Fear. Isolation. Self-doubt. Kanan Jarrus is a hurt individual. At a young age, he experienced the horrors of war and watched as men that he was joking around with one minute turned around and brutally murdered his master in the next. He scavenged and scrounged to survive on the streets of Kaller. His life has been one of conflict that has cost him much. Despite his Jedi training, the life we have seen in Star Wars: Rebels, John Jackson Miller’s novel A New Dawn, and the comic series Kanan has been one of successes and setbacks as Kanan is forced to confront his fear and self-doubt again and again. Sometimes he confronts these negative emotions and grows from the conflict; other times, he sinks into despair and self-imposed isolation. I have friends who hate Kanan because of this roller coaster of emotions. They don’t like how he overcomes only to stumble again and again. I do. I see myself in Kanan Jarrus. I have struggled with elements of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for a little over a decade now, and as I reflect upon those years, I see a man who struggled with the doubt and fear brought on by obsessive thoughts day after day and who rose up and wrestled those thoughts into submission for weeks at a time only to fall prey to them the next week. I look at Kanan, and I see what I was, what I am, and what I hope to be.
For fans, Kanan’s story really begins during the crucible of Order 66. While there are a smattering of stories that take place before that, it is during that tragedy and its immediate fallout that a young padawan named Caleb Dume becomes the man named Kanan Jarrus. That moment is also the source of great pain for Kanan. Despite the fact that he was only following the orders of his master, Depa Billaba, when he ran and left her be gunned down by the clones under her command, he still feels immense guilt. This guilt haunts him and causes him to doubt himself time and time again within the first season of Star Wars: Rebels. During the episode, “Rise of the Old Masters,” Kanan (upon hearing that other, more-experienced Jedi might still be alive) is quick to tell Ezra that maybe they can train him. It hurts Ezra. He feels like Kanan doesn’t want or believe in him when really, it is that Kanan doesn’t believe in himself. How could he train Ezra? He had hidden who he was for years. He was no Jedi, not really. He couldn’t even stand by his master. The Grand Inquisitor use this negative line of thought against Kanan in the Star Wars: Rebels episode, “Fire Across the Galaxy,” when he says:
“And does your loyal precious crew know you ran as your master fell, abandoned her and the Jedi Order when they needed you most? What do you think your rebels would do if they knew their leader was a coward?”
While the sound is emanating from the Grand Inquisitor, the voice may as well be the one in Kanan’s head. He has heard it countless times before. It is the voice the belittles him, that tells him he is only a burden that will cause the death of his friends, and while Kanan is able to combat it, defeat the Grand Inquisitor, and save his friends, it is a nagging that comes back to haunt him. In the Season Two finale of Star Wars: Rebels, immediately following his blinding by Maul, Kanan is able to rely on the Force and defeat Maul by parrying his attack, sending him tumbling down the side of the Sith temple; afterwards; in the first episode of Season Three, we see that Kanan has spent six months pulled back from his family and the cause he had made his own. For the moment, the scars of that battle with Maul are too much to bear.
My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder leans much more heavily on the obsessive side. While I don’t have too many compulsive tics and feel very little need to repeatedly wash my hands, I can get lost under the wheels of a negative train of thought and stay lost for weeks at a time. For a time, if I would get angry, I would think that I was a bad person. It didn’t matter that I had not acted on the thoughts. I had not yelled or slammed a door or raised my hand in violence. I had just had an angry thought, but my mind would tell me continuously that I was a horrible person for having done so. I would sink into myself, wracked with worry that this lie was true. On days where the thoughts were in control, even the most innocent thing would result in me paying it a piece of my self-esteem. If I raised my hands over my head as if I were relaxing or stepped on a specific spot, the accusations would start. I was a bad person. It didn’t matter that that didn’t make sense. It didn’t matter that logically such things were ridiculous, that being a truly reprehensible person was the result of numerous atrocious actions committed again and again without remorse or regret. I had stepped on the damnation spot, and my brain told me I was lost for it, and on the days where I was too tired or weak to effectively implement the strategies I had learned in therapy, I believed it. The torturous nature of constantly being told that I was a bad person has been a hard thing to come back from. The self-doubt made it hard to take the steps to get what I wanted from life. To choose to marry or have a child became an exercise in faith; I had to believe that I could let those lies be what they clearly were: lies. Often, during these dark times, I would need encouragement from those closest to me in order to resist the lies and trust that I was the kind, courteous person that others saw me to be.
