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The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 199: ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’

The Arkham Sessions, hosted by Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward, is a weekly podcast dedicated to the psychological analysis of pop culture, including Batman: The Animated Series, Steven Universe, the MCU, Star Wars, and Doom Patrol. Nostalgic, humorous, and even a little educational, each episode promises to lend some insight into the heroes, villains, and classic stories of the Dark Knight and more!

The Arkham Sessions, Ep. 199 – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi (1983), the final film of the classic Star Wars space opera trilogy, is packed with psychology, layering in lessons on family systems theory, Oedipal themes, social obedience, and human violence. Dressed in black and outfitted with confidence, a composed Luke travels back to his home planet of Tatooine to confront Jabba the Hutt and rescue his friend Han. They survive the swashbuckling clash between Rebel scum and criminal scum, and Luke and his friends, led by the Rebel leadership, hatch an audacious plan to attack the newly constructed Imperial Death Star and overthrow the evil Emperor once and for all. Luke is, of course, also on his way to confront his father, the sinister Darth Vader.

According to Brian, Luke’s antics reveal his overconfidence, self-centeredness and blind faith that everything will turn out in his favor. Is it luck or the Force that keeps him out of true peril? Is Luke confusing hubris for hope? Dr. Drea posits that the film is not necessarily about Luke, but actually about the titular character, Anakin Skywalker AKA Darth Vader, that the film carries core themes about how we come to know ourselves through deception, performance, and transformation. We learn about our many selves as exemplified by the masks we wear. From the first to last scene, the film is telling many truths about the characters we have been following, their deepest motivations and intentions.

Like them, we each struggle not only to resist the temptations of power and dominance, but also to understand what we truly believe in and how to convert those beliefs into real action. We mask to oppress, dominate, and achieve thrill, but we also mask to hide our shame. We mask to envelop our despair. We mask to ventriloquize the kind of person we are told we should be. In explaining the capacity we all carry for an “evil” mask, Dr. Drea returns to the application of the “shock” experiments from the 1960s that showed how someone (no matter what their values) can be controlled and directed to partake in violence. Is the opposite not then true? Even someone as cruel as Darth Vader can carve a path toward redemption, but it is difficult and painful to acknowledge the devastation already taken. The film teaches us how critical it is to resist malevolence as early as we detect it, but also to not lose faith in someone who has drifted so far away from their purist self.



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