May 12, 2000: The day it was announced Hayden Christensen would play Anakin Skywalker in the forthcoming Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. He was not the child of The Phantom Menace but a padawan-turned-Sith lord. At the time, Christensen himself was just 19 years old. Now, 21 years later and long after his time in Star Wars seemed to be finished, Christensen is returning to the franchise again in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
His time in a galaxy far, far away may not be over just yet, but Christensen has already had a wide-ranging career in Star Wars and beyond as the actor giving life to the origins of its biggest character. So let’s take a look at Christensen’s career in photos, from the very beginning to today.
Hayden Christensen enters with Attack of the Clones
May 14, 2002: Christensen attended the Attack of the Clones premiere in London, alongside his fellow co-stars Sir Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and director George Lucas. The diverse set of actors was fielded by casting director Robin Gurland, who says she looked for a theater background in the chosen actors because of the amount of green screen and visual effects.
Christensen had that through his time at the London Theatre, where he debuted alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Paquin in This is Our Youth that same year. Gurland also said one of the top priorities was “if I enjoy having dinner with them.” It may sound pretentious but makes a great deal of sense considering the publicity surrounding Star Wars.
Christensen beat out 1,5000 other candidates to play Anakin Skywalker, but Gurland knew he was the right man for the role:
"“When Hayden came for his first meeting, I opened the door, and I just suddenly became flushed, because I knew. I sat him down and looked at him through the camera, and all of a sudden, I could feel goosebumps. I couldn’t get too excited, because it’s just the initial meeting, but by the end of it, I just knew that Anakin had walked in the door.”"
Hayden Christensen’s acting background before Star Wars
Aside from Star Wars, Christensen earned part of his name as an actor with 2003’s Shattered Glass, the true story surrounding the fabricated articles of journalist Stephen Glass. Christensen played the lead role in the film, and in addition to co-star Peter Sarsgaard, earned critical acclaim and multiple award nominations. It wasn’t the first successful project of Christensen’s career, however, as he received Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nominations for his role in 2001’s Life as a House.
All of this led to Christensen’s role in Star Wars. His path into it was not too dissimilar from the franchise’s other actors in entering as a relative unknown, including his co-star Natalie Portman. Their relationship was an essential part of the prequel trilogy, with Gurland describing it by saying, “The chemistry between Hayden and Natalie is exquisite. It’s palpable. They have a maturity beyond their years, but at the same time, they haven’t lost their innate sense of joy and youth,” as the two were only just embarking on their acting careers.
Hayden Christensen portrays Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side
May 22, 2005: Christensen appears alongside his new master, Ian McDiarmid, and old companions R2-D2 and C-3PO at the Redbull Star Wars Grand Prix Party. For Lucas, the decision to cast Christensen was not so much about who he was in Episode II, but who he became in Episode III as Darth Vader. One essential element of that was fear, and a funny example of that came from Ross Beadman, the actor who played the youngling standing in Vader’s way.
In reference to the iconic scene, Beadman shared, “From what I remember Hayden shouted ‘boo!’ and that startled me to add to my fear in the scene.” Maybe it doesn’t sound that scary, but it certainly did the trick on-screen. It was just one of the many ways Christensen embodied Anakin’s descent from Jedi knight to Sith lord. Speaking on that transformation, Christensen said the following back in 2005:
"“It was challenging because you are cast as this character that was the connective tissue to someone that represents all that is evil. So your natural instinct is to try and take him there. George was constantly asking me to pull back from that … And Episode III was about changing him. It was very exciting to get to Episode III, to finally get to do that. It was something I had built up in my head for so long. I was waiting and waiting and waiting… and finally I got to take him to the Dark Side.”"
However, Christensen’s lasting note in Star Wars was a positive one. Prior to Revenge of the Sith‘s release, Lucas, unbeknownst to Christensen, inserted stock footage of him as Anakin’s Force ghost in Return of the Jedi, replacing the actor initially behind the mask, Sebastian Shaw. Despite the controversy surrounding the move, it brought Christensen and Skywalker’s journey full circle.
Hayden Christensen’s life after Star Wars
Riding the post-Star Wars boom, Christensen had a flurry of acting projects in the short-term after Revenge of the Sith. Perhaps the most significant was Jumper, as he reunited with Samuel L. Jackson to tell the tale of a character who discovered the ability to teleport.
Beyond that, Christensen partook in an array of films and television series, including Virgin Territory, The Decameron, Takers, and in 2009, Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Oddysey, his fourth film with Jackson. In 2013, Christensen and his brother Tove inked a deal with Glacier Films to produce numerous micro-budget movies, continuing Christensen’s shift to the small screen.
Describing the fallout from his Star Wars fame, Christensen said to the Los Angeles Times:
"“I guess I felt like I had this great thing in Star Wars that provided all these opportunities and gave me a career, but it all kind of felt a little too handed to me…”"
As a result, Christensen worked for a number of his own opportunities, even taking some time away from Hollywood as well.
Since then, Christensen has starred in a few other noteworthy films, including 90 Minutes in Heaven, First Kill and, most recently, 2018’s Little Italy. All of this set the stage for Christensen’s comeback to where he always has a home in Star Wars.
Returning to the galaxy far, far away…
Christensen had stepped away from Star Wars for some time following the prequel trilogy, in no small part to the critical reception to his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. Coming into Star Wars, his career was riding a wave of tremendous momentum that reached a screeching halt in some sense. Star Wars provided fame, but not necessarily in the best light.
Fortunately, as younger fans have come of age, the prequel trilogy and Christensen’s performance have begun to receive the respect they deserve. That became especially evident at 2017’s Star Wars Celebration, where Christensen made a stunning appearance in front of crowds for the first time in over a decade to an incredible reception. He came into it with a tremendous level of joy as well, as he shared anecdotes from his time filming the prequels and poked at fun at some of the fans’ favorite lines.
Christensen has continued to live in the Star Wars universe in the time since as well. Most recently, he visited Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge in 2019 with his daughter as she built a custom lightsaber for her birthday. How could he let her choose purple instead of blue, though?
That same year, Christensen also had a tangible role in a film. There were wide rumors of his return in the sequels, and while he never appeared physically on-screen, his voice did during the montage of Jedi encouraging Rey in The Rise of Skywalker. Christensen also received a dialogue credit for 2020’s revival of The Clone Wars, even though the lines featured within were initially recorded for Revenge of the Sith.
Hayden Christensen in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series
Now, beyond a vocal cameo or credit, Christensen prepares to appear in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series coming to Disney+. Little is known about the series or Christensen’s involvement in it as filming is just getting underway. Some may hope it brings a beautiful reunion for Skywalker and his master, Obi-Wan. However, the setting, which is ten years after Revenge of the Sith, indicates it will likely be limited to flashbacks at best. Instead, we may be treated to a final battle between the two following their furious encounter at Mustafar.
Early evidence points to that, as one of the series’ actors Sung Kang described the experience of seeing Darth Vader along with other Jedi on set, perhaps indicating that Vader is out to finish Order 66 and wipe out any Force-wielders left in the galaxy.
There are a whole lot of rumors right now about the Obi-Wan series, but one thing is for certain: Hayden Christensen will be making a return in it. For everything he underwent in Star Wars, that is something countless fans will certainly be excited to see, myself included.
To keep up with all things about Obi-Wan Kenobi and other Star Wars actors, keep it locked right here at Dork Side of the Force!