...

    June 8, 2010 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Scientician

    To anybody who is throwing a fit over this: I promise you, even scientists have a sense of humor. Let us have our jokes. I'm certain that nobody gave a grant to "study movie character archetypes as regards to DSM IV criteria". They (very likely) did this in their free time, as a joke and just submitted it for fun. The reviewers probably got the joke and let it run, as it doesn't really do any harm to have some levity from time to time.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. StWolf

    What a wonderful way to "help combat stigma associated with mental illness:" associate mental illness with Darth Vader. "You see, Jimmy, you're father's not a bad man. He's like Darth Vader, the dark and evil overlord who tried to kill his children. So there's nothing to be afraid of."

    June 8, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Ben Kenobi

    Annikan, It's not your fault. It's not your fault.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Ken

    Actually, his more submissive nature to his "Master" can be easily explained. At the end of episode 3, he is told that in a rage, he ended up killing his beloved Padme. And this is on top of losing to Obi Wan which he could not accept, as well as all of the pain, and waking to find himself encased in armor. This traumatic set of events one after the another could have easily shattered his illusions of omnipotence causing him to disassociate from the events and pull into himself in a type of self-induced fugue where he simple obeys the emporer in order to avoid the pain and failure forced apon him by the events. Of course his personality disorder rears its head again at the end of episode 6, where his mood and loyalties suddenly shift (most likely he realizes, FINALLY, that if Luke is alive, then he did not kill Padme, and thus he was lied to all those years ago - his back and forth head movements - and finally in a fit of rage he tosses the emporer to his death).

    Simple really....

    June 8, 2010 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Eric

    This story is very much like this girl I just got done dating.At the end she was under the influence of her mother and when I was with her I was under the influence of her and not mentally stable. Does this tell us anything about mental illness?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jabberwonky

    "It affects 2 percent of adults, mostly young women."

    Does this mean that Darth Vader is acting like a little girl?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Anon

    Wow, I'm sure this article really helps the self esteem and social image of those with BPD. Darth Vader? Give me a break. So BPD patients are likened to one of the greatest villains in the history of film? Look. Darth Vader is a fictitious character. How can one diagnose someone who never existed?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. tugsan

    Anakin was a nerd who was trying to find family love among robots he befriended. And like all nerds, he had no taste of fashion which is the reason why he picked that toilet to put on his head as a mask later on. I don' think he was mental. He just did what all men do when they try to date beautiful but dumb girls: He went nuts! You don't need Freud to get that, just look around.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. omega2

    we've got much bigger issues to report on. this is just too dang out there, what!? come on you've got to be kidding, next character to be analyzed will be poppa smurf.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. lee fithian

    Jamie , Jamie ,Jamie .Who says Vader was a failure , he made it to vice president in the galactic corporate empire.When he did make it to the top he finally succumed to boredom like other CEO s' destroying his environment and lives just like other CEOs' in the process.Sad but so is the dream of chasing power.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. gretchen

    Really??!! If BPD mostly affects young women then why ascribe it to Vader? He was living only for himself, driving himself by his great bitterness, resentment, and anger. He was emotionally empty, and as the proverb goes, "spend time with an angry person/fool, become angry/foolish", so he became angry and foolish.
    If one were to ascribe a disorder it rightly should be a 'radkid' who grew up to become a narcissist (in love with himself, living from bitterness, anger and resentment, severe reactions to abandonment/perceived rejection, emotionally manipulating others)...the usual diagnosis for a maladjusted wannabe leader who just self destructs, beating up on the child in the process. Or in this case gets a chance to reconcile with the child (rare indeed). FYI, I'm a faith based counselor who works extensively with victims of narcissists.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. APB

    I find this lack of faith disturbing....
    If you think you're Napoleon, you're a nutjob. Unless, of course, you actually ARE Napoleon. Darth Vader did not have "infantile illusions of omnipotence". What he did have, in spades, was MAGIC POWERS. He was also second in command of a GALAXY-SPANNING EMPIRE. Yeesh! It beats tenure in your university's psych department. Apparently these anonymous "French researchers" don't know the POWER of the dark side.

    Oh, and "combat stigma"? What, we shouldn't hold mental illness against people because after all, that's what motivated Darth Vader?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. bepett

    It's too bad that George Lucas probably didn't put nearly that much thought into figuring out what was going on in Anakin's/Vader's whiney head as those psychiatrists. But as a a life-long Star Wars fan, this was very entertaining.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. mopsit

    So when Darth Vader eventually destroyed the emperor was that some fantastic breakthrough in his psychotherapy?

    June 8, 2010 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. effisworld

    Many a fairytale have featured a wealth of psychological analyses, both of the characters and of its readers (just Google "psychoanalytics" with "fairy tales"). (Lack of) credibility of a fictional character is therefore not necessarily a factor affecting the validity of psychological statements. But it also makes a fun read, no question.

    June 8, 2010 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. J. T. Hutt

    Geesh... um... God, I feel like such a mood killer here. Umm... Do the French researchers and Dr. Raison know that Darth Vader was a fictional character from a science fiction movie? I mean, it was good and all, and so true to real life, where I could understand the confusion. But still, not real. Just a story. You know – Like a cartoon with people.

    Ugh.. I feel bad though. I hate to rain on the parade of the people who devoted so much time, money and energy on this.

    You know what... forget it.. He's real. It's all real. Way to go scientists!! Great job on that analysis! Whew! Another mystery solved by modern science.

    Who am I kidding. It's not like anyone reads these comments anyways. Am I right?

    May the force be with us all and God bless us, each and every one!


    June 8, 2010 at 00:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Kevin

    Why do the bad guys have to have a mental disease?

    Perhaps he just decided to side with what he thought was correct?

    Jedi Order: acts like the catholic church and will not let you marry, very bureaucratic, yet maintains its always 'right.'

    Palpatine: Seems normal, a pleasant change from rigidity of the Jedi Order, willing to cut out the bureaucracy to get things done. Does he do bad things? Yes. This though does not make him a mental patient.

    June 8, 2010 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Michelle

    Ummm I suffer from "Darth Vader Syndrome". Can I go home? heh

    June 8, 2010 at 01:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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