In Defense of Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars Prequels

Obi Wan KenobiDisney+ will launch a second wave of Disney+ subscribers on May 27th. Star Wars prequel nostalgia. When LucasFilm announced that Hayden Christensen would don the Darth Vader suit to reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker opposite Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star WarsThe news was welcomed with great joy by die-hards. Casual Star Wars fans may find this confusing: Weren’t the prequel movies awful? Weren’t all those bits about the galactic senate rather dull and Jar Jar Binks the absolute worst creation to ever grace the screen? Wasn’t Christensen the most maligned actor in the much-hated series?

Well, yes. The movies were terrible—so terrible that Harrison Ford didn’t even want to acknowledge their existence when he sat down with TIME for an interview about the legacy of the franchise. However, lately, some have spoken out. Star WarsFans have set out to restore these films as good, if perhaps not perfect. It’s good. This has opened up the possibility of a Christensen return.

The newfound respect comes largely from Gen Zers and Millennials, who saw the prequels before they had the opportunity to examine the films critically. Children were delighted by the inexplicable CGI creatures. It has remained affectionate for nearly twenty years. As I do. Space Jam is a perfect movie (even though it’s an objectively bad film), plenty of friends and colleagues will happily rewatch the Star WarsIronically, or honestly, prequels can be repeated repeatedly.

Squint and you’ll find things to love about these movies. John Williams’ score is epic, particularly “Duel of the Fates.” The lightsaber fight between Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn and Ray Park’s spikey-faced Darth Maul is among the best in the franchise. Certain scenes are particularly meme-able, like Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Anakin Skywalker that he has the “higher ground” and Anakin’s cringe-worthy speech about hating sand.

Critics have pointed out that Lucas’ films were politically prescient and predicted the rise of fascist sentiment in American politics. Ewan McGregor, who is charming and handsome, is why LucasFilm spent 17 years trying to get him on the giant Lizard saddle again and reclaim his Obi-Wan Kenobi role.

TIME’s Richard Corliss was an early defender of the prequels. When Attack of the Clones premiered in 2002, he wrote, “Like the army of clones deployed in Episode IIThe picture is already being criticized by a bunch of people. It doesn’t … It’s gorgeously designed and color-coordinated; the god who created this galaxy was working from a very rich palette. There’s nothing deep or emotionally grand about this enterprise, but Star Wars That part of the cinema spectrum was not occupied by him. The series was—and remains—Lucas’s elaborate reconstruction of his Saturday-matinee memories and fantasies.”

But let’s not kid ourselves: The weakest part of the trilogy was the stilted romance between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Christensen’s performance is bad, almost unforgivably so. For his efforts, he was awarded two Razzies Episodes II III. According to A.O. Scott wrote the New York Times article TimesWhen Revenge of the Sith premiered in 2005, “Hayden Christensen plays Anakin Skywalker’s descent into evil as a series of petulant bad moods.” Corliss was slightly kinder, directing most of his ire at a “stiff and humorless” Portman rather than Christensen. He largely blamed Lucas for any acting failures in the picture: “It’s a melancholy fact that the Star WarsFilms with strong acting and the most intense mood are The Empire Strikes Back Return of the Jedi—the two that Lucas didn’t direct.”

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Nevertheless, there have been some improvements in the last few years. Star WarsFans have tried to forgive Christensen. As Corliss pointed out, it’s not entirely clear that Christensen was to blame for Anakin’s failures as a character. There’s very little good acting in the prequel films, even though they feature a cohort of legendary stars, from Samuel L. Jackson to Christopher Lee. It is most likely Lucas who is responsible for the poor performances. Christensen, a young man from Norway, had to perform a very difficult task. Lucas gave the heartthrob some clunky dialogue, and requested that he act against far too many CGI animals. Christensen attempted to create an energetic Hamlet from space. He instead became a whiny brat.

Christensen perhaps suffered the most from the prequels’ failure. Lucas has made billions of dollars from the franchise, and the original films are so influential that the prequels, though poorly received at the time, cannot blemish the director’s legacy. Portman was able to recover from bad reviews in the prequels: she won an Oscar. Black Swan and will wield Thor’s hammer as the hero of the next Thor movie. McGregor was the star of this movie. Moulin Rouge! The Star WarsThe prequels were being filmed and won, just like Portman’s Golden Globe, a Golden Globe. Fargo Television series. Christensen, by contrast, hasn’t starred in a major project since the sci-fi film JumperIn 2008.

Both McGregor and Christensen appear to be acutely aware of the deleterious effect the prequels had on Christensen’s career. The press tour was largely for Obi Wan KenobiIt has focused on Anakin’s reclamation and the prequels in particular. “I found it quite hard,” McGregor told Entertainment Weekly The reaction to the prequels. “For it to come out and get knocked so hard was personally quite difficult to deal with.”

He continued to state that the tides were turning. “Now I meet the people who we made those films for, who were the kids of the time,” he said. “And our Star WarsFilms are the best. Star Wars films. In the way that Carrie Fisher and Alec Guinness and Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford’s films were ours, we’re theirs. And that’s beautiful that they were important to the kids who we made them for. It’s just so nice to finally get that wave of positivity about them.”

Trailers hint at a possible rematch between Anakin or Obi-Wan in an attempt to appeal to a younger crowd. LucasFilm could put any person in that Vader suit. But they’re bringing back Christensen because Obi-Wan Kenobi is wracked with guilt for letting his trainee Anakin turn to the dark side, and the show will reportedly find Obi-Wan a broken man looking out for little Luke Skywalker on Tatooine. Presumably director Deborah Chow also wants to remove Vader’s helmet and show Anakin’s face at some point, scarred from his volcano-set showdown with Obi-Wan in the Revenge of the Sith. It is certain that the moment will be treated as pure fan service.

So we’ve collectively decided to forgive Christensen. Good. When asked in a recent YouTube interview how he felt about the fans finally embracing him, Christensen replied, “I guess the moral of the story is patience.”

Fandoms can be very harsh. Some fandoms are more tolerant than others. Star WarsFandom has driven others to do the same Star WarsActors like Kelly Marie Tran or Daisy Ridley are not punished for being poor actors, but because they merely exist as women heroes in a movie that ended with the death of fan favorite Luke Skywalker. Christensen is, notably, a white man, and thus representative of a demographic that’s disproportionately granted second chances. Perhaps the Star Wars fandom can extend the generosity they’ve offered to Christensen to other actors in the franchise. Hopefully it won’t take them 17 years.

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