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SDCC 2020: The Psychology of Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Moderator Brian Ward of "The Arkham Session" posed four topics to pop culture psychologists Dr. Drea Letamendi ("Lattes with Leia") and Dr. Ali Mattu ("The Psych Show") and special guests Todd Stashwick ("Star Trek: Enterprise") and Jennifer Muro ("Star Wars: Forces of Destiny") to analyze "The Psychology of Star Trek versus Star Wars."

Ward did a switcheroo and changed Muro from Team Wars to Team Trek and Stashwick from Team Trek to Team Wars.

Team Trek:

·  Dr. Ali Mattu

·  Jennifer Muro ("Star Wars: Forces of Destiny")

Team Wars:

·  Dr. Drea Letamendi

·  Todd Stashwick ("Star Trek: Enterprise")

First Topic

The Mandalorians and the Klingons have largely been defined by their strong sense of cultural identity, creed and code. How do these two groups demonstrate real-world group dynamics and which group actually shows more promise in terms of social justice? Whose set of principles seems more realistic?

Letamendi of Team Wars: The Mandalorians have a strong code, not unlike the Klingons, that emphasizes strength and bravery in combat. For the Mandalorians, separate pieces of armor have specific significance. The Mandalorians are not a race and they welcome other ethnic groups unlike the Klingons. The Mandalorians "seem to embody what a sophisticated group would think about in terms of actualizing everybody" and "those two components include belongingness and individualism." While she loves Star Trek, with the Klingons, she struggles to understand the concept that a race such as the Klingons are "characterized by aggression and combat and violence." It seems to be implied that "this is an inherent part of this race."

Mattu of Team Trek: Mattu told Letamendi, "You need to watch more Star Trek." While he found that Letamendi brought up some great points, Mattu felt the Klingons "are a better parallel to the world we are living in right now." He also noted that the Klingons "have always been a reflection of the world that we live in." In the 1960s (TOS), even with Mr. Chekov on the bridge of the Enterprise, the Klingons were "kind of the Soviet Union villain." He added, "We didn't really know much about them; we just knew that we hated them." With Worf in "The Next Generation," he noted, "You begin to see that there's actually a lot more diversity to the Klingons, to their beliefs." In "The Next Generation," the Klingons are not so driven by aggression and war, "but they do have this very strict honor code."

In the newer series, "Star Trek: Discovery," the experience with Klingons is mixed. In the first episode of "Star Trek: Discovery," you see that "there are actually different tribes of Klingons that have evolved on different planets. Worf's journey from "The Next Generation" to "Deep Space 9" to the movies, is "a great parallel for how we all experience culture" because in some ways Worf is very much Klingon in that "he's very much integrated with his Klingon identity." He speaks Klingon very well and appreciates Klingon cuisine and music, but in other ways he's separated and "more estranged from his Klingon heritage."

Stashwick of Team Wars: Stashwick stated, "Mandalorian is a choice; it's not a state of birth." There was a planet that had a social hierarchy, but where it stands today, "they have come to the aid of the oppressed." As for Klingons, what he has seen, they have been presented as a very aggressive and Worf is the exception, but not the rule. He is an outlier.

Muro of Team Trek: Muro was 50-50 on this. When she thinks of diversity with Klingons, she thinks there is a psychological diversity. When Worf talks to other Klingons, some are honorable, and some are really bad to him. She feels it is very relevant now because "It is one race, but there is so much psychological diversity in that race. That is kind of how humans are."

Mattu of Team Trek: Mattu added there's something inspirational to have the "these villains who just a few years later are at peace with the Federation and have a Klingon serving on the bridge of the Enterprise."

Second Topic 

Ward wanted to talk about emotional intelligence in the context of "someone who started out as an idealist" but who "dipped their toes in the waters of darkness." The hubris and self-doubt of the characters sent them into hermitage, meaning both Luke Skywalker and Jean-Luc Picard. How do their lives show experience of trauma and how do they grow emotionally?

Mattu of Team Trek: Mattu said he was really stressed "because honestly, I love Picard and Luke's journey so much and I think they're just such beautiful stories of trauma." Picard has experienced many traumas. He was assimilated by the Borg and was responsible for the deaths of many humans and humanoids. Picard also lost his brother, his sister-in-law and his nephew in a fire ("Star Trek: Generations"), and then he had to face the Borg again and again. Through this all, "what has helped Picard to stay emotionally intelligent to understand what he's going through to get what he needs, to emotionally be resilient and bounce back, it's his ship; it's his crew." The support of Troi and the meaning and purpose behind being a Starfleet officer is what gave him that resilience and this is "compromised" in "Star Trek: Picard" where he was trying to save Romulans and the Starfleet wouldn't support him. He could not handle that compromise and went into hiding. "That is something many people do who experience trauma." Mattu is also a big fan of the journey seen in "The Last Jedi" with Luke. In both, he thought we're reminded to learn from our failures.

