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. Conx


    June 8, 2010 at 01:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. zeronovelty

    albeit this article is funny, as i am a fan of the story, it brings to light a serious issue that most severely educated people seem to dismiss... enabling. the moment a certified field worker makes a judgement regarding any concern or declares the disease as the root cause, they often lead the masses into excusing their own behaviour.

    We are bombarded with choices daily, in the magnitude of hundreds to thousands per second, and we can do no more than the best, which tragically can often not be enough. by excusing these poor choices with a declarative disease/disorder/title, we imbue them with societal forgiveness, further enabling these poor decisions to continue. it is that the choice, that one brief moment, we may find the poor choice to have the immediate merit of the circumstance, where the opposing choice is equally easy to make, but the outcome is our challenge.

    I think what we should take from this is there is a deficit of real-life education for most in school, and a framed piece of paper on a wall just gives us permission to be sheep, and the owner of said(typed) paper is enabled to be stupid.

    p.s. – R2 made him do it.

    June 8, 2010 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Pooh Bear

    I blame it on a bad batch of Midi-chlorians.

    June 8, 2010 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Nightengale

    Darth Freud, you made me LOL!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. BDM

    The Emperor is an enabler.

    June 8, 2010 at 02:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Nate

    Unfortunately this diagnosis suffers from the same shortcoming as practically all post-modern psychological theory, namely that it fails to take into account Three Stooges personality typing.

    Darth Vader was a Larry who wanted to be a Moe.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Shane

    Or you can go with something a bit more Freudian. Vader had feelings of insecurity possibly based on a penile dysfunction hence all the anger and a need for thrusting a phallyic object at others (ie: Lightsaber).

    Then sprinkle in some daddy issues and a God complex since he was "immaculately concieved".

    Vader was action packed with issues.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mmi16

    How about the Luke & Princess Leah thing?

    June 8, 2010 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. tidus

    I think that the contrasting views show that a mentally ill person does not live in a vaccuum but surrounded by potential manipulators.

    Would Palpatine have found another darth if not for Anakin? Most likely.

    Would someone else have manipulated Anakin if Palpatine had not? Most likely.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Adrian

    first of, there is no Dark Side of the Force, or Light Side, what there is is the Living Force. The force itself has no dark or light side. What matters is the intent behind the use of the Force.
    Second, Anakin did not have a father, he was born of the Force. There can not be an absent father if there was no father to start with. So there goes your abandoment issues.
    Third, someone on the forum said his mother left him, she didnt. She choose to let him choose if he wanted to leave the life of a slave behind and become a Jedi Knight.
    Forth, the reason he decided to follow Palpatine was because he was promised he would be taught how to keep his wife alive no matter what. He choose the dark side out of love and frustration with the lack of action by the Jedi Councle.
    I agree that Annie had issues, but I think before you make an analysis, please do some more background research.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Snoop Dawg

    What was Linda Lovelace's diagnosis? Low self esteem?

    June 8, 2010 at 03:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dain Bramage

    So, with a little cognitive-behavioral therapy, the carnage of Eps 4, 5 & 6 could have been avoided?

    Alderaan would still be there, and the Empire would not have had to resort to deficit spending to finance TWO Death Stars, and a host of star destroyers.

    Wow! Who woulda thunk?

    June 8, 2010 at 03:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. michael

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

    I don't think using Darth Vader's example on humanity will 'combat the stigma' associated with anything...unless your stigma is to prove the Death Star is a bad idea time and time again.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. George Roth

    The young Anakin Skywalker was separated from his mother at an early age, and his father was absent . . .

    It was Luke Skywalker who was separated from his mother to protect him from his father Anakin Skywalker.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Angie

    ...and maybe BAD is just that...BAD...the character was created to represent bad and evil...people with REAL mental illness are victims of their desease. Let's just keep things in the proper perspective.

    June 8, 2010 at 03:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. kerry

    so are you saying that personality disorders can be cured if you have good in you?

    June 8, 2010 at 04:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Claes

    Yes, why not! Reduce the stigma... now you can tell kids with this disorder that: "it's no big deal – you're like Darth Vader!" Cool huh? Maybe the devil can get the same diagnosis?

    June 8, 2010 at 04:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. chris

    "infantile illusions of omnipotence"

    Um, Darth Vader was able to see the future, stop lasers blasts with his hand and choke b-tches out with his mind. I don't think it was an "illusion" in his case.

    June 8, 2010 at 04:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Proprioception

    Lol, you cannot diagnose someone without talking to them first. I am thinking the article was to discuss the stigma and how it should be reduced by comparing a fictional person to a real d/o. Either way, this article did provide a good laugh and you can't deny that.

