Back in 2002, Hayden Christensen had his big break in Hollywood via an iconic role in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. You see, he became Anakin Skywalker, reprising the part again three years later. But despite the movies’ success, Christensen disappeared from our screens for a time, and there’s an unexpected reason for this.
Now, the franchise that made Christensen his name is of course legendary. And it started in 1977 with the original Star Wars, entitled Episode IV – A New Hope. George Lucas’ space epic was a huge success, earning over $775 million at the box office.
You see, the film was packed with memorable characters, but Darth Vader was arguably the standout. As the hulking villain of the piece, he dominated the screen whenever he appeared, with James Earl Jones providing his voice. Notably, in the later sequels, we discover that Vader was once known as Anakin Skywalker before turning to the “dark side.”
So following the conclusion of the original trilogy in 1983, Lucas’ prequel trilogy came out over a six-year period, starting in 1999. Those three films focused on Skywalker’s journey as a Jedi Knight, before he became Darth Vader. With that in mind, fans across the world were left to wonder who would take on the crucial role when the movies were announced.
Well, in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Jake Lloyd was cast as a young Skywalker, but Christensen took over in the follow-up flick. In fact, he held the role for the final two films of the prequel trilogy, showcasing the character’s slow descent into villainy. However, the actor’s performances didn’t garner a great response.
Indeed, Christensen received plenty of flak from both the fanbase and film reviewers, criticizing his “unpolished” take on the character. On top of that, the star was given three nominations at the infamous Razzie Awards as well. In the end, he “won” a pair of Worst Supporting Actor gongs for the two movies.
But prior to all that, Christensen was building a solid career for himself as a young actor. You see, he made his on-screen debut back in 1993, appearing in the TV show Family Passions. After that, the aspiring performer earned another brief role on the small screen in E.N.G. the same year.
From there, Christensen made his first appearance on the big screen in 1995’s In the Mouth of Madness. While it was only a small role, he added four other credits to his name that year, gaining more experience. Then, as the decade progressed, the future star continued to feature in different movies and television projects.
Amazingly, Christensen’s efforts paid off, as he scored a Golden Globe nomination in 2002 for his role in Life as a House. Unfortunately for him, his performance in Attack of the Clones the same year didn’t garner a likewise reaction. Regardless, he bounced back the following year. Yes, the leading man earned plenty of plaudits for Shattered Glass.
So keeping that in mind, a lot of eyes were on Christensen after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. While his performances in the prequel trilogy disappointed a lot of fans, his work outside the franchise suggested that he had more to give. And Factory Girl marked his first role since then in 2006.
Following that, Christensen starred in four movies between 2007 and 2008, such as Awake and Jumper. But none of those films were critically acclaimed, leaving the actor in a tough spot. So he went on to appear in another three projects in 2010, before taking a five-year hiatus from the industry.
Meanwhile, Christensen’s Star Wars co-stars had a bit more luck after the prequel trilogy. For instance, Ewan McGregor, who played a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi in the films, had a slew of roles from 2006 onwards. His career was already on an exciting trajectory prior to that, and he’s continued to appear in recent notable projects.
Indeed, McGregor had starring roles in 2018’s Christopher Robin and Doctor Sleep the following year. After that, he scored the part of Roman Sionis in the 2020 DC movie Birds of Prey. And if that wasn’t enough, the veteran actor is set to play Jiminy Cricket in the upcoming adaptation of Pinocchio.
Elsewhere, Natalie Portman continued her successful career following the prequels. Yes, she appeared in films like V for Vendetta, The Other Boleyn Girl and The Darjeeling Limited between 2005 and 2008. Then, at the start of the next decade, Portman went on to score a career-defining role that earned her plenty of plaudits.
You see, Portman was cast as the lead in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, showcasing her skills as a troubled dancer. Subsequently, the actress swept the film awards season in 2011, as she won a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar for her performance. From there, she joined the Marvel franchise via Thor later that year.
Now, Portman is set to return to the Thor franchise for the first time since 2013, as she’s back for 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder. Alongside that, she’ll also be taking part in a new television mini-series titled We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. So the star has a busy schedule ahead.
With regard to Christensen’s career, he might’ve been hoping to follow a similar path when Lucas selected him to play Anakin Skywalker. To shed some light on his mindset at the time, the actor sat down for an interview on the set of Attack of the Clones. During that discussion, he reflected on the audition that won him the part.
Christensen said, “To be honest, I went in [to the audition] with no expectations. I really wasn’t thinking that, you know, ‘Oh I really want this part.’ It was just, ‘Wow that’s George Lucas, this is cool!’ [But] about a week after my test, I was lying in bed and got the phone call that I got the part.”
“I never would’ve expected to be here right now,” Christensen continued. “This is Star Wars, it’s really really cool. It’s heaps of fun to go in and get dressed up as a Jedi every day, and put on the boots and get to wear the cloak occasionally.” At that stage, he then focused on the iconic character that he was entrusted to play.
Christensen added, “As much as it is my character, it’s all coming from George’s head. He is the definitive of how it is to be played, so you have to pay attention. You try to give flashes of darkness, and flashes of just pure innocence to try to bring everything together.”
