Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader) was the most “googled” Star Wars character in 2017. His history has fascinated individuals since 1977. To understand Darth Vader’s early years and the subsequent outcomes of his life these will be the sources:
- Star Wars 1-2*,3-6
- Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin (2016)*
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series
- Star Wars: Darth Vader comic (2015-2016)
*= is when Anakin is a child/youth and will be used for his ACES. Other media will be used to look at the outcome.
Anakin was miraculously conceived by midi-chlorians and born to his slave mother Shmi Skywalker on Tatooine. At age three, after his master lost a bet in pod racing, his mother and he were owned by Watto.
Anakin was talented at a young age, he was a pilot, he built a droid, and he repaired pod racers.
When Anakin was nine he met a stranded trio: Jar Jar, Padme, and Qui-Gonn. He was quite mesmerized by the 14 year old Padme and inquired if she was an angel.
Anakin would help the trio by racing his pod, risking his own life. Qui-Gonn would make a deal with Watto to split the winnings 50/50, including the freeing of Anakin – but not his mother. Only sustaining a cut on his arm, Anakin won the pod race, essentially freeing himself and acquiring the part needed to get Jar Jar, Padme, and Qui-Gonn off the planet.
Now free, Anakin would accompany Qui-Gonn, and his friend Obi-Wan, to Coruscant with the goal of becoming a Jedi, leaving behind his mother.
Anakin fought in the Naboo space battle, single-handedly destroying the droid control ship. While he fought, his mentor Qui-Gonn would die in a lightsaber duel. At Qui-Gonn’s funeral Obi-Wan promised to fulfill Qui-Gonn’s wish for Anakin to become a Jedi.
At age 12, Anakin’s natural abilities made him arrogant amongst his peers, but he still followed and idolized Obi-Wan. Anakin also made a new relationship with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who saw Anakin’s potential.
Anakin became uncomfortable with his life being decided for him, giving his lightsaber to Obi-wan, he also expressed his desire to leave the Jedi Order.
Obi-Wan and Anakin were sent on a rescue mission to Carnelion IV, where Anakin would be abducted by two locals. Anakin would work with the locals as he tried to reunite with and rescue Obi-Wan, which he did. He then decided to remain a part of the Jedi Order.
At age 19 Anakin would pursue his relationship with Padme further, eventually leading to marriage. Even though marriage was forbidden for Jedi.
Anakin would also return to his home planet in search of his mother. He would find her, moments before she died. In anger and grief, he would then destroy the whole Tusken village – men, women and children. As he buried his mom he desired to become so powerful in the force that he would stop his loved ones from dying.
The Clone Wars started shortly after, when Anakin was still 19.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? OR Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- NO – It was not reported that with his mom Shmi, or in the care of the Jedi Council that he was. However, he did grow up as a slave, and in care.
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? OR Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
- YES – This is a difficult one. In his house no, by his owners it is unclear in the movies. It could also be argued that his lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan would count, but that was after age 19. In the accompanying book for episode two, Anakin does reflect on his master Watto hitting him.
- Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? OR Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you?
- NO – This was not reported. However, Padme is five years older than Anakin, and they were married when he was 19.
- Did you often feel that No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? OR Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
- NO – If not, the opposite was true when he went into care with the Jedi, he was the chosen one.
- Did you often feel that You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? OR Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
- YES – We can see by his clothing in Episode One that Anakin was poorly taken care of, he was a slave until age nine.
- Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
- NO – He never had parents. His mom conceived and birthed him alone.
- Did your mother or stepmother: Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? OR Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? OR Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
- MAYBE? – We know very little about what the conditions were like for Anakin and his mother as a slave. At the same time, at their last meeting, Shmi died from her wounds from being a slave.
- Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?
- NO – This was not reported.
- Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?
- MAYBE? – To me, Shmi presented in a discouraged (yet at times optimistic) manner. We know very little about her story – and grief of being a slave may be more appropriate than saying she was depressed or mentally ill.
- Did a household member go to prison?
- NO – This was not reported.
Discussion about ACE’s
Anakin has a score of 2, with the potential of four. A lot of what ACE’s measure is, as the title suggests, experiences directed toward the child/youth in their family system; very little has to do with the larger environment. For example, being a slave, being raised in poverty, growing up in care, and growing up in a war time. A lot of factors that may have contributed to Anakin’s development are not included.
Also, these experiences are external, not internal – how did Anakin perceive his childhood/youth. We can see that at age 12 he was questioning how he was being raised. By 19, he made a commitment to himself as his mother died in his arms.
ACE’s doesn’t include how a mentor, such as Palpatine, can impact ones life.
While ACE’s intentionally covers early family life experiences, it then seems to invalidate impactful experiences had later in life, such as was the case with Anakin.
Current Mental State
(Spoiler) Anakin is now deceased, but during his life he displayed characteristics and traits that could result in a mental health diagnosis (for in-depth diagnosis go here). He met criteria in his later years for narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
One could argue that due to his traumatic events in his younger years being left untreated created the foundation for personality disorders to develop (specifically borderline).
