I know this is quite a departure from my usual reads, but for this book I clearly had to make an exception. Even though I hardly get the chance to read nonfiction anymore these days, when it comes to anything even remotely Star Wars related, I can’t help it, I just have to check it out.
Interestingly, and perhaps appropriate to my situation, Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind seeks to examine the phenomenon that is Star Wars and explore what it is about this beloved franchise that appeals to millions of rabidly obsessed fans everywhere—by looking at it from a psychological perspective. We’ve all heard how George Lucas was influenced heavily by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and his concept of the monomyth, or “The Hero’s Journey”, which shaped early drafts of the first Star Wars movie. Using frequent references to classical motifs and archetypes drawn from Jungian analytical psychology, this collection of essays offers insights into why and how the Star Wars saga has managed to touch us all on a deeper level.
Written by a team of doctors, experts, and mega fans, Star Wars Psychology dissects the themes and topics of the movies while relating them back to scientific and social concepts. Many of the articles also use Star Wars to illustrate examples of psychological and sociological theory. This book is sure to appeal to people who love Star Wars and/or psychology buffs. While some of the theses proposed by some of these essays are those I’ve heard before or are obvious, others might make you see Star Wars in a whole new light.
From the dichotomy of good versus evil (the light side/Jedi Code versus the dark side/Sith Code) to discussions on what makes good people do bad things (Lando Calrissian and his fateful decision to betray Han Solo and the gang), Star Wars Psychology explores how elements in Star Wars relate to mental health, as well as how human beings think and feel. There is even an enthralling piece on the phenomenon of phantom limbs and speculation what multiple amputations at the end of Episode III would have done to Darth Vader’s brain.
Personally though, I was most fascinated by the chapters dealing with the “social side” of Star Wars, such as gender psychology or exploring the characters as role models. And even though this is nonfiction, some of the essay topics also relate back to speculative fiction, acknowledging that we create and enjoy fantasy worlds and stories as a way to ask probing questions about our own existence. Take the matter of droids, for example. Do C-3PO and R2-D2 have feelings? If so, to what extent? The matter is complicated by the fact we still don’t know enough about cognitive processes and human emotions to answer these questions once and for all. Think of all the sci-fi books you’ve read dealing with AIs and personhood, and how much psychology ends up being discussed in those stories.
I’m also impressed that we don’t look at just the movies. Many of the contributors reach into other media to make their points, citing Star Wars games, TV shows, books of the old Expanded Universe, and even in one case the soundtrack score featuring the inspiring music of John Williams. There are lots of other informational tidbits shown in textboxes, embedded in the chapters all throughout this book; here you might find little known details (my favorite was the little factoid about the Mark of Altruism from the now defunct Star Wars Galaxies MMO – how I miss that game) or more specific explanations into the theories and concepts within the field of Psychology.
Most would probably look at this book and categorize it as “pop psych”, a well-researched and professionally written book of essays intended to be devoured by the legions of Star Wars geeks everywhere, especially as the world prepares for the arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this December. Nonetheless, it is an absorbing read, examining the ideas and core values of why we love Star Wars, encouraging us think about the movies and characters in new and unpredictable ways. There’s something for everyone in this fun and fascinating volume, a good addition to any Star Wars fan’s bookshelf....more