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WonderCon Panel Recap: The Psychology of STAR TREK vs STAR WARS

Star Wars and Star Trek may be adventurous romps through space, but they also contain deeper and more complex themes. Psychologists Dr. Andrea Letamendi and Dr. Ali Mattu analyzed those elements in their “The Psychology of Star Trek vs. Star Wars” panel at WonderCon last weekend in Anaheim. It was the third iteration of the panel, and they were joined by moderator Brian Ward and guests Chase Masterson (Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Catherine Taber (Padmé on Star Wars: The Clone Wars). The discussion covered topics like parenting and relationships, and though the title of the panel includes “vs.,” it wasn’t about whether Star Trek or Star Wars is better. Panelists talked about how each franchise handled the various topics.

For instance, consider parenting. Dr. Letamendi discussed that though the genetics of parenting is really important, so is the environment. She stated that Star Wars understands and displays that dynamic, and Anakin is a good example: “He had a really strong nurturing mother figure… unfortunately he suffered loss between losing her and Qui-Gon.” That affected who he became. Taber followed up by pointing out how perhaps not having a father figure made Anakin more susceptible to Palpatine’s manipulations.

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On the Star Trek side, Dr. Mattu stated that genetics play a factor in both the way we look and the way we act. You can see it in Worf and Alexander because they’re both stubborn. Masterson discussed how beautiful and complex the parent child relationships are in Star Trek, and how her character Leeta developed into a parental figure for Nog.

They went on to discuss romance, and Dr. Letamendi explained how our judgment becomes clouded when we’re in love: “The Jedi were pretty correct when they tried to keep Anakin away from Padmé.” Additionally, the attachment drove Anakin to extreme behavior. She explained that when you are scorned, parts of your brain that are activated cause stress, and we can see that at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when Anakin freaks out on Mustafar. His delusion that Padmé is there to stand against him pushes him over the edge.

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Relationships aren’t just between people either. The panelists explored how people can be obsessed with objects. For example, Han loved the Millennium Falcon and Scotty loved the Enterprise. Dr. Mattu described how our prized possessions add to our personal identity and history, and talked about nostalgia: “What is nostalgia? What it does is it reminds us of the past, not just past events but relationships. That’s why we have stuff. The Enterprise and the Falcon – for Scotty it’s about his relationship with Kirk and the adventures they went on. And for Han, it’s about his relationship with Chewie and all the things they did together.”

This panel was intriguing because it approached education by using pop culture. It’s a wonderful idea to teach about various aspects of psychology by using examples from fiction. The way the topics were handled made them relatable and easier to understand, and I’d enjoy seeing more discussions like this one.

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