    June 8, 2010 at 04:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Paul

    He didn't hide behind the mask because he was a coward, it was because it was part of his life support system. He also changed his name because it was required. ALL Sith lords are Darth "something".

    I do agree that a major failing of society today is the lack of personal responsibility and Anakin was no different. Everything was someone else's fault. I think the movie would have been more interesting if he'd decided to change for the original reason, Obi-Wan sleeping with Padme, however.

    June 8, 2010 at 04:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Drew Jones

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

    Hmmm....is there nobody better to educate the public about personality disorders than a giant robot with homicidal tendencies toward children?

    June 8, 2010 at 04:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Doogz

    What's up with these quacks! Teach and combat against the stigma of mental illness in what way?! "Go seek treatment unless you wanna end up like Darth Vader." Are they serious? If this is about trying to drum up advertisement for patients or more research money, I would have gone about it another way. It's quite obvioos that business is slow for these 'experts' - perhaps for good reason. This gave me a good chuckle in the beginning, but really?

    June 8, 2010 at 05:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. ml

    So, he was a victim of his environment! The Death Star obliterating Alderaan was just a tantrum! Poor widdle dark lord! He might have been eligible for free coverage under the Empire health care reform! Wonder how many Jawas it'd take to pay for that?

    June 8, 2010 at 05:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Martha Dal

    Evil is as Evil does

    June 8, 2010 at 05:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Paul

    Help you, Prozak, it can. Yes, mmm.

    June 8, 2010 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. brad

    all he really needed was a hug.....
    When professional people do things like this, they must be bored.. or their "Masters' is in baiting.. or their Phd means "Piled high and deep"

    June 8, 2010 at 05:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. araminty

    george lucus was highly influenced by jungian philosopher, joseph campbell, therefore it would be fitting to diagnose darth vader with a jungian archetype...."the shadow." tee-hee!

    June 8, 2010 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. mark

    Maybe some truth here. My daughter is almost 30 and lives at home due to an illness and the ridiculous costs associated with treating this very treatable illness (if you can afford it). Of course, this has also got a mental-health angle and I have to tell you that living with her is a lot like living with Darth Vader.

    June 8, 2010 at 06:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Ryan H

    > Vader exhibits six out of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder

    *makes 2-fingered sweeping gesture* No he doesn't.

    June 8, 2010 at 06:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Rob - Australia

    err.... this is a character right?
    Perhaps George Lucas has the disorder.

    June 8, 2010 at 06:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. McPaul

    "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."

    This is similar to following an organized religion. Also often a sign of BPD.

    June 8, 2010 at 06:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Nighthhaaawk

    To Dark lady of the sith..

    I think the emperor has a thing for Tasering Jedis!
    Luke, watch it!

    Luke: 'Don't Tase me Bro"!



    June 8, 2010 at 06:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jabba no Waka

    So umm....if Darth Vader is suffering from a psychological disorder, what can you say about his son and daughter? What can we say about "the kiss" between Luke and Leia? Luke liked it and was seen momentarily bragging to Han about it. CREEPY!

    Then again, I personally would love to get my hands on one of them there Huts or maybe perhaps a nice Tauntaun. After all they do smell nice when they are live.


    June 8, 2010 at 06:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Ken

    This is also an argument against smaller class size.

    Anakin had a one-to-one student to teacher ratio. One could argue that such a small number contributed to him not being able to blend well with normal sociey......

    Of course, it was just a movie, so this is all horsecrap.

    June 8, 2010 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. ryan

    To Michael Wong. And what exactly do you believe? i take offense to you saying the my God is fiction. I believe in Him and his Son, Jesus. I would highly recommend you not bring religion in to this conversation. It has nothing to do with this. Keep your beliefs to yourself.

    June 8, 2010 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Mike

    I just wonder where the bathrooms were on the Death Star. They never showed a line of storm troopers at the urinals or anything like that.

    The first three films were good, but the newer prequels stink...all three of them. Annikin turns to the dark side in about thirty seconds. I figured it would take a lot longer than that. I just didn't see Annikin and Vader as the same person. It didn't work for me.

    Also, how did Vader keep his suit so clean? Did he have a special scrubber/buffer?

    June 8, 2010 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jabba no Waka

    Anyone know how good the Empire's Health Plan is? Does it cover the costs of treatment for the Dark Lord of the Sith?

    June 8, 2010 at 07:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Jack

    Until now I never realized that Darth Vader has so much in common with most all of my ex-girlfriends. Suddenly everything makes perfect sense.

    June 8, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Steve

    Anakin Skywalker didn't change his name. The Sith Lord changed it.

    June 8, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. jimmyhoffa

    Darth Vader just needed a hug. That's all, just a hug.

