A few days ago, my friend and colleague Dr. Andrew Dunn sent all the psychology staff members a paper published in the December 2015 issue of Australasian Psychiatry by Susan Friedman and Ryan Hall entitled ‘Using Star Wars’ supporting characters to teach about psychopathology’. As a fan of Star Wars and science fiction more generally, I immediately read the paper and thought it would be a good topic to write a blog about.
It turns out that Friedman and Ryan have written a series of papers in psychiatric journals over the last year arguing that many of the characters in the Star Wars movies have underlying psychopathologies and that because of the films’ popularity, the films could be used to teach students about various psychiatric disorders. The authors asserted that “supporting characters in Star Wars can be used to teach about a wide variety of psychiatric conditions which are not commonly so accessible in one story, including [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] ADHD, anxiety, kleptomania, and paedophilia”. I have to admit that in my own teaching I often use characters and/or storylines from film and television to explain psychological phenomena to my own students (and have also published articles and papers demonstrating the utility of using such sources in both teaching and research contexts – see ‘Further reading’ below). Therefore, I was intrigued to read what psychiatric disorders had been attributed to which Star Wars characters.
In the Australasian Psychiatry paper, it is argued that Jar Jar Binks has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
“Jar Jar frequently overlooks details and makes careless mistakes…His difficulty in sustaining his attention is evident…His difficulty in following instructions almost results in him being put to death…trainees can determine whether [the examples provided] are related to inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity”.
More controversially, Friedman and Ryan make the case for Qui-Gon Jinn showing paedophilic grooming behaviour.
“In Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon engages in many behaviours with young Anakin Skywalker the same way a paedophile would with a child victim. Anakin seems to fit a pattern which Qui-Gon has of cultivating prepubescent, fair-complexioned boys with no strong male family ties…Anakin’s mother has no power or relations with authority, which decreases the likelihood that either she or Anakin would report the paedophile, or potentially be believed by others…Qui-Gon develops a relationship with Anakin, noting his special features and abilities: he often gives compliments to the child…He fosters a relationship where secrets are kept…and the child is slowly isolated from others…After trust is gained, there is a gradual increase in physical intimacy. In the movies this was symbolised by Qui-Gon drawing blood samples from Anakin. A paedophile may incorporate other children or older victims into the grooming process to further lower the child’s inhibitions”.
I’m not overly convinced by the argument but it does at least lead to discussions on the topic of grooming that I could see having a place in the classroom. Friedman and Ryan also examine a whole species (the Jawas) and claim that they are by nature kleptomaniacs:
“Jawas can introduce the concepts of kleptomania and hoarding, since they ‘have a tendency to pick up anything that’s not tied down’. It is important from a diagnostic point of view to recognise that kleptomania is more than just stealing or shoplifting…To meet criteria for kleptomania, one must recurrently fail to resist the impulse to steal unneeded or non-valuable objects. Tension before committing the theft is followed by gratification or release afterwards. These characteristics of kleptomania can be inferred from the Jawas’ capture of R2D2…The gratification of stealing R2D2 is clear from the Jawas’ excited scream…As for the need or value of the stolen items and the repetitive nature of the theft, the Jawas’ sandcrawler is filled with droids in various states of dysfunction…Although on a desert planet almost anything might have value, the Jawas seem to take this to extremes given the number of broken droids in their possession which do not even appear to be in good enough shape to use as spare parts”.
Elsewhere in the paper is a table listing many Star Wars characters along with “potential concept discussions” related to the characters’ behaviours in the films. This includes (amongst others) Darth Vader (borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), Jabba the Hutt (psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder), Boba Fett (Oedipal issues – Hamlet type), Yoda (dyslexia, malingering), Luke Skywalker (prodromal schizophrenia), Princess Leia (histrionic personality disorder), Padme Amidala (postnatal delirium, postnatal depression), Obi-Wan Kenobi (major depression in old age, pseudo-dementia), and C3PO (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder).
