Don't blame it on the Dark Side. Anakin Skywalker's epic transformation into the evil Darth Vader may have been a result of mental illness, according to a group of French psychiatrists and psychologists.
In a paper published in the journal Psychiatry Research, Eric Bui and his colleagues at Toulouse University Hospital have given new meaning to the term "Jedi mind tricks" with their psychoanalysis of why the tragic "Star Wars" hero fell from Jedi grace. Apparently, he had borderline personality disorder.
As he came of age, Skywalker showed problems with impulsivity, violent outburst, illusions of invincibility and crises of identity, all of which are in line with borderline personality disorder diagnosis, the researchers concluded.
The absence of a father and early separation from his mother set the stage for his later developmental issues, the authors noted, and violent, dissociative events, such as when he kills a tribe of Tuskans in blind revenge, precipitated his turn to the Dark Side.
Indeed, Skywalker exhibited six out of nine of the borderline personality disorder criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV), although fitting five is enough for a diagnosis.
What's more, they argued, because adolescents tend to display some traits of borderline personality disorder during their development, Skywalker's erratic behavior and struggles with identity may be behind the wild success of the sci-fi saga.
But some U.S. psychiatrists believe the researchers may have jumped the gun.
"Anakin shows borderline traits, but these do not persist into his adulthood," UCLA child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. H. Eric Bender said.
The borderline personality traits listed in the paper would have to be "enduring and maladaptive patterns" over the lifetime in order to justify a diagnosis, he added.
When Skywalker made the transformation to Darth Vader, the borderline personality traits didn't really come with him. In other words, Bender said, he was firm in his identity as a villain.
Although he disagreed with the diagnosis, Bender would be the first to approve of the spirit behind the Darth Vader paper.
While a fellow in child psychiatry at UCLA, Bender joined forces with fellow psychiatrists Dr. Vasilis Pozios of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Dr. Praveen Kambam of Los Angeles to form Broadcast Thought, an advocacy group that seeks to educate the public about mental illness through fictional characters of the comic book or sci-fi variety.
"We are 'fanboys' ourselves," Bender said. "We love comics" and wanted to use the genre "to examine how mental illness is portrayed in media and how it educates the public."
In the past year, the trio has spoken at renowned comic book conventions Comic-Con and WonderCon, where they delivered an analysis -- to sold out crowds, no less -- of which Batman villains actually deserved to be in the fictional psychiatric hospital of the series, Arkham Asylum.
"People really have a hunger to learn more about these characters and it's a great opportunity to educate public on the accuracy of depictions of mental health disorders, and in that way, help reduce mental health stigma," Pozios said.
As for which Batman criminals were actually criminally insane, surprisingly few made the cut.