The significance of the psyche in Star Wars

Snoke and Kylo Ren had a pretty clear picture of what caused the downfall of the Empire, and the downfall of the Sith as well. In a conversation presented in the novelization, but not the movie, we have Snoke ask Kylo the question:

“It was neither poor strategy nor arrogance that brought down the Empire. You know too well what did.”

Ren nodded once. “Sentiment.”

“Yes. Such a simple thing. Such a foolish error of judgment. A momentary lapse in an otherwise exemplary life. Had Lord Vader not succumbed to emotion at the crucial moment—had the father killed the son—the Empire would have prevailed. And there would be no threat of Skywalker’s return today.”

It was Darth Vader’s emotions that saved the day in Return of the Jedi, but they also were the cause of his fall in Revenge of the Sith. In RotJ, Anakin was reborn, and acted instinctively to save Luke. His actions made sense emotionally, but they didn’t make sense to the cold, hard rationality of a Sith. Neither of these key events were the first time that Anakin let his emotions overwhelm him. For example, that night on Naboo with Padme, she had to remind Anakin to come back to his rational self, and not listen to his emotional instinct:

We live in a real world. Come back to it! – Padme to Anakin.

Anakin was letting his emotions, perhaps his childish desires override his reason. This is the same thing ultimately that caused him to fall the the Dark side, but it was also what ultimately what brought him back to the light. Emotions can do good, but they can also do harm. Padme has the ability to always listen to reason. She is in many ways a moral compass, much like Obi Wan, throughout the PT.

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Freud called this distinction the id and the superego. The id is governed by wants and more instinctive desires. The superego is the rational part of the mind. Controlling them both is the overarching ego, which can swap the id and the superego when needed at the appropriate time. Anakin, in some sense, could not control his ego, and when pushed too far, the id came roaring forward and took control. At the critical moments in the saga, the ego swapped out the superego and replaced it with the id.

Unlike the depiction of the drawing above, the id is not always evil. The id is “uncoordinated instinctual trends”. So it can be good and bad. The superego is more the critical, rational, moral part of the psyche, but for a Sith what is “rational” may not be what is “ethical” to everyone.

For Kylo Ren, this is also true. Although he had difficulty killing Han, he ultimately did it because he had to in order to gain the power of the Dark Side. As he said in TFA:

“I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.”

In many ways, Kylo knew rationally what he needed to do to achieve power. Although these actions were very immoral, they were rational for the mind of a dark side user or a Sith. He needed help to overcome his instinctive impulses. That is, in this case, his instinct was to not kill Han, much like it was Anakin’s instinct to save Luke at the end of RotJ.

What is remarkable is the symbolism of all of this staring us right in the face. Right smack dab in the middle of the prequels. (By the way, I did not come up with this theory! It was something I read on maybe over a decade ago. If it’s your theory or you know where it is, please send a link and I’ll update this post!)

Freudian Iceburg
Freud’s Iceberg: image credit:

You see, water symbolizes consciousness. You have phrases like “stream of consciousness”, and numerous examples from literature that use this symbolism. The subconscious self is often described as below the surface of water. Looking at Star Wars, we have a lot of water, but perhaps the most significant is in The Phantom Menace, where the planet Naboo’s entire core is water. This carries the symbolism of consciousness even deeper, as it is the core of the mind, much like it is the core of Naboo. Moreover, we have three major characters that come from this planet and play critical roles in the saga. We have the child-like Jar Jar, who often succumbs to his emotion and childlike impulses above reason. We have Padme, who is often the voice of reason for the prequel trilogy. We finally have Palpatine, who is the puppet master. Palpatine is the guy pulling the strings behind the scene. It doesn’t take much to see the following:

  • Papatine = Ego
  • Padme = Superego
  • Jar Jar = Id


And what happened with these characters in the end? Palpatine, the ego, swapped out the superego (Padme) and replaced it with the id (Jar Jar). When he sent Senator Padme Amidala off for her own protection in AotC, he brought in Representative Binks to do his bidding and convinced him to propose emergency powers for the Chancellor. In doing so, Palpatine got what he wanted. He took out the rational Padme and replaced her with an easily manipulable, impulsive Jar Jar. He took out the superego and replaced it with the id.

In the end, this was exactly what Anakin did. Anakin’s fall and his redemption was throwing away reason and acting from more basic instinct. Time will tell to what extent this idea plays into the Sequel Trilogy.

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