Personality Assessment of Darth Vader

Evan Nahins


Darth Vader (also known as Anakin Skywalker) is the main antagonist in the original Star Wars trilogy; he wears an ominous black spacesuit and is the father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia (the two main protagonists). Darth Vader being the Emperor’s right hand man is one of the main leaders of the evil empire and is in charge of destroying the rebel force and turning Luke Skywalker to the dark side. Throughout the movie he uses extremely immoral tactics of achieving his goals such as blowing up planets during interrogations, choking co-workers to death that don’t meet their deadlines, cutting off his son’s hand, and killing his old friend and master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. As bad as Darth Vader was there actually was some good in him. After capturing his son and bringing him to the evil Emperor, the Emperor decided to reward Vader by blasting his son with Force Lightning (magical lightning bolts). After watching this for a while Vader decides he is done being the Emperor’s lapdog and grabs the evil Emperor absorbing the rest of the lightning and throwing him down an abyss located conveniently next to them. Darth Vader died that day but redeemed himself of all of the evil he brought to the universe. (Lucas, 1977-2005)

Behavior Psychology

Behavior psychology is the theory that everything is learned through conditioning. Ivan Pavlov studying dogs came up with the ideas of classical conditioning and can be used to explain emotional aspects of personality such as neurotic behavior, phobias and superstitious behavior. Operant conditioning was the idea that learning occurs through rewards and punishments that followed after certain behaviors.(Friedman, 2009, p. 190-199)

Pavlov would most likely say that Darth Vader’s path to the Dark Side and turning into anger filled machine was one that was conditioned by the Emperor and the Jedi that surrounded him growing up. Vader was originally a promising young Jedi named Anakin Skywalker. Anakin rose through the Jedi ranks and met the evil Palpatine who would soon become the evil Emperor. Anakin’s Jedi friends didn’t know it but they were actually conditioning Anakin to join the dark side by ways of negative punishment. It is Jedi code to live a life of celibacy and Anakin already had a love interest. The evil emperor was able to prey on Anakin by positively reinforcing him telling him if he joined him and the dark side he could love her and make her live forever. Also one could see how the emperor was giving him verbal support throughout all of his bad deeds. One scene was from Episode III when Anakin kills Count Dooku. (Lucas, 2005). Even though he already surrendered the Emperor applauds him for this while Anakin knows the Jedi would frown upon this. The Emperor would continue to condition Anakin by means of positive reinforcement by giving him a cool new name (Darth Vader) and as well as a thumbs up for purging the Jedi and slaying younglings.(Lucas, 2005)

Pavlov would most likely say that the reason for Darth Vader’s uncontrollable anger and neuroticism seen in the original trilogy against the men that worked for him and his own children (Luke and Leah) would be because he had at his young ages he was never sure what was right and what was wrong and couldn’t predict whether or not he was going to be punished or praised for his actions. An example of this would be when he joined the dark side in Episode III so that he could save his love interests life by doing so, but then was actually punished for it in the end because she “lost the will to live” (Lucas, 2005). The text book illustrates this idea as well “neuroticism may be a conditioned response, fostered by an environment that requires the individual to discriminate between events under conditions in which that judgment is almost impossible. For example, some children are never sure whether to expect praise or punishment; they may feel frustrated, anxious, and depressed.” (Friedman, 2009, p. 191). Behaviorists would most likely agree that Anakin was slowly turned from the happy kid from the desert planet into Darth Vader by ways of reinforcement and conditioning.