However, given my own research interests, the character that most interested me in Friedman and Ryan’s list was the claim that Lando Calrissian might be a pathological gambler. According to one of the Wiki entries:
“Lando Calrissian was a human male smuggler, gambler, and card player who became Baron Administrator of Cloud City, and, later, a general in the Rebel Alliance. [He] was born on the planet Socorro…During his youth, he became a smuggler and a gambler, playing a card game known as sabbacc. Calrissian was able to make a living by illegally acquiring and redistributing rare or valuable goods. However, due to Calrissian’s penchant for gambling, he and his business partner Lobot were in deep with the wrong people”.
Gambling does make the occasional appearance in Star Wars films – particularly in bar scenes. In describing Calrissian to Han Solo, Princess Leia notes “he’s a card player, gambler, scoundrel. You’d like him“. Qui-Gon Jinn notes in The Phantom Menace that “Whenever you gamble my friend, eventually you’ll lose”. The Star Wars Wiki on gambling notes that it involves “the betting of credits or possessions in wagers or games like sabbacc. For example, Lando Calrissian bet the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc with Han Solo, and lost. Gambling was rampant on Tatooine [the home planet of Luke Skywalker]”. The Star Wars Wiki on sabacc also notes that there are several variants of the game and that Calrissian lost the Millenium Falcon to Han Solo while playing ‘Corellian Spike’ and that Solo kept the two golden dice that were used while gambling. A profile article on Calrissian in the Washington Post describes him as a “suave gambler” rather than a pathological gambler.
There is no doubt that Calrissian liked to gamble but there is little evidence from the film that it was pathological. However, other articles (as well as older and newer fiction) about him claim that he is. For instance, in an online article by Shane Cowlishaw discussing the personality disorders of Star Wars characters, the following is claimed:
“He may have ended up leading the final assault on the Death Star, but Lando perhaps was only successful due to being a pathological gambler. Having lost the Millennium Falcon to Han Solo in a bet, conned the Bespin Gas Mine out of somebody and gambling on a deal to betray Han and Chewbacca to the Empire, it is clear he can’t help himself. Lando gambles with the lives of other rebels, albeit successfully, be demanding that the spaceship not abort their mission when Admiral Ackbar orders everyone to retreat from the unexpectedly operational Death Star. A perfect character to debate whether pathological gambling is an addiction or an impulse-control disorder, apparently”
It’s also worth mentioning that Calrissian will also be making an appearance in upcoming Marvel comics. In an interview with writer Charles Soule (who will be scripting the new stories), it is evident that the crux of his character will focus on the gambling part of his personality – but more on the problem side:
“I focused on the whole gambler archetype for Lando; more specifically, the sort of lifelong card player who never really knows when to walk away from the table. He’s always chasing his losses, hoping that if he makes a big enough bet, he can get ahead with just one good hand. It’s tweaked a bit here—the idea is that Lando had something happen to him in his past that put him way behind, and now he’s just trying to get back to even. This isn’t really a financial thing, although that’s part of it – it’s more like a moral thing. Like a life debt. I don’t hit it too hard in this story—it’s all background—but the shading is there…Lando gets into crazy, extreme situations because they’re his version of making big bets at the card table. If he can make it through his next adventure, maybe he can just retire and live a quiet life. It never really works out, though. One step forward, two steps back. That’s Lando Calrissian…It’s a story about a hyper-charismatic, ultra-smooth guy who gets into huge jams constantly, and tends to get out of them through a combination of luck and charm. He’d never punch his way out of a fight; he’d rather buy everyone a few drinks and leave on good terms. Assuming he hasn’t gambled away all his money, that is”.
However, there is also the 2013 novel Scoundrels written by Timothy Zahn featuring Calrissian, Han Solo, and Chewbacca and includes the short story Winner Lose All based on Calrissian’s love of gambling but here, there is nothing to suggest the behaviour is pathological. There is also a fictional online interview with Calrissian that puts forward the idea that he was a professional gambler rather than a pathological gambler:
“Basically I was born to a normal middle class family and found I had a talent for gambling. I traipsed across the universe as a professional gambler, but occasionally need more money so I hired out as mercenary and treasure hunter. Eventually I won the Millennium Falcon, but didn’t know how to fly it. So I paid Han Solo to teach me, he won the ship from me in a game of Sabbac. I won it back but, it like taking your best friend’s girl so I gave it back to him. When I wound up on Cloud City I won my title of Barron Administrator in a card game. The rest is they sat history”.