Mixed up with Kanan’s self-doubt is an equal measure of the very un-Jedi-like quality of fear. In Season One of Star Wars: Rebels, he struggles against his fear of failure, of not being able to successfully train Ezra, or protect the crew of The Ghost. In Season Two, Kanan continues to struggle against the overwhelming fear of not just a new batch of Inquisitors, but also the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. While wrestling with this physical fear, he also has to combat his internal fear and distrust towards the clone, Captain Rex. His past experience with clones causes Kanan to be irrationally terrified of them. Despite the assurances of Ahsoka, Hera, Ezra, and in spite of Rex’s actions, Kanan is hesitant to trust them because he fears that Rex will betray him just as the clones betrayed him and his master during the Clone Wars. Kanan’s fear continues into the current season. In “Steps into Shadow,” Kanan is tasked with looking inward by Bendu. When he does so, he sees that he is burdened by fear and anger over what happened on Malachor and his blinding by Maul. He is also afraid of the Sith holocron, a “source of evil,” that he’s worried will tempt his padawan down a dark path. Throughout his life, Kanan has responded to all this fear and anger by isolating himself. Prior to meeting Hera, he denied his Jedi heritage and worked as a freighter pilot; after having a clone thrust into his life, Kanan is found alone within the Phantom; and following the catastrophe on Malachor, Kanan, beneath a mask of meditation and isolation, leaves his crew, his adoptive family, to continue on without him for six months. It takes the guiding, questioning hand of Bendu to pierce the veil of Kanan’s self-imposed exile and ask him to admit the anger and fear that is inside, because it’s only once that task has been completed that healing can begin.
When my disorder gets really bad, it can be terrifying because not only does it tell me that I am a horrible person, but it also tells me that I am hurting those around me. There have been nights where I would be watching television with my wife, and she would ask me to rub her back as she drifted off to sleep, and I would (at least for a while), but in the background, my mind would say sinisterly that my merest touch was a plague. There would be times when my daughter was young, and she would cry (as all kids do), and when I would reach out to comfort her, the dark part of my brain would whisper that I was the cause of her tears. During times like this, I would want to pull myself away and hide, just like Kanan. I didn’t want to risk hurting those I love, and as much as I could tell myself that logically those thoughts didn’t make one lick of sense, the fear was still there. It was only because I had the help of my wife, friends, and medical specialists that I have been able to have my own isolating fear bubble consistently pierced. That doesn’t mean the fear went away. It still paces, restlessly back and forth, like Darth Maul before a ray-shield at times, just waiting to cause havoc, but I have gotten better at trusting that it is wrong and choosing to step beyond it and towards those I love.
In Season Four of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Darth Maul points at his head and whimpers, “The chains are the easy part… it’s what goes on in here that’s hard!” That has certainly been the case for me. I have never experienced a more physically and emotionally tiring task than wrestling with my own mind. It’s too easy to get lost in the labyrinthine logic within it, and for those who suffer from a mental disorder, it can be something that is often impossible to do alone. We need our Heras, who encourage us and believe in us when we can’t; we need our Ezras, who rely on us and give us a hope beyond those moments that seem hopeless; and we need our Bendus to reach past what we can see and use his or her knowledge to help us learn how to see what is within, so we can accept it and move forward. It’s not easy, but it does get easier. There are moments of strength where we can defeat the Inquisitors hunting us, and there are moments where we are theirs to hunt. Sometimes all we can do is walk like a blind person, hand outstretched in front of us hoping that we will be able to sense the danger before it senses us. As we continue to study and train in the workings of our own minds and emotions, we will gradually walk forward more confidently. Not always alone and afraid but often as the best version of ourselves: our own Jedi knight.
While it is a deeply personal (and terrifying) topic to discuss, if you feel like you are suffering from some kind of mental disorder, please talk to someone about it. It’s nothing to be afraid of. You keep the company of Jedi knights!
If you would like to share how a Star Wars character has had an impact upon your own mental health, please feel free to share on Twitter by sending a message to me at @mapplebee7567 or Far, Far Away Radio at @farfarawayradio. If you would don’t mind, feel free to include the hashtag #SWMentalHealth , so we maybe our own stories can reach out and encourage others in similar situations.