Mental Health And Its Treatment in Revenge of The Sith
Revenge of the Sith has become a fan favourite for its iconic scenes of the Jedi purge, the formation of the empire, and most importantly, the downfall of Anakin Skywalker. Much like the prequels, the movie is about Anakin’s story and his eventual change into Darth Vader. However, there may be more to Anakin, concerning his mental health, than anyone realises.
In a world where mental health is now being taken seriously, it’s curious whether George Lucas incorporated similar themes back in 2005. Perhaps the movie intentionally highlights Anakin, with his struggle between his personal life and his dedication to the Jedi. Such struggles can be reflected in a myriad of modern-day problems that a lot of people face today and did face in 2005.
Here we will be exploring how the treatment of Anakin’s mental health in Revenge Of The Sith relates to the contemporary issues of mental health awareness and treatment. We will be discussing 4 main points: approval and anxiety, un-reliant advisory and comfort, the lack of speaking out, and peer pressure.
Note: The following article does not in any way blame poor mental health for Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. It simply explores how others’ treatment and responses to Anakin’s mental health may have influenced his decisions.
Approval And Anxiety With Mental Health
Having lived on a planet in slavery with few friends, Anakin’s approval would have been considered pointless. Additionally, in this harsh environment, his mother is the only source of love. Therefore, being freed and inducted into the Jedi, Anakin would be exploring a new lifestyle and new people. Given that approval/attention is generally based around the child/parent relationship, it makes sense that Anakin would be pandering to that lost attention as a child.
Martin from Erupting Mind says that: “The need for parental approval is something that children will work very hard to get. […] we eventually become conditioned to seek approval from others for the things we say and do”. There are times when Anakin sought approval and it had been met with mostly negative responses. In turn, this impacts his anxiety. Nevertheless, to begin with we will take a look at Anakin’s first positive interaction concerning his need for approval.
After the battle above Coruscant, Anakin and Obi-wan return to the planet where the latter praises Anakin for his actions. Anakin is humbled by this recognition – highlighting a healthy relationship between the two. Obi-wan states that Anakin deserves fame from the press; which yields results in making Anakin incredibly happy.
From this small interaction, we can see Obi-Wan ‘rewarding’ Anakin for his actions. This in turn makes him feel a sense of worth and through this approval, Anakin has a positive association with his mentor. Though this is sadly the only instance of positivity and care for Anakin’s wellbeing from Obi-Wan.
Treating Him Like A Child
To start with, patronising attitudes and actions towards Anakin seem to worsen his mental state. For example, Palpatine makes Anakin a representative on the council without their knowledge and ‘rewards’ Anakin for his hard work. In Anakin’s mind, this is him gaining another trustworthy friend. However, the council later denies Anakin’s request to Master rank (due to their suspicion of Palpatine), with Windu telling Anakin to sit down and referring to him as “young Skywalker”. This is an example of how to not handle this situation. Mostly due to the belittling nature of Windu’s tone.
By referring to Anakin as “young” Windu is undermining Anakin’s potential with the excuse of focusing on his youth. What Windu may see as overconfidence, we understand as being a visible concern for others. This starts Anakin’s self-doubt downturn and heightens his anxiety towards the Jedi, for they are the beliefs he idolises. Rather than receiving is an explanation for the denial of his request, and answers to his questions, he is reprimanded.
After the council, Anakin is even reprimanded by his mentor. When Anakin visibly shows his frustrations to Obi-Wan; the latter replies with “Calm down Anakin”. This is yet another inappropriate way to handle the situation. By telling Anakin to “Calm down”, Obi-Wan dismisses Anakin’s frustration and anger as just typical behaviour for someone of his age – once again focusing on his youth. Obi-Wan, like Windu, sees the emotion but not the explanation for it.
These responses to him only serve to increase Anakin’s anxiety as to whether he is worth anything to the Jedi when he has done so much for them. Anakin even later confesses to Padme that “Obi-Wan and the council don’t trust me”. The weight on naming Obi-Wan separately from the council further shows that he saw him as more trustworthy, but that trust is now breaking.
