The Star Wars Anakin Skywalker Renaissance Is Upon Us

If you were a teenage girl in the early aughts, prone to lurking amongst the towering shelves of Hot Topic tchotchkes and flat-ironing your fringe until it was crispier than Darth Vader’s body, then you always understood the Star Wars prequels, and more specifically, Anakin Skywalker.

Though Hayden Christensen’s performance as a young Darth Vader drew heavy criticism, there are many of us who always held a torch for little Ani, who knew then that he was just an angry emo kid struggling to find his footing, and know now that he was just a victim of George Lucas’ horrible dialogue and questionable direction. (I also firmly believe that Christensen’s choice to deliver Anakin’s lines in such a strange cadence was an attempt to mimic the speech patterns of James Earl Jones, who portrays Darth Vader in the original trilogy, but until I’m proven correct I will only offer it up as a suggestion.)

As a Star Wars fan who will die on the “Clone Wars gives us the Anakin and Obi-Wan we deserved,” hill, I’ve always thought there was so much more the franchise could have done with the fallen Jedi, and that Christensen has so much more to give. With his return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in last year’s just alright Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+, the promise that he will reprise the role again for the upcoming Ahsoka series, his recent inclusion in Fortnite’s latest Star Wars crossover, and the reignition of a social media obsession with Christensen in the role, we are on the cusp of an Anakin Skywalker renaissance.

Anakin the angry young man

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Anakin Skywalker is by far the most interesting and complex character in Star Wars. A fatherless child with an innately powerful connection to the Force, he is pulled between ideologies, emotions, and allegiances from the moment he meets Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace until he draws his last breath in Return of the Jedi. He is devastatingly tragic, the poster child for where the Jedi Order went wrong (though the sequels try to slot Kylo Ren into his place), a stark reminder of the ramifications of unwavering allegiance to a draconian dogma.

Anakin’s arc, however, was squandered by Lucas’ inability to write dialogue that isn’t ham-handed, awkward, and whiny. If you, like many Star Wars fans, only watch the live-action offerings and skip over The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the only versions of Anakin you’ll get are: little weird kid, moody weird teen, angry young man, and serenely nodding ghost. Though two out of four of those Anakin offerings were the exact kind of fodder that emo girls like myself would (perhaps wrongfully) deify, he was not widely considered a beloved Star Wars character after the prequels landed.

I’ve been caping for Anakin Skywalker since ‘99.
Photo: Alyssa Mercante / Kotaku

Dave Filoni’s animated show The Clone Wars, however, changed that. Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the seven-season series explores the legacy of Anakin Skywalker the Jedi Knight, Jedi Commander, and Jedi Master to his own Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. In The Clone Wars, Anakin (played by Matt Lanter), is an exceedingly competent military man, a loving partner to Padmé Amidala, a concerned friend to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a hero to Ahsoka and many others whose paths he crosses. Anakin’s depth of character, his internal struggles, his questioning of the Jedi Order’s tactics, are all on full display, teeing up his turn to the dark side in a way that the movies simply cannot.

In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan says “goodbye, old friend” to Anakin before they head off on separate missions. It’s the last time Obi-Wan sees his apprentice before he pledges himself to Emperor Palpatine and the Sith. In 2005, when the film was released, those words didn’t hold nearly enough weight. After The Clone Wars, and even after the Kenobi series, they burn like tears at the corners of your eyes—you know that these two fought side-by-side in dozens of battles, that they saved each other from death several times, that they lost people they cared about and turned to each other for support. They were brothers, as Obi-Wan says.

We need more of this displayed in a live-action Anakin, more of that emotional weight handed to Christensen to shoulder. And I know he can manage it.

The Anakinaissance

Image: Jeff Spicer / Stringer (Getty Images)

The pendulum of discourse has recently swung back in Christensen’s favor—the last two Star Wars Celebrations have given him literal center stage, with last year’s event confirming his return as Anakin/Darth Vader, and this year’s event causing him to tear up after an ovation went on for several minutes. The YouTube comments on that particular video shower him with praise: “He deserves this more than anyone else” and “It makes my heart happy to see Hayden finally getting the recognition he has LONG since deserved. This dude nailed the part, portrayed Anakin perfectly, worked his balls off on learning the choreography for the sword fights” are just two of many.