Trait/Skill Perspective

Darth Vader comes across as a cold, immoral neurotic person, so much so that he almost doesn’t seem human. These traits stick out the most during the movies but there are also other traits as well since in the end he turns out to be not such of a bad guy. This is why the Trait and Skill approach can be applied effectively to this character and specifically the contemporary trait approach known as the Big Five. The Big Five model was developed inductively meaning that data was collected first than the theory was created. Five broad personality traits were defined by researchers from data collected by surveys. These five factors are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness. These broad dimensions of personality are found in every individual but vary in level of each single dimension. (Friedman, 2009, p. 267) Throughout the original trilogy of Star Wars one can see and can easily estimate the degrees of each personality trait that Darth Vader has. The most dominant trait in Darth Vader would be Neuroticism. People who are neurotic are nervous, intense, worry, and are not stable (Friedman, 2009, p. 267). One can see how Darth Vader displays his Neuroticism especially when choking his generals when they have failed him or question his authority. Two memorable scenes can be seen from the YouTube clip seen above where he gets outraged when Leia tells him that she is on a peace mission and gets locked away. The other scene he chokes a high ranking officer for questioning the powers of the force. This displays how tense and high-strung someone who has a dominant neurotic dimension of personality. The next highest trait Darth has would be extroversion. Darth must always be the dominant one can see a microcosm of this after he kills obi-wan he says “Now I am the master” (Lucas, 1977). Although he isn’t the most sociable person he is very talkative especially when dealing with the rebels throughout the movies so this trait would be the succeeding trait from Neuroticism. I feel there is only one other dominant trait in Darth Vader’s personality and many may argue that he actually may be low in this trait but I feel that he isn’t and I will explain, this trait is Openness. One might say that because Darth Vader is very shallow and one dimensional he couldn’t possibly be high in this trait, however one must see how he flip flops so much throughout the movies. He was once trained by the Jedi and then was open to new experiences and decided to explore the dark side/Sith culture. He also was very open to the idea of becoming the Emperor’s new apprentice. When discovering he had a son his plan was to overthrow the Emperor and take over the galaxy with him which is a very original idea showing openness.
The next two traits of the big five Darth Vader has very little of. The lower of the two left would be Agreeableness. This trait is described as being a trustful person, cooperative, and warm and one who is low on this dimension are considered cold, quarrelsome and unkind. (Friedman, 2009, p. 267) Darth Vader has very minimal agreeableness, he is constantly killing people, and even his colleagues fear him and would most likely describe him as being cold and unkind. He is also not a very trustful person constantly changing sides between good and evil. He displays this when betraying the Jedi, furthermore his teacher/master Obiwan and then he betrayed the Emperor, clearly no one can trust Darth Vader. He does have a small fraction however of agreeableness. During one of the final scenes of Star Wars Return of the Jedi he sees his son in pain and comes to his aid by killing the Emperor and sacrificing himself. (Lucas 1983). This shows that he has some warmth inside his cold armor or at least when it came to his family because he felt bad for his son and realized he could redeem himself by sacrificing himself and saving his son. Conscientiousness is the last trait which Darth Vader has very little of. Conscientiousness can be described as Cautious, dependable, preserving, organized and responsible. (Friedman, 2009, p. 267) Darth Vader isn’t any of these. He isn’t dependable one sees this during his frequent change from light side to dark side then back to the light side. He is also anything but cautious; he is very cocky and usually nonchalantly leads his soldiers into battles not while taking shots from laser guns. The first scene in Star Wars episode IV he is seen leading his storm troopers into massive fire but fears nothing, there are many scenes like this throughout the trilogy. (Lucas, 1977).


I believe that the Behavioral approach and Trait and Skill Perspective are the best approaches to describe and explain Darth Vader’s evil personality. Using the Behavioral approach one can see how Darth Vader might have never been evil if he were in a better environment one that didn’t condition him to be a heartless hate machine. The Big Five approach allows us to see all the aspects of Darth Vader’s personality showing the evil personality in him that makes him such a good antagonist but as well as showing the little good he has inside of him maybe explaining why he decided to kill the Emperor and save his son.
Darth Vader is arguably the best antagonist in any work of art and is the most focal character in the Star Wars saga. George Lucas was able to create such a successful series by having a villain that was so uniquely evil and good at the same time.


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