The Rise of Research: How is mental health explored in the Star Wars movies?

I’ve been asked today to talk about
relationship between the Star Wars films and mental health. Over the series of
films several psychological features are portrayed, George Lucas himself describes
how he was influenced by both Kurosawa the Japanese film director and also the
writer Joseph Campbell in particular Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell himself drew on the work of the
psychologist and psychiatrist Carl Jung particular his ideas of the archetypes
of the unconscious and how these input on myth and folklore. These are themes
that Lucas portrayed in the film particularly around the wise old man
Obi Wan Kenobi, the dark shadow with with Vader and also the anima with
Princess Leia and also the idea of the character arc of Luke from the hero
progressing from an existance on a planet of desert and
working as a farmer to being a galactic hero. We see this kind of theme throughout
various and myths and legends through out time. But an arc more relevant to
us as mental health researchers is that of Anakin. So Anakin is as people know
Luke’s father but is reintroduced to him in the first film the Phantom Menace as
born a slave, we see him escape slavery as he gets taken on by the Jedi
Order and then again how he manages to develop primacy in the Clone Wars and
working with Obi Wan but also ultimately how he falls the dark side and
his fall is again linked to the trauma of loss and how he loses Padme in childbirth and the grief of that. Ultimately with Anakin we see redemption
at the end in the Return the Jedi film where Luke confronts him as his father and
Anakin/Vader ultimately saves Luke from the Emperor.
More generally the Star Wars films offer us a rich way to think about emotions and
you see the two different views between the Jedi having a view of emotion should
be controlled or ignored or oppressed where as the Sith have an equally strange
view with emotions being dangerous and linked to power and to be embraced where as in
reality for most of us emotions are a normal feature of our existence, weu have to
manage them in the best way as we can. The final feature that’s of interest I
think is portrayed in the films, is the issue about twins. So we know that Leia and
Luke are twins separated at birth so again this is a common
research design where we see twins and how they grow up and try and dissect out the
genetic and the environmental influences on psychological outcomes
and also the more general issue of prediction. So a friend of mine
commonly uses a slide from the film showing Anakin as a young boy with the shadow of
Vader behind and the idea is a lot of mental health research is about trying
to predict outcomes and delivering care to those who need it most early enough
to prevent these outcomes developing. So looking at the most recent films I guess
there are two themes that echo through, one is an Oedipal conflict, you can see
this idea of the son and the father, so in the original trilogy there is
always the battle between Vader and Luke and as mentioned ultimately that leads
with Luke not slaying his father and standing back and Anakin or Vader
survives that battle and dies another way but also in parallel we see
in the later films Kylo who is a new Dark Lord in the new trilogy
slaying his father who’s Han Solo in the films. It’s a common theme here but
what we don’t know is the trajectory these heroes of the last film may reveal to us. So
The Last Jedi showed us a Luke who was very different from this compassionate caring
involved man and in The Return the Jedi when he’s withdrawn away in isolation
and meditation who does intervene but only at a distance as a kind of astral force
powers. And some people say this is a Luke who’s disappointed by the way his career
in life has developed how he’s disappointed by the Jedi Order
and his own training. What we don’t know is how Kylo’s choice will now lead
in the future how his choices will lead in the last film and particular his
relationship with Rey and whether that will be a battle or a a force of unity
in the future. Please listen to the podcast I’m doing with Dr Jen Cumming we’re
talking about her important work in mental skills training with athletes. So
you recall looking back at the Star Wars films a lot of it is around Luke’s
training particularly with Yoda on Dagobah in Empire Strikes Back and how mental
training can help improve peak performance.



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