Letamendi of Team Wars: Letamendi agreed that these two stories are about the development of emotional intelligence. EQ is about how we try to override the logic and "just tap into the emotions that we're experiencing." EQ is not just about our emotions, but also being able to empathize and understand the emotions of the people around us and letting those feelings drive our behaviors. She said, "I've always looked at Trek to help understand social relationships and Star Wars is more about the interpersonal." When Luke goes into isolation, he is "not yet learning from his setback; he feels responsible for Kylo Ren becoming darkened in his path...he lets that resentment and feelings of self-doubt and failure permeate." When Rey comes, he's able to understand that it's not about himself all the time.

Third Topic

What do Rey and Michael Burnham show us about healthy coping and self-care? How do they preserve or deny their heritage and identity to maintain their mental well-being? What's the importance of legacy when it comes to saving the universe?

Letamendi of Team Wars: Rey had to adjust and adapt to being a scavenger and this gives her great resilience. Her journey is about developing this sense of resilience. Resilience is "our ability to mentally and emotionally cope with hardship," but also how we use external resources and ask for help. Despite the hardships she faces, Rey finds contentment and joy which is not only difficult to do, but "also shows that she's holding on to a sense of hope."

Mattu of Team Trek: Mattu mostly agreed and added that she "struggled deeply with her being a Palpatine." The notion of legacy is "really what you make of it and what you learn and who you want to be." With Burnham, we find out that she has been raised by "probably the most famous parents in Star Trek and she is a sibling to probably the most famous character, Spock." Mattu highly recommended watching "Short Treks" because there's one about her and her father ("Star Trek: Short Treks," Season 2, Episode 9, "The Girl Who Make the Stars"). She lost her parents and was raised on Vulcan after being adopted by Sarek and Amanda. Burnham has been able to code-switch which adds to her ability to see things from different perspectives. In a sense, this shows how diversity is better. It is harder, but "diversity is a superpower that will help you solve problems you could never do, you could never solve with everyone coming from the same place," Mattu explained.

Stashwick of Team Wars: Stashwick noted that while many people criticized "The Force Awakens" as being a retread of "A New Hope," Rey was looking for a sense of family and belonging while Luke was running away from family and looking for adventure. Rey's newfound family fortified her enough to be able to overcome the darkness.

Muro of Team Trek: Going last left Muro with little to say and expand upon, but she noted that with Burnham, she has invested a lot in attempting to emulate the Vulcan culture, but finds her resilience is from "giving in to the passion of her humanity."

Fourth Topic

The Kelvin Timeline was, according to the Official Star Trek Online Wiki, the alternative quantum universe created when a Romulan starship traveled back and destroyed the USS Kelvin.

Mattu of Team Trek: Mattu talked about "Star Trek Beyond," and how it begins with Kirk and Spock really struggling with their positions. Kirk feels that things have become "episodic." Spock is struggling with the loss of Spock prime "as we all were with the death of Leonard Nimoy." The whole story is about reconnecting with what is Starfleet. Reconnecting with the meaning of what you do can help you through tough times, including living under COVID-19 restrictions.

Letamendi of Team Wars: Letamendi doesn't know enough about the Kelvin timelines to be critical. These stories have given us purpose. Star Wars "is storytelling around concepts of redemption" and that's something that we struggle with. The human experience is filled with making mistakes, having flaws and dealing with not only our own flaws but the flaws and mistakes of others. The Star Wars story has always been about a sense of "can we work on rebuilding connection and harmony." If you can come back to the good of yourself, "you can accept some of the mistakes you've made." That's something that is hard to do.

Stashwick of Team Wars: Stashwick noted that with J.J. Abrams, he "clearly was a Star Wars man" who was "handed the keys to the Star Trek kingdom and he made a Star Wars version of Star Trek," but Stashwick then noted that with Star Wars, "just because you blew up a Death Star once, your problems aren't over." Beating back the demons is "an eternal struggle" and "a noble pursuit." He concluded with "the struggle is real," and we need to "be strong and be together."

Live Long and Prosper and May the Force be with you in 2020.

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, Examiner.com and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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