Unreliable Advisors And Comfort
A lot of us who struggle with mental health tend to seek answers and comfort. This can come from friends, relatives, or through guidance such as religion or enlightenment. But at times, we can feel emotionally exhausted from not receiving the support we need. Anakin has experienced this before when he has nightmares of his wife dying in childbirth. With these horrors comparable to that of his mother’s death, Anakin seeks answers and essentially therapy through private counselling.
Now there are two ways in which this scene could entail a theme of mental health. Both related to therapy…
The Importance of Therapy for Mental Health
I believe George Lucas made this intentional. The room and conversations between Yoda and Skywalker are symmetrical to that of Therapist and Patient. Lucas possibly created this scene to highlight the importance of seeking professional help. It is shown through this one-to-one conversation and Anakin speaking his mind.
The scene has Anakin reluctant to talk to Yoda at first, attempting to be as closed as possible. We see that he becomes more determined to bettering himself; stating “I won’t let these visions come to pass, Master Yoda”. Although Anakin by the end seems troubled, he has taken the first step towards seeking help. This is the important message that Lucas is trying to show us.
It may also emphasise the importance of “professional” help. Yoda himself fails Anakin by being incapable to see Anakin’s mental state, choosing to focus on the Darkness rather than look further into how to better Anakin’s mental health. This is further evident later during Anakin’s outburst at the council.
Yoda had had a discussion with Anakin prior to that event; meaning he would’ve had more insight than any of the other Jedi in that meeting. Instead of using that knowledge to understand Anakin’s outburst, Yoda dismisses it – an action that later became consequential in Anakin’s decision making and proved Yoda was not professional in his aid.
The Jedi Religion Vs Mental Health
Not only does the scene showcase Anakin’s decision to seek help, but it also shows a failure to listen. This derives from both a psychological and a religious standpoint. It’s been widely debated whether the Jedi and the Sith are religions or cults. But the point stands that the advice and scripture used to justify or even defer mental health can be problematic.
This is quite a personal analysis for me. It’s often that in our society, religious viewpoints/scripture will be cited to soothe someone with negative mental health. For example, someone who is depressed may often be told that life is a test. Or that their suffering is because they’re not doing enough in their religion.
In the film, this is possibly what Anakin and Yoda’s conversation shows us. Yoda doesn’t realise how close Padme (the person Anakin fears for) is to Anakin, and he simply justifies her potential death with a Jedi sermon. He states that: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not”.
It is through this generic use of scripture that Anakin’s wellbeing is conflicted. Anakin wanted guidance but was reminded of his teachings. The word “rejoice” is said joyfully by Yoda, as if he believes Anakin should be happy for the death of a loved one. He tries to convince Anakin to share the emotions he is expected to feel as opposed to feeling his own.
Yoda shows an inappropriate response – not understanding Anakin as a person, but a Jedi. He assumes Anakin should follow the path to make it all better. He also expresses to Anakin to “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear you lose”. What Yoda doesn’t realise is that Anakin already struggles with his Jedi and love life. He now has the added pressure of choosing between them.
A Smile Isn’t Always True
As mentioned before, approval contributed positively to Anakin’s mental health. In this scene, however, we see an example of how comfort can seem redundant to someone struggling with mental health.
As Obi-Wan prepares to leave for Utapau, Anakin stops him to talk. He apologises for all his ‘recklessness’ and confesses his frustrations with the council. Obi-Wan does the wise thing of complimenting Anakin for his skill sets and showing pride in him; reassuring him that he will become a master shortly.
Anakin smiles and bids farewell to his master, who responds in kind. All is well right? Unfortunately not. The instant Obi-Wan is out of sight, Anakin reveals his true face of conflict and drops his smile. The beauty (and tragedy) of this highlights the importance of the most important parts of mental health. That a happy and content person in public isn’t necessarily the same inside/alone.
We see a perfect example of how encouragement doesn’t cure mental health instantly and that it can also be dismissed. Even with the loving support and words from Obi-Wan (his mentor and friend), Anakin still feels empty and wanting more. The failure of the Jedi’s recognition of this beforehand makes them believe they have finally “cured” Anakin.