Positive Psychology (PERMA)
- Positive Emotions – Anakin (Vader), discusses a lot about his anger, hate and fear. He may experience confidence and pride in his abilities as a Sith Lord. But overall, his positivity ratio would be below the recommended three positives for every one negative emotion.
- Engagement – Let’s discuss flow here. Flow in it’s simplest terms is when one becomes lost in their own work. It is a balance between the challenge presented and the abilities one has. For Anakin, in his younger years, he felt that his abilities were not being used to their full potential, and would experience boredom and frustration with the lack of challenges. As Anakin grew, he became more and more comfortable using his abilities in challenging situations. Even until his death, it could be said, that Anakin was often in a state of flow.
- Positive Relationships – Anakin, before becoming Vader, had developed successful relationships with Padme, Obi-Wan, and his padawan Ahsoka. He also valued his relationship with Palpatine, as Palpatine often met and validated Anakin’s emotional needs. After becoming Vader, he struggled to maintain positive relationships, often using his power and abilities to have control in relationships. It’s hard to say that Vader’s relationship with Palpatine was positive, many times Vader made plans to usurp his master. The only positive relationship worth noting is Doctor Aphra, they developed an interesting and unique bond.
- Meaning – Anakin’s motivation for joining the dark side of the force was so that he could learn the power to prevent suffering. When looking at Paul Wong’s PURE Meaning Model Anakin accomplished steps one and two: finding purpose and life goals; and understanding the requirements for the life goals. However, he struggled in the next two steps: responsible actions that are reflective of the purpose and life goals; and evaluation of your life for consistency with life goals. It could be said that his purpose changed, where he wanted to become the Sith Master, but was unable to dethrone Palpatine.
- Achievement – Anakin did achieve his goal of becoming successful with the force, building a reputation as a Sith Lord that spread through an entire galaxy. However, he did not learn the desired ability, to prevent suffering and death. He accomplished his short and mid-length goals, but not his long term.
Post Traumatic Growth vs Post Traumatic Stress
Depending if you are a Jedi or a Sith will determine the outcome of this question. Becoming a well-known, and admired leader of a galactic government that emerged from slavery sounds like post traumatic growth, or benefit finding. Yet becoming the leader of an empire that has caused death and destruction, sacrificing all relationships in pursuit of domination, sounds like post traumatic stress.
Let’s look specifically look at traits of PTS and PTG.
- Post Traumatic Stress:
- Re-experiencing: Yes. He would experience intrusive dreams and visions of losing his mother and his wife.
- Avoidance: No. According to Rogue One he built his castle on Mustafar, and he did return to Tatooine in search of a mysterious pilot.
- Numbing: Maybe? It’s important to remember that Anakin became “more robot than man”
- Hyperarousal: Yes. He was easily triggered to anger, even amongst co-workers.
- Post Traumatic Growth:
- Relationships: No. He did not develop or maintain new positive relationships.
- New Possibilities: Yes. His life story led to the possibility of becoming a Sith Lord.
- Personal Strength: Yes, in away. His abilities with the force led to him becoming the second, if not the most powerful person in the galaxy.
- Spiritual Change: Yes. He changed from the Jedi religion to the Sith.
- Appreciation for Life: No. It is hard to say that a man who helped create a weapon that could destroy whole planets appreciated life.
Can you experience both? It definitely seems that Anakin experienced both stress and growth at times during his adult years. It is important to remember that this isn’t an either or type situation. PTSD can be experienced and then develop into PTG; and vice-versa.
Keep in mind that these are only a couple recommended interventions, there could be many helpful approaches.
Empathy, Validation, and Connection. Anakin really needed emotional validation. A lot of his struggles originated from not having his experiences validated by Yoda and the Jedi Council. He was also seeking for a male role model, or father figure. The lack of validation and a father figure, made Anakin vulnerable to Palpatine.
Slower transition to Coruscant. Being removed from his mother happened so quickly. It was a couple days, at most, Qui-Gonn went from being a complete stranger to “foster dad”. This transition needed to take longer, and could have fostered more open communication, but as were the traditions of the Jedi that they did not allow visits to family. Anakin being removed at such an older age compared to the other younglings, had already developed an attachment and a bond with his mother.
Self Concept. Anakin could have benefited from a life-story or as it is called by Signs of Safety, words and pictures, explaining in age-appropriate terms why he was now living with the Jedi on Coruscant, and why he needed to leave his mother. It would have helped provide context and meaning, while also nurturing his self-concept.
Grief. Anakin needed to express his grief. He left his mother behind, his first mentor was killed in a light saber duel, and he was kidnapped. He needed a moment to grieve, instead he was frequently told to not feel.
Anger is OK. Anakin was often taught that anger was bad. He never learned how to manage any emotions, in particular the weight of anger, and instead expressed it in unhelpful ways. As noted with grief, he needed to express his emotions in helpful and healthy ways.
Anakin, as is anyone, is a complex individual, showing that ACE’s, while beneficial, is not the sole predictor for outcomes in life. Anakin’s tale, from my perspective, is one of people who were trying to be helpful but did not take time to get to know and understand him which lead to him being vulnerable to the dark side of the force. While his early experiences did impact him, it was more his formative 20’s where his greatest impacts where had.