While Star Wars fans will no doubt argue whether Christensen pulled that off successfully, he finally emerged from his five-year hiatus in 2015. At that time, the Golden Globe nominee appeared in three different movies, including 90 Minutes in Heaven. Unfortunately for him, the critics weren’t fans of that one either.
Despite that, though, Christensen opened up about his absence from Hollywood during the press tour for the movie. And he spoke to the Los Angeles Times in late 2015, casting his mind back to Star Wars. As it turned out, his work on the prequels played a significant role in his decision to get away from it all.
Christensen told the newspaper, “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. I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I was just riding a wave.”
On that note, Christensen stepped away and purchased a farm for himself. And that’s where he stayed for the following years, while fans questioned whether he’d return to the big screen at all. But while the actor eventually ended his hiatus, he knew that the transition back to work wouldn’t be easy.
Sticking with that point, Christensen went on to make an intriguing observation during his talk with the Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, his feelings of trepidation were tinged with a hint of real excitement. The Star Wars alumnus admitted, “You can’t take years off and not have it affect your career.”
“But in a weird, sort of destructive way, there was something appealing about that to me. There was something in the back of my head that was like, ‘If this time away is gonna be damaging to my career, then so be it. If I can come back afterward and claw my way back in, then maybe I’ll feel like I earned it,’” Christensen added.
Following that interview, a number of online users shared their thoughts on Christensen. The discussion took place on The Independent’s website, as the U.K. newspaper covered his comments back in December 2015. And while some of the messages were less than kind, a couple stood out for their positivity.
Indeed, one user wrote, “Hayden wasn’t to blame for the fact the [prequels] were awkward in places, badly scripted and had too many effects. I preferred him in the stuff he did afterwards anyway, like Jumper, a really good film, a film I can watch multiple times. He should carry on making stuff like that.”
Meanwhile, a different user noted, “Hayden seems very likable and humble in his interview, so it’s not surprising he left Hollywood with all the self-proclaimed movie ‘critics’ out there. Lucas saw something in him, and not too many can say they were selected by Lucas for his films. I wish Hayden nothing but the best.”
Off the back of Christensen’s talk with the Los Angeles Times, fans didn’t see him on the big screen again for another two years. At that point, he appeared in the action thriller First Kill alongside Bruce Willis. Then, the film star’s next movie dropped in the fall of 2018.
And the film in question was Little Italy, a romantic comedy co-starring Emma Roberts. Once again, though, it received plenty of flak from reviewers. In the end, the film earned a Metacritic score of just 28 and brought in around $1.3 million at the box office.
However, while Christensen was still trying to navigate his return to the industry, Star Wars was making a comeback. Just ten years on from the conclusion of the prequel trilogy, a brand new sequel was released in December 2015. Incredibly, Episode VII – The Force Awakens went on to make over $2 billion.
And around the time of the film’s release, an intriguing rumor was swirling within the fanbase. Yes, The Independent reported that Christensen might’ve been in line to reprise the role of Anakin Skywalker in a small cameo. But that didn’t happen, as Ewan McGregor lent his voice to a scene instead.
Even though Christensen didn’t pop up, that simple rumor signaled the beginning of a heartwarming change. As we’ve already highlighted, some fans weren’t happy with his efforts in the prequels upon their release, yet the new films have prompted a reevaluation. Yes, now people look at the star a little differently.
While Christensen got his fair share of criticism in the past, the fanbase welcomed him with open arms at the Star Wars Celebration events in 2017 and 2019. On top of that, the Screen Rant website noted that his appearance at the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction in Disneyland garnered a positive response too.
So keeping that goodwill in mind, fans started to ponder if Christensen might’ve been appearing in the final film of the franchise. In fact, users on the Star Wars subreddit were evidently desperate for him to return for Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, starting a thread on it. It quickly generated over 200 comments.
One Reddit user wrote, “Regardless of the conclusion, I think having Hayden Christensen appear to Rey, Kylo, Luke, or whoever would really help to tie all of the saga together. [It] would be a dream come true if he is involved, after the years and years of rumors!” Ultimately, the fanbase got their wish.
You see, near the end of the movie Christensen joined some fellow Star Wars alumni in reading a line of dialogue to the protagonist Rey. As Anakin Skywalker, he said, “Rey…Bring back the balance, Rey, as I did. The Force surrounds you, Rey…Let it lift you.” It was brief, but it still marked his first appearance in the franchise for 14 years.
While The Rise of Skywalker didn’t wow critics, it went on to make a big impression at the box office. Yes, in the end, it earned over $1 billion worldwide. As for Christensen, he might not be done with Star Wars just yet. For you see, another rumor emerged on social media in May 2020.
Indeed, the Star Wars Stuff Twitter account claimed that Christensen was said to be “in talks” with producers over coming back for a future project. Apparently, an announcement would’ve been made at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, but it was cancelled. Nonetheless, the message earned more than 22,500 likes and over 8,000 retweets, so interest from the fans is definitely there for another Christensen comeback.