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The Psychology of Star Wars
Star Wars on the couch
As a psychologist and Star Wars fan, I always wanted to write something about the psychology of Star Wars. I wouldn’t be the first one to apply psychological principles to popular culture and probably not the last. One could write a whole book about the subject but I hope my short essay will capture some of the main themes present in the Star Wars movies. I might make use of some elements of the more recent films, but I will mainly concentrate on the three “first movies”: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.
I think the Star Wars universe is influenced by many cultural, social and philosophical ideas. I personally think that Jungian analytic psychology has some interesting concepts that can be applied to the Star Wars universe. Jung was especially interested in how myths, religion and dreams influence the human psyche and, what he called, the collective unconscious. This is therefore a first sketch of a psychology of Star Wars.
A world of light against darkness
The Star Wars universe is a Manichean world. Manichaeism was a philosophy and religion in ancient Persia that believed in a constant struggle between light (good) and darkness (evil). This religion has influenced many others such as Christianism and Islam (God vs. Satan, Paradise vs. Hell). Manicheans believed that there should be a balance between the two poles (each represented by a god). This philosophy also believes that human beings are also inhabited by this struggle.
You can see that Star Wars really fits with these ideas. On the one side we have the rebellion – the force for good – against the forces of evil – the Empire. This is also visually very explicit in the films. For example, both Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia are all in white in “A New Hope” as Darth Vader is all in black.
The visual symbolism is also extended to Star Wars spacecrafts. The X and Y wings of the rebellion are white as the fighters of the Empire are all back.
Finally there is the opposition of the invisible powers present in the universe: the force has to sides, the “light side” and the “dark side”. This just confirms the duality between light and darkness that is strongly present in Star Wars.
Star Wars Archetypes
According to Jung, archetypes are universal personality patterns and traits that appear frequently and can be observed across different cultures. We all have different archetypes within us. Archetypes are helpful in analyzing fictional characters as popular culture generally creates characters that are very archetypal.
Anima & Animus
Anima (male) and Animus (female) are two sides of our psyche that are complementary. The “couple” Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia represents this archetype. We learn that they are brother and sister that emphasis the close relation between animus and anima. They are almost inseparable in the trilogy in the fight against the dark side.
The wise old man
In Jungian psychology, the wise old man emerges when individuals have “resolved” their unconscious conflicts. It represents the wise part of our personality that looks after us like a Guardian.
Undoubtedly, Yoda represents the wise old man archetype in Star Wars. He is described as someone who has managed to master the force and has a deep understanding of the difficult internal conflicts that are on the path of a novice Jedi; mainly the struggle between the light and dark side of the force.
The cave scene is a good representation of Luke's shadow
The shadow is the archetype that represents the dark side of our personality that is unconscious. The shadow is all the “unwanted” parts of us. It affects us in our lives without us realizing it. Feelings that we don’t want pass into the shadow.
I think Darth Vader represents this archetype. We need to remember that it is anger and grief that pushes him towards the dark side of the force. He also represents all the negative aspects which Luke has to fight against. Lets remember Luke’s experience in the cave in the empire strikes back. When he strikes Darth Vader, he sees his on face roll. It becomes clear that Darth Vader represents Luke’s shadow. What he fears to become.
Further reading: the philosophy of Star Wars
This archetype is best represented by the emperor in Star Wars. The trickster is a mischievous character that uses deceits and trickery to attain his goals. The way the emperor attracts Anakin Skywalker to the dark side or the way he tricks the rebellion in the return of the Jedi are good examples of this archetype.
These are few of the archetypes present in Star Wars. There are many more, some represented by the other main characters such as Han Solo or the droids or some of the minor characters. But this will be for another hub.