Social Anxiety and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

sainphantommenace

We’ve completed the original trilogy of social anxiety in Star Wars, but now it’s time to start from the beginning. A time when the Jedi ruled the galaxy… Until there was a disturbance in the Force, and the Dark Side began to rise.

Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace [1999]

  • Directed by: George Lucas
  • Written by: George Lucas [screenplay]
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz

The prequels may not be as good films as the original trilogy, but they have just as good (if not better) lessons about social anxiety. If you missed parts 1-3 (or episodes IV, V, and VI) essentially the Dark Side is social anxiety, and the Force is mindfulness.

OBI-WAN

I have a bad feeling about this.

QUI-GON

I don’t sense anything.

OBI-WAN

It’s not about the mission, Master, it’s something…elsewhere…elusive.

QUI-GON

Don’t center on your anxiety, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now where it belongs.

OBI-WAN

Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future…

QUI-GON

…but not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan.

In Episode I, Qui-Gon Jinn is a Jedi Master, training his young Padawan, Obi-Wan Kinobi, in the ways of the Force. Never has the connection between the Force and mindfulness and anxiety been more explicit than in this exchange.

Anxiety comes from worrying about the future. In the case of social anxiety, that may mean worrying about what people will think of us if we say or do something, and fearing that they will negatively judge us. As Qui-Gon says, we should concentrate on the present moment and not dwell on our anxiety over the future. That doesn’t mean we should be carefree and reckless. As Yoda told Obi-Wan, be mindful of the future. A certain degree of fear and anxiety is healthy because it protects us from danger. But the problem comes when our minds label too many situations as dangerous and we dwell and ruminate on our anxiety over those situations. To combat those unwanted feelings, we need to stay focused on the here and now—the present moment.

QUI-GON

No. I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this dispute.

That pretty much sums up most cases of social anxiety: an unusual amount of fear for trivial social interactions. Like Qui-Gon, we must learn to sense when the thing we are fearing is trivial and undeserving of anxiety. To do that we must learn to use the Force (a.k.a. become mindful).

QUI-GON

Are you brainless? You almost got us killed!

JAR JAR

I spake.

QUI-GON

The ability to speak does not make you intelligent. Now get outta here!

People with social anxiety are sometimes mistakenly assumed to be of low intelligence because they don’t speak, but as Qui-Gon and Jar Jar reveal, there really isn’t a correlation between the amount one speaks and their intelligence.

(P.S. If you thought Jar Jar Binks was annoying in the movie, he’s just as annoying in the script. His dialogue is all spelled phonetically, so I could barely decipher it.)

When Jar Jar thinks he can’t navigate the ship:

QUI-GON

Just relax, the Force will guide us…

With social anxiety, we often pre-reject or underestimate ourselves.  We think we can’t say or do something, so we don’t even try. But like Jar Jar, we are often misguided in those assumptions.

ANAKIN

Fear attracts the fearful. He was trying to overcome his fear by squashing you… be less afraid.

PADME

And that works for you.

ANAKIN

To a point.

Social anxiety can attract social anxiety like a tractor beam. If we act shy and awkward with someone, they may start to act shy and awkward in return—or simply give up trying to talk to us.

Anakin’s advice, to just be less afraid, is decent in theory but difficult in practice. You can’t get to the point of simply making yourself unafraid until you do the work to understand your fear and why you’re feeling it—by learning to use the Force (mindfulness).

Qui-Gon and Shmi Skywalker Lars discuss her son Anakin Skywalker…

QUI-GON

He has special powers.

SHMI

Yes…

QUI-GON

He can see things before they happen. That’s why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It is a Jedi trait.

Social anxiety is similar in that we see potential conversations and social interactions play out ahead of time in our heads. We see it going badly, which prevents us from initiating or participating in the conversation/social interaction in the first place. But this “special power” of ours is actually just a Jedi mind trick. The future we see play out in our heads is not reality. Things may not turn out as negative as we initially believe they will.

SHMI

He deserves better than a slave’s life.

QUI-GON

The Force is unusually strong with him, that much is clear.

SHMI

Can you help him?

QUI-GON

I’m afraid not. Had he been born in the Republic, we would have identified him early, and he would have become Jedi, no doubt…he has the way. But it’s too late for him now, he’s too old.

At times I felt like it was too late for me to overcome my social anxiety. That I was too old. That I had developed too many bad habits and was a lost hope.

It is definitely easier to overcome social anxiety if it is caught at a younger age, while you’re still a child, because social anxiety gets worse over time. The longer you practice avoidance of the things that cause social anxiety, the more difficult it will be to expose yourself to those things later. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means it’s more difficult. After all, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan eventually decided to train Anakin, and he became one of the most powerful Jedi ever and he— Well, let’s forget about what happened after that for now.

Qui-Gon gives Anakin advice before his big pod race…

QUI-GON

Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel. Don’t think. Trust your instincts… May the Force be with you.

This is great advice for whenever you feel social anxiety—or any anxiety. Stay focused on the present moment and stop thinking about what to say next and/or regretting what you said before.

PADME

You Jedi are far too reckless. The Queen…

QUI-GON

The Queen trusts my judgment, young handmaiden. You should too.

PADME

You assume too much.

Social anxiety can come from assuming too much. Assuming others don’t care what we have to say. Or assuming that others will think what we say or do is dumb. But the truth is we can’t assume to know what others will think about us, or anything really. For all we know, a modest-looking handmaiden could be the Queen of Naboo.