Finally, on a more academic note, Calrissian also makes an appearance as one of the ‘Gambler’ archetypes the book Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists by Margaret Hartwell and Joshua Chen. The book is a novel approach to brand development and includes a deck of 60 archetype cards with the aim of revealing a brand’s motivation and why it attracts certain customers. The authors hope that the book will be used repeatedly to inform and enliven brand strategy. This again suggests that Calrissian’s gambling is not seen as pathological (otherwise he wouldn’t have been included in the book as a brand to be modelled upon).
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Cowlishaw, S. (2015). Star Wars characters and their personality disorders. Stuff, July 8. Located at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/70017741/Star-Wars-characters-and-their-personality-disorders
Friedman, S. H., & Hall, R. C. (2015). Using Star Wars’ supporting characters to teach about psychopathology. Australasian Psychiatry, 23(4), 432-434.
Friedman, S. H., & Hall, R. C. (2015). Teaching psychopathology in a galaxy far, far away: The light side of the force. Academic Psychiatry, 39(6), 719-725.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Media literature as a teaching aid for psychology: Some comments. Psychology Teaching Review, 5(2), 90.
Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Media and advertising influences on adolescent risk behaviour. Education and Health, 28(1), 2-5.
Hall, R. C., & Friedman, S. H. (2015). Psychopathology in a galaxy far, far away: The use of Star Wars’ dark side in teaching. Academic Psychiatry, 39(6), 726-732.
Hartwell, M. & Chen, J.C. (2012). Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists. How Design Books.
Regular readers of my blog may remember that my first academically published papers were on hypnosis (as I recounted in a previous blog I did on hypnofetishism). Consequently, I’ve always had a passing interest in stage hypnotism although some of those that I’ve seen sail close to the wind in terms of their ethics. In fact the following online query raised some of the sort of questions I have often asked myself when watching such shows:
“My in-laws recently attended an ‘adults only’ hypnotist show in Las Vegas. The hypnotist selected audience members to be hypnotized. I’m sure you all know the drill here. The selected individuals did all sorts of sexual (or inferred sexual acts) from masturbating a teddy bear to having an orgasm when another sneezes…Is it ethical? Is it a form of abuse if these people were not in full control of their capacities? I would think in this day of lawsuit happy lawyers a participant could easily sue a hypnotist for ‘suggesting’ this type of behavior”
Over the last few years there have been a number of high profile stories about ‘X-rated’ stage hypnotists. For instance, in 2012, Colin Adamson’s “raunchy hypnosis show” was banned for being “too rude” by the University of Kent’s student union after the hypnotist got his participants to simulate sex acts and lap dances on stage. Some of those on stage were made to believe they were having orgasms while others simulated masturbation. One of the women that was hypnotized into believing she had been touched indecently by someone watching the show and was left ”too upset to speak”. Sadaeva president of the University of Kent Feminist Society was “disgusted” and was quoted as saying: “[Adamson] shows a lack of empathy towards rape victims and all women, and a lack of basic human decency – he has no place at a student union”.
One infamous case of problems with someone that participated in stage hypnotism was recounted by Dr. Michael Heap in a 2000 issue of the journal Contemporary Hypnosis (as well as on his own website). Heap was an expert witness for the defendant in a case he calls ‘Norman versus Byrnes’ (Mr. Byrnes was the defendant, the stage hypnotist; Mr. Norman, the plaintiff was the person on stage under hypnosis). Dr. Heap began by briefly reviewing the main issues:
“Mr. Norman’s story is that on Wednesday June 30th 1993, he took part in Mr. Byrnes’s stage hypnosis show at a hotel. At some point in the show Mr. Byrnes offered to help Mr. Norman give up smoking. Amongst other things, he gave him a post-hypnotic suggestion that from now on cigarettes would taste foul. Towards the end of the performance Mr. Byrnes suggested to his volunteers that as they were sitting in their chairs they would feel more and more sexy. He then hit his microphone repeatedly calling out ’10 times more sexy’, ’20 times more sexy’…..and so on. Mr. Norman seemed to become carried away; he stood up and made thrusting movements at the chair. Mr. Byrnes then suggested to the participants that when they went to bed that night they would feel even 50 times more sexy than they did then. Mr. and Mrs. Norman both confirmed that when they went to bed that night, as soon as Mr. Norman laid down on the mattress he started shaking violently and bouncing up and down. Mr. Norman claimed that he was having sexual intercourse with the mattress and that indeed he did find the mattress sexually attractive. Thus he continued simulating intercourse with the mattress and the other contents of his bed, with the exception of his wife”.