    June 8, 2010 at 08:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Wzrd1

    This is what happens when a schizophrenic applies modern psychotherapy on a fictional character.
    Schizophrenia is characterized by the sufferer being unable to recognize reality and its difference from fiction.
    Something the authors of that study, no doubt performed using Fraudian, errrr Freudian, disproved methods, suffer from.

    Were such a case as was made here be true, "separated from the mother at an early age as well as absent father", a LARGE percentage of humanity would not have survived. My father has a large number of half-brothers, who were separated from their mother, as she died during the spanish influenza epidemic, their father a number of years later. The converse for his side of the family.
    Were the case made be true, there would've been 11 dysfunctional people who would have been a drain on society. This is patently untrue, as they grew up, the men fighting in WWII, had their own homes and families and were highly productive middle class citizens.
    When one additionally applies the filters applied by the researchers over a lifetime, nearly EVERY human ever on Earth are borderline, as they did on the fictional subject, Darth Vader.

    Frankly, all those who wish to buy in on this nonsense must have had a double helping of moron milk on their stupid flakes this morning!

    June 8, 2010 at 08:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. owkmann

    Actually, this was Obiwan's fault. Anakin was just a nice little boy until Obiwan DEFIED the council and took Anakin as his padowin. The blame rests on way-overdriven expectations. And Obiwan wasn't even a relative! Where were the courts when we needed them?

    June 8, 2010 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. HollyHHS

    @Paul – LOLOLOLOL

    Go to the dark side, they have cookies? Stay with the good side – we have WOOKIES!!

    June 8, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Corbin

    This gave me a good chuckle, though as a case study, they're missing some information. Hang on, let me get my pocket protector adjusted and re-tape my glasses....

    While the actual canon is a mess thanks to Lucas' willy-nilly licensing, it could be argued that in The Force Unleashed, a recent game akin to the Jedi Knight saga, more of Vader's psyche is uncovered. Shortly after becoming Vader, he discovers a force-sensitive child during an assault on Kashyyyk (during the legendary hunting and killing of all Jedi Knights), and spares it. He raises the boy like a son, suggesting psychological assignment.
    Toward the end of the game, this Dark Jedi actually founds the Rebellion under the direction of Vader, who expresses his last vestiges of resistance to Palpatine using the grown child as a proxy. It could be said that this further describes Vader's insecurity as a result of his depressive moods.
    Another curiosity is that in the entire canon of Star Wars, only two people bring Vader to his knees in combat; one of them is this adoptive "son", and the other is his actual. It raises questions as to whether or not Vader has a suicidal impulse that is brought on around familial ties. If Vader "allowed" his child(ren) to win, so-to-speak, he may have felt their patricide would have set him free from Palpatine's influence and somehow "undone" what he did, vindicating Vader of his own choices and mistakes. This would jive with the idea that Vader never let go of that sense of superiority and omnipotence, no matter how far it was pushed to his subconscious.
    Finally, we return to the subject of Vader's codependency on his children. In addition to the "adoptive" son, who is explicitly instructed in a manner designed to overthrow the Emperor by Vader himself, let's look at the famed scene that shook cinema forever. Vader informs Luke of their relation at the conclusion of a battle on Cloud City. Vader, however, doesn't say, "Luke, I'm your father and I'm sorry that my child support was slaughtering Owen and Baru", nor does he say "Luke, I am your father and I know this is awkward, but let's have coffee and talk about it soon." He immediately goes into asking Luke to join him on a seat of power, overthrowing the emperor. What does it say that Vader is validated only through the association of his children? Is this the LucasVerse version of the deadbeat dad that shows up out of nowhere, hits on your girlfriend, and sleeps on your couch?

    June 8, 2010 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. anonymous

    Thanks, CNN. I needed a little laughter this morning 🙂

    June 8, 2010 at 08:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Dr. B

    I'm not sure if I'm more annoyed by this as a professional psychologist (as in Ph.D.), or a life long Star Wars fan.

    Flippin' French people...

    June 8, 2010 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Ultramafic

    @Darth Freud: "Sometimes a light saber is just a light saber..." Except when it represents a phallus. X-D

    June 8, 2010 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply

    Next they will say it’s actually the authors’ mental illness that is being portrayed in his characters.

    June 8, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. JoseF

    M.Wong : I couldn't put it better myself. Add to that: He's a jealous god, a vengful god, and one that asks his subjects to sacrifice there son to prove their loyalty to him. Wait I thought he was all seeing all ;powerful. He couldn't look to see what was in Abe's heart. Hmmmmmmmm. He does need to be analize but more so those who believe the myths.

    June 8, 2010 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Franco

    If Anakin didn't live so long ago (in a galaxy far away) and grew up today.... we would have picked up his ADD at an early age, medicated him, and he just would have grown up to be a normal productive moisture farmer like the rest of his family.

    June 8, 2010 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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