QUI-GON

Anakin, training to be a Jedi will not be an easy challenge. And if you succeed, it will be a hard life.

ANAKIN

But it’s what I want. What I’ve always dreamed about. Can I go, Mom?!

QUI-GON

This path has been placed for you, Annie; the choice to take it is yours alone.

ANAKIN

I want to go.

You can’t overcome social anxiety unless you want to. That’s the one problem with treating a young child. If they don’t want to be treated, it won’t work. You have to be a willing patient—to want to overcome social anxiety and take action to do so.

SHMI

Annie, remember when you climbed the great dune in order to chase the Banthas away so they wouldn’t be shot… Remember how you collapsed several times, exhausted thinking you couldn’t do it?… This is one of those times when you have to do something you don’t think you can do. I know how strong you are, Annie. I know you can do this…

Sometimes social anxiety can feel so overwhelming that it seems like we’ll never overcome it. Or we experience setbacks along the way of treatment which may make us think it’s not worth it. But that’s not true. As long as you make steady progress through gradual exposure, you’ll eventually get there. Maybe not completely free of social anxiety, but at least able to recognize and manage it.

YODA

Hard to see, the dark side is.

For most of my life, I couldn’t see the Dark Side, meaning I didn’t even realize I had social anxiety. I knew I was shy, but I didn’t realize it was something that could be worked on and treated. Nor was I aware of the things I was doing to make my social anxiety worse. Seeing the Dark Side is the first step in defeating it.

YODA

Afraid are you?

ANAKIN

No, sir.

MACE WINDU

Afraid to give up your life?

ANAKIN

I don’t think so.

YODA

See through you, we can.

MACE WINDU

Be mindful of your feelings…

KI-ADI

Your thoughts dwell on your mother.

ANAKIN

I miss her.

YODA

Afraid to lose her I think.

ANAKIN

What’s that got to do with anything?

YODA

Everything. Fear is the path to the dark side… fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.

ANAKIN

I am not afraid!

Social anxiety comes from fear—the fear of being judged negatively by others. If we let that fear control us it can lead to anger or suffering over the fact that we are alone. That’s why it’s important to confront our fear before it worsens.

YODA

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. I sense much fear in you.

ANAKIN

I am not afraid.

YODA

Then continue, we will.

Part of Anakin’s problem is his refusal to admit fear. Feeling fear and social anxiety is perfectly fine and normal. We shouldn’t be ashamed to admit feeling fear. The key is to not let fear stop us from doing the things we want to in life. Acknowledge the fear then question whether it is really so dangerous. In most cases of social anxiety, our fears are not warranted.

MACE WINDU

No. He will not be trained.

QUI-GON

No??!!

MACE WINDU

He is too old. There is already too much anger in him.

QUI-GON

He is the chosen one… you must see it.

YODA

Clouded, this boy’s future is. Masked by his youth.

One of the biggest flaws (of many) in The Phantom Menace is this idea that Anakin was too old to be trained as a Jedi, and the anger he developed as a child led to his ultimate turn to the Dark Side and becoming (SPOILER ALERT) Darth Vader.

I think that’s flawed thinking, in terms of training Jedi and overcoming social anxiety. It is more difficult when you’re older and have developed bad habits, but Yoda, Mace, and Qui-Gon shouldn’t deny Anakin training in the Force just because of his age, just as physicians shouldn’t deny social anxiety patients treatment because of their age. You could argue that Yoda and Mace were right, as Anakin did turn to the Dark Side, but I don’t think that was inevitable. With better training (and the Jedi council not missing Emperor Palpatine operating right under their noses) they might have been able to save Anakin from becoming Vader.

ANAKIN

Master Qui-Gon, sir, I do not wish to be a problem.

QUI-GON

You won’t be, Annie…. I’m not allowed to train you, so I want you to watch me and be mindful… always remember, your focus determines your reality. Stay close to me and you will be safe.

If our focus is on the future (worrying about what people will think about us) or on the past (worrying about what they thought about us) then it’s impossible to remain mindful of the present moment. That’s how social anxiety overpowers us.

QUI-GON

Midi-chlorians are a microscopic life form that reside within all living cells and communicates with the Force.

ANAKIN

They live inside of me?

QUI-GON

In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians.

ANAKIN

Symbionts?

QUI-GON

Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to you, telling you the will of the Force.

ANAKIN

They do??

QUI-GON

When you learn to quiet your mind, you will hear them speaking to you.

ANAKIN

I don’t understand.

QUI-GON

With time and training, Annie…you will.

Social anxiety has advantages. Since the times of cavemen, it is evolutionarily ingrained in us to not want to say or do anything that would get us banished from our tribe because if we had to live alone in the wild, we probably wouldn’t survive very long. So social anxiety was a good thing to an extent. We wouldn’t want social anxiety gone completely. We just need to find the symbiotic balance—to recognize when social anxiety is benefiting us and when it is not. To do that we must learn the ways of the Force. Use meditation to quiet our minds. Forget midi-chlorian counts, though. That’s probably the biggest flaw with The Phantom Menace (aside from Jar Jar). With time and training, anyone can become a Jedi Master (or overcome social anxiety).

To be continued in Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Until then, as always, may the Force be with you.

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One thought on “Social Anxiety and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones | Tim Barry Jr.

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