Keeping His Emotions In
A lot of healing in mental health comes from asking for help and receiving said help. However, that isn’t always easy. As a lot of us experiencing difficulties with our mental health often hold in our emotions and hide them from others. In Anakin’s case, he hides it from two of his closest people: Obi-Wan and Padme.
Obi-Wan And Anakin
With Obi-Wan, it is simply as mentioned before – he praises Anakin in an attempt to make him happier. Obi-Wan forms a brotherly bond with Anakin as his way to mentor him. Ruchika Kanwal, a Delhi-based psychologist said that: “Some clients have mentioned their families think depression can be dealt with by having positive thoughts and doing things that make you happy”.
Knowing this, we can now see that this is exactly what Obi-Wan intends to do. Obi-Wan seems to use humour and compliments with Anakin because he recognises his poor mental health. We recognise Obi-wan’s approach to the situation but question whether it is right. An appropriate response would be for Obi-Wan to discuss this with Anakin privately, rather than rely on compliments to “heal him”.
However, there is an interesting scene that was cut from the film. It reveals that Obi-Wan broke the Jedi Code to keep Anakin happy – admitting he knew about the relationship with Padme.
In a deleted scene, Obi-Wan visits Padme and says to her:
“I am not blind, Padmé. Though I have tried to be, for Anakin’s sake. […] We… pretend that I don’t know. And I was happy too, because it made him happy. You made him happy when nothing else ever truly could.”
An indication of strength is shown with Padme and Obi-Wan’s relationship to Anakin and each other. For Obi-Wan to know about their secret and keep it emphasises a level of bond and trust. Moreover, it distinguishes Obi-Wan’s intention to help Anakin and his conflicted mental state. The last line “we… pretend I don’t know. And I was happy to because it made him happy” correlates with Kanwals comment on what families think. It proves that Obi-Wan did not do enough for Anakin, though he may have thought that he was.
Obi-Wan only uses indirect methods in his attempts to improve Anakin’s mental health rather than confronting it. An appropriate response would have been to explain to Anakin why he does this, so the latter understands that he is not alone. Anakin would have realised that Obi-Wan is actively helping him, rather than assume he kept his secret safe by himself.
It is possible that George Lucas removed this for effect. This makes earlier scenes to Obi-Wan being oblivious more powerful – as it shows how someone who knows Anakin intimately could not figure out that he was struggling with his mental health.
Padme And Anakin’s Mental Health
Padme, despite being Anakin’s wife, is also shown to be kept at arm’s length by him. An article by Huffpost on the difficulty of speaking about one’s mental health notes that:
“There are times when we share our emotional pain with our loved ones, they too become overwhelmed. [Tanya] Vasunia said, ‘No one likes being the person who isn’t doing great.‘ […] Shame, guilt and the fear of hurting others can also cause much stress and anxiety.“
Anakin reacts to his first nightmare by distancing himself from Padma and going it alone until Padme confronts him. Anakin’s immediate reaction is to change the subject, but she presses further. Anakin only responds cryptically and in short. In conjunction with Vasunia’s point, Anakin feels shame for discussing his mental health – he hides it especially from his pregnant wife who he fears for.
At this moment, Anakin reassures her that he won’t let the nightmare be real, and Padme informs him that the baby will change their lives – a response that seems appropriate and positive. Unfortunately, Padme then continues to air her thoughts into her future and what happens if Anakin gets caught. By addressing these dreaded thoughts, Padme’s response is badly timed. seeing as her husband was currently suffering from a reminiscent trauma, she should’ve kept her worries to herself for the timebeing.
Padme’s similarity to the Jedi’s response of Anakin’s Mental Health
A surprisingly similar scenario appears later on, with Padme ignoring Anakin’s troubles. Anakin starts to speak his mind to Padme about his doubts about the Jedi council, to which Padme instead starts addressing problems with the Chancellor and the republic. She even asks Anakin to use his relationship with Palpatine to stop the fighting.
Ironically Padme tells Anakin that “This war represents a failure to listen” when she fails to listen to Anakin’s concerns. Anakin is offended by the request and we can see his aggression and distrust of his wife begin to manifest more. In addition, we wonder if Anakin’s distrust in the Jedi for not recognising him is extended to Padme. After all Padme’s response is just as inappropriate as the Jedi’s, and so his distrust could be justifiable.
