Doing the unthinkable: Making a defence for Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker
The wounds are no longer fresh and the taint of Jar-Jar is slowly being washed away by the cleansing waters of every new iteration in the Star Wars catalogue since Lucas’ departure.
To be honest I think enough time has passed between now and 2002 to take a critical look back at Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, in particular the reasoning and critical thinking that surrounded George Lucas’ decision to agree to have a piece of sentient wood play the role of one of Star Wars’ most prominent figures.
I’m certain a small defence can be mounted for his decision, a defence that has its roots in understanding the 180 degree arc between Jedi Knight and Sith apprentice.
Let’s consider for a moment what we knew about Anakin Skywalker before we walked into the cinema to watch The Phantom Menace for the first time; Anakin was a pilot, he had fought alongside Obi Wan Kenobi in the Clone Wars and ultimately he would go on to become Darth Vader, an important figurehead of both the Sith and Palpatine’s Empire.
Basic logic tells us that Anakin Skywalker was a good guy, then he become bad.
I suppose in a way to do the character justice you truly needed an actor that could embody both of those qualities – in comparison to the wholesome, yet astute attitude that Ewan McGregor brought with him into the role of young Obi Wan, we could immediately identify the ego clash between the two. From the moment we’re introduced to grown up Anakin, straight away we sense that he’s, well, a bit of a brat. His unfeeling wooden facial expressions and fish-eyed lack of warmth only bolstered our initial reaction and gut-wrenching rejection of him as a character.
Anakin was wrong to throw himself out of the speeder in pursuit of the assassin, and as Obi Wan cruised by in his fly-as-shit hover car to pick his sorry arse up off the ground, Anakin realised his brashness had gotten him nowhere.
We knew instantly that Obi Wan was being logical, calculated and level headed, while Anakin presented himself as someone that appeared to be prone to illogical and irrational behaviour. That moment told us a lot more about the character than ridiculous monologues about sand getting in crevices ever did.
As an audience member we had to BELIEVE that Anakin Skywalker would eventually turn to the Dark Side, at the end of the day we knew it was coming.
To show this properly, Lucas needed an actor that was a stark contrast to McGregor’s father-like Obi Wan. I would never have believed that Obi Wan would ever have succumbed to the temptation of the Dark Side, but as I watched Christensen mumble his way through his dialogue like Harrison Ford sleepwalking I thought, “You know what, I can totally see this guy becoming a douche bag”.
And I was right.
We also had to believe that he could turn BACK again, as we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. As a living embodiment of the dictionary definition of ambiguousness, again I could totally see Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker doing that.
Lastly we need to remember that Christensen didn’t write his lines – ultimately if it wasn’t him at the helm Lucas would simply have found another actor that was dead inside to throw on some robes and scream preposterously about slaughtering Tusken Raiders like animals.
In the end, I definitely believe there is a small defence to be made for Christensen’s Madame Tussaud’s-esque embodiment of Anakin Skywalker. His rubber-faced portrayal of a morally ambiguous teenager was pretty much smack bang on the money. It wasn’t a herculean stretch for the audience to believe that Christensen’s character flirted with darkness and that his moody illogical rationalism would eventually lead to the downfall of the Galactic Republic.
Plus always remember that it could have been worse. James Van Der Beek was up for the role.
Meesa don’t think so James.
- Andrew Archer