Like the Tumblr girlies who made Anakin Skywalker our entire personalities back in the aughts, the social media kids of today have rallied behind Christensen as Anakin. There’s a bevy of TikToks romanticizing and idealizing him—some focus on scenes between him and Natalie Portman’s Padme, others highlight his affinity for behind-the-back lightsaber swings, while some are more traditional TikTok thirst traps featuring slow-mo shots of him moving to badass music. Wherever you look on Star Wars TikTok, you’re sure to find a pocket of pro-Anakin stans.

And as Twitter pointed out, the detailed character model for Anakin in Fortnite’s latest Star Wars event has all the markings of a stan. Though Epic told Kotaku via email that it doesn’t generally comment on Fortnite’s character design process, it’s clear that whoever designed Anakin did so with Christensen’s face top of mind—it’s one of the better Fortnite versions of another universe’s character, and for sure the most accurate-to-life animated version of Christensen I’ve ever seen.

Recently, Christensen’s reprisal of the Anakin Skywalker role for 2022’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series spawned dozens of videos about his powerful reunion with Ewan McGregor, who plays Kenobi in the prequels. “It was moving. It was emotional to work with him again,” McGregor said in the Disney+ making-the-series documentary Obi-Wan Kenobi: A Jedi’s Return.

His return also sparked up the conversation about the importance of the duo’s relationship, perhaps to offset the lack of such a focus in the prequels. “There’s just such a warmth and there is such a relationship between the two of them that it really feels like the characters in a lot of ways,” Kenobi director Deborah Chow said in the documentary. “Especially when we’re doing flashbacks to the prequels.” Thanks to Christensen’s return to the franchise, the fancams of Obi-Wan and Anakin went wild on TikTok, from somber edits of Hayden in the Darth Vader suit to requests for amateur lightsaber duelists to teach fans how to do the “Obi-Ani” spin.

But the Kenobi series only had one flashback scene, broken up and spread out across more than one episode. It’s not enough to satiate the appetite Star Wars fans have for more Anakin content. Ahsoka can and should give us more.

Anakin and Ahsoka

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

If Anakin Skywalker represents the perils of putting a child squarely in the middle of a cult that’s struggling to find its footing in a tenuous political environment, then Ahsoka Tano represents the power of giving that child an honest, clear view of the inner workings of said cult. Without Anakin, Ahsoka Tano would not be the character she is heading into the Ahsoka series: She’s willingly left the Jedi order after becoming disillusioned by it (in part because of how it treats Anakin) and is laser-focused on snuffing out any remnants of the Empire.

The relationship between her and Anakin in The Clone Wars is another way in which the animated series gives his character more depth and pathos than the prequels could. A show made for kids manages to take the slightly blurry version of Anakin first shown in Attack of the Clones and fiddle with the focus until his edges become sharp, more clearly defined. That’s the version of Anakin Skywalker we’re likely to see in the Ahsoka series. (Though The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Christensen would be in the series last year, Disney and Lucasfilm have been silent about it, which leads me to believe he’s getting a meatier role than in Kenobi.)

Disney and Lucasfilm seem dedicated to giving second chances to actors wronged by the prequels, as seen in Ahmed Best, who portrayed Jar-Jar Binks in Phantom Menace getting the Jedi treatment in the latest season of The Mandalorian. It’s time for Hayden Christensen to get a healthy chunk of screen time as Anakin Skywalker again, and Ahsoka provides the perfect place to do it. Let us see the true potential of a man destined for greatness, but destroyed by a misguided adherence to the status quo and his love for a man who upholds it. Show us flashbacks of Anakin and Ahsoka on missions together, verbally sparring about the ethics of their assignment, physically sparring in practice duels, and finding solace in each other when they feel especially alone (the two are often singled out by the Order for their rebellious behavior and curious, questioning nature).

Let me hear Hayden Christensen call Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka “Snips,” and let her fire back a “Skyguy” with a wry smile. Give us the triumphs of a commanding leader and the adoration of a doting husband. Let us see the pain play across Anakin’s face as he realizes that the Jedi Order is determined to box him in while casting out his Padawan. Christensen, and the character, deserve at least that.

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