Peer Pressure – Grooming
A consistent theme in Revenge of the Sith is the manipulation of Anakin from various people, but mostly by Palpatine. Licensed therapist Jonathan Decker in his video titled Villain Therapy: ANAKIN SKYWALKER with Alan Seawright says that:
“Palpatine takes advantage of the fact that Anakin’s looking for someone to accept him, someone to praise him, someone to see how great he is, and everyone in his life is so critical. And so it’s just the perfect way for him to plant these seeds”.
Palpatine, A Sith lord looking to recruit Anakin as his apprentice, has essentially groomed the young Jedi. He does this by appealing to his greatest desires and seeding doubt about the council. In their first meeting, Palpatine deceptively makes it so the Jedi are kind and respect Anakin’s abilities. He stresses that “they need you. More than you know.” Through this, Anakin truly believes the Jedi need him; causing a break of trust when that outcome doesn’t happen. This allows Palpatine to break Anakin away from his order, making him more vulnerable to his grooming.
Peer Pressure – Changing Values
Clarity Clinic’s article ‘Beating down Peer Pressure’ tells us that:
“As humans, we all want to feel like we belong. There are many ways that you can be influenced and become a victim of peer pressure. […] If you have picked up values, beliefs, goals, or hobbies because that is what the group of people around you believe in then you have experienced peer pressure”.
Through a lecture on Darth Plagueis from Palpatine, Anakin is lured into picking up that goal in cheating death. As we see later down the film, Anakin pledges himself to Sith teachings because he is pressured by Palpatine to do so to save his wife. Through manipulative temptation, Palpatine achieves this by knowing what Anakin wants and exploiting it. Moreso this theme ties into how toxic individuals can twist your desires into their greatest strengths. The Clarity Clinic article also mentions that:
“When you start behaving in ways that undermine your core values, your self-esteem suffers […] When this happens, when you fall into negative peer pressure, you can easily start making more poor choices that will further negatively affect you – physically and mentally”.
A lot of Anakin’s poor choices down the line originate not from him, but the result of Palpatine’s manipulation and peer pressure. Anakin truly believed in the Jedi Order, but through manipulation has betrayed the Jedi and lost control over his actions.
Because of this, Anakin starts to easily make poor choices and ends up believing they are right by the end. For example:
- Anakin heavily regretted assisting in Mace Windu’s death. It was accidental.
- When he is assigned to kill younglings, he hesitates for a brief second and is torn. He still ends up killing them.
- Later he brutally massacres the separatist leaders. He is shown later on to be crying in regret.
- By the end, he chokes Padme and tries to kill Obi-Wan without any hesitation or regret.
We see here that Anakin’s actions worsen, however, he appears to gradually lose his ability to regret his actions as time goes by. These poor choices end up being justified by him because he needs to believe it to keep his sanilty. Furthermore, he truly embraces Palpatine as his master by the end – being groomed to the point where he doesn’t realise his manipulation.
From this analysis, we can see that the decline of Anakin’s mental health was the result of inaction by family, friends and the Jedi Council, combined with the manipulation and grooming of Emporer Palpatine. Anakin has suffered throughout the entirety of the film because he was struggling with the conflict of his Jedi life and his secret devotion to his wife.
Obi-Wan, Padme and the Jedi are responsible for the darkness and manipulation that Anakin falls into. This is because they chose to do nothing and concerned themselves with other matters. Palpatine is also responsible for Anakin’s fall through the use of peer pressure and deception.
Anakin is a victim of dealing with his own mental health. He stops relying on others after Yoda’s failure to comfort and help him, as well as increased anxieties, nightmares, and fears that he keeps to himself. Had Anakin sought professional help at the assistance and behest of his family and friends, it is possible he wouldn’t have been manipulated to the dark side out of desperation to save his wife.
Revenge of the Sith also reminds us of the importance of mental health and how the actions of others towards Anakin serve as a warning. It stresses that we must be more cautious, vigilant and compassionate to those that suffer poor mental health. Understanding is key, and avoiding the subject or brushing it away with vague quotes and comments do nothing for improving a person’s mental state.