Mr. Norman had sex with his hotel bedroom furniture for about four hours (1am to 5am). When Mr. Norman stopped at one point to smoke a cigarette he became violently sick. On resuming his furniture sex, Mrs. Norman managed to stop the activity by blowing cigarette smoke into her husband’s face. Over the following days, Mr. Norman’s sexual urges diminished during the day but the uncontrollable urge to have sex with the furniture and other domestic appliances came back each night in the hotel room. Mr. Norman and his wife reported that the objects that became sexually attractive included all the bed’s contents, the hotel ceiling, a variety of ornaments in the hotel room, the room’s armchair, the hotel bath, and a tumble dryer. Dr. Heap then reported:
“On Monday, five days after her husband’s stage hypnosis experience, Mrs. Norman went to see a lawyer; on Wednesday Mr. Norman went to see his doctor. He was prescribed antidepressants and several days later his doctor ‘performed hypnotherapy on him to remove the post-hypnotic suggestion’ and this appeared to be successful. However, about three weeks later he was referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas, with ‘depression and delusions’ and violent behaviour. Dr. Thomas saw Mr. Norman on October 18th…Dr. Thomas ascribed Mr. Norman’s problems to Mr. Byrnes’s failure to take him ‘out of the hypnotic trance’…Things appeared to go quiet, and Mr. Norman did not receive any medication or treatment for these problems until four months later…Mr. Norman continued to present with a bewildering array of mental symptoms variously diagnosed as dissociative state, hypomania, hysteria, Ganser’s syndrome, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid psychosis and schizo-affective disorder”.
Mr. Norman’s legal team then secured the services of a consultant psychiatrist Dr. James, who was former official of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis. Dr. James then made a number of allegations of negligence against Byrnes (e.g., Byrnes didn’t establish what the exact counter-suggestion should have been to dispel the post-hypnotic suggestion). Dr. Heap then claimed:
“When I consider these serious allegations against Mr. Byrnes, I cannot help hearing in my mind the music ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’. Dr. James casts Mr. Byrnes in the role of an inept would-be wizard whose task, under the stern eye of a properly qualified master wizard, is to discover the best counter-spell or incantation that would lift the evil curse with which he had previously inadvertently bewitched Mr. Norman…This case came to trial in September 1997. I sat in Court every day…but on the fifth day, long before the defence had opened its case, the trial collapsed. Mr. Norman’s financial backer withdrew, his legal aid having already been rescinded. The reason for the latter was as follows: had Mr. Norman won his case, the compensation that he would have received would have been claimed back by the state to offset the considerable welfare and sickness benefits he had received while indisposed. Thus he would have been financially no better off and legal aid is not granted when such is the case”.
Dr. Heap was under the view that Mr. Norman was “clearly malingering in his claims to have been afflicted with his unusual sexual compulsions”. Heap claimed that there were grounds for considering Norman’s symptoms as a factitious disorder (like Munchausen’s Syndrome).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Heap, M. (2000). A legal case of a man complaining of an extraordinary sexual disorder following stage hypnosis. Contemporary Hypnosis, 17(3), 143-149.
Heap, M. (2001). Some stories about hypnosis. The Skeptical Intelligencer, 3(4), 29-35
Heap, M. (2014). Some stories about hypnosis. Located at: http://www.mheap.com/hypnosis.html