The Chosen One

Hayden Christensen On Darth Vader, Millennial Star Wars Fans, & Fatherhood

17 years after he turned to the dark side, the real-life Anakin Skywalker is a humble inspiration to us all.

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Hayden Christensen is the opposite of Anakin Skywalker. While Anakin is dominated by arrogance masking his deep insecurity, Christensen is zen as hell. He’s a laid-back famous person, who, if you bumped into on the street you might mistake for a guy who looks like Hayden Christensen. A lot of actors are called down-to-earth, but Christensen’s humbleness is something you actually feel. During our interview, Christensen reflects questions back, like a drinking buddy, or Jedi comrade. When asked if he thinks Darth Vader could have turned good if only he’d known about his kids sooner, Christensen says, “It’s pretty tragic that he was unaware of his children. I think you’re onto something there. But what do you think?”

Christensen is not an oracle and doesn’t pretend to be wise just because he played the most powerful Jedi of all time. When Fatherly sat down with him — just before the airing of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s fifth episode on Disney+ — what we learned is what many suspected twenty years ago. Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker is a mirror for a generation of young men, who are now, slightly older men.

Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson at a London charity screening of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones in 2002.

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“Back when we made those films we didn’t really hear much from young fans. There, was no social media,” Christensen says. “But now that they’ve grown up and have more of a voice, and the younger generations have been introduced to them, these films are seen differently.”

Christensen and Obi-Wan Kenobi co-star Ewan McGregor may not have heard from young fans back in 2002 and 2005, but they certainly heard from critics. “They weren’t very well received,” McGregor told Vanity Fair, referencing the three Star Wars prequel films. This is an understatement. From Patton Oswalt threatening to “kill George Lucas with a shovel,” to savage critical reviews (“Attack of the Groans”) the mainstream media was deeply unkind to these films.

Like McGregor, Christensen feels that the generation of young people — mostly millennials — who were ignored by the mainstream press back then, are now, being heard. “The only reason we’ve been able to come back and continue with these characters again is because of your generation.”

Back when we made those films we didn’t really hear much from young fans.

In two films — Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) — Christensen played Anakin as an impulsive, angry young man. Unlike the fairy tale of the Boomer’s Star Wars movies, Christensen’s take on the faraway galaxy was a cautionary tale for angry young men everywhere. In 1977, Han Solo told Luke Skywalker “don’t get cocky!” as a kind of joke. In 2005, getting cocky meant you could literally turn into Darth Vader.

Like many parents who have young children right now, Christensen was born in the ’80s, came of age in the ’90s, and started adulting in the late aughts. He just turned 41 this year but was 21 when he made his big debut as Anakin in Attack of the Clones. After Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Christensen kept an intentionally low profile, and actively avoided Hollywood. As he told the LA Times, “I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I was just riding a wave.” But after 2014, and the birth of his daughter, Briar Rose, Christensen’s motivations to get out of the celebrity rat race was less about the emotional rollercoaster of fame, and instead, all about family.

When directly asked if he specifically decided to scale back his acting career in favor of fatherhood, Christensen nods and says, “Definitely, definitely. When I became a dad that changed everything in my life. It really reprioritized things for me. It’s still the focus of my world.”

Hayden Christensen with his daughter Briar Rose on her birthday at Disneyland, in 2019.

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Christensen co-parents Briar Rose with actress Rachel Bilson. Although the two have long since split, as parents to their daughter, they are a united front. Christensen alludes to Briar Rose’s “wonderful mom,” and back in 2020, Bilson praised Christensen, noting that they “trust each other,” and was “grateful” that their daughter could visit “another house” during the height of COVID lockdowns.

When I became a dