Star Wars in the medical literature

To mark Star Wars Day today (May the 4th), I thought I’d do a post looking at how Star Wars and its characters have been written about in the medical literature. I did the same thing a couple of years ago with other pop culture icons – Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy.

For my Star Wars search I used PubMed, and carried out a simple keyword search (funnily enough there aren’t any MeSH headings for Star Wars). A search for “star wars” returned 91 results (which is more than Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy), with the most recent being published last month and the oldest in July 1980. Pretty much all the articles from the 1980s, and most from the early 1990s, were discussing the missile defence system proposed by US President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The program’s official name was the Strategic Defense Initiative, but it became popularly known as “Star Wars”. The article from 1980 seems to be the first which discusses the movie, although I haven’t been able to track down an online copy to check this. It’s called “Star Wars: the modern developmental fairy tale“, and it was published in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic.

The most common aspect of Star Wars which is discussed in the medical literature seems to be a psychiatric analysis of the characters (unfortunately not many of the articles are open access, so I can’t link to the fulltext). Examples of these articles include “Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: the Use of Star Wars’ Dark Side in Teaching” (link), “Darth Vulcan? In support of Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder” (link), and “The fall and redemption of people and systems: potential lessons from the “star wars” saga” (link). It also seems popular to refer to Star Wars when discussing a treatment which involves using lasers e.g. “The erbium laser: the “Star Wars” of dentistry” (link).

As well as Star Wars the movie I also searched for some of the characters. Here are some of the things I learnt by doing this:

  • Researchers at MIT have developed the MIT-skywalker, which is a device used in gait therapy. A photo of the beta prototype is available in this open access article.
  • There is a fruit fly protein called Skywalker (sky), which has something to do with neurons and synaptic vesicles (more details in this open access article).
  • There is a method which is used to test the efficacy of potential anti-helminthic drugs (helminths are parasitic worms) called the larval exsheathment inhibition assay (LEIA). (link) I guess in Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia was a pretty effective treatment for Jabba the Hutt (he wasn’t a helminth, but he was pretty worm-like).
  • Several species have been named after Chewbacca. In New Britain (one of the islands of Papua New Guinea), there is a species of flightless weevil called Trigonopterus chewbacca (described and pictured in this open access article). There is also a moth in Mexico called Wockia chewbacca Adamski – I guess Wockia sounds a bit like Wookiee.
  • When it comes to developing the name of a clinical trial or procedure, Darth Vader seems to be a popular inspiration. Evidence of this includes the Vascular Access Decisions in the Emergency Room study protocol (link), the Vacuum-Assisted Dermal Recruitment method for closing wounds (link), and the tongue-in-cheek Value of Audio Devices in the Endoscopy Room randomised controlled trial (link). This last study found that endoscopists who listened to Star Wars music performed an endoscopy better than those who listened to popular music.
  • There is a protein in the Red flour beetle called C3PO, and several proteins from different organisms which are called R2D2.

It was interesting to find out how Star Wars is represented in the medical literature. maybe next time I’ll look at a different discipline. May the Fourth be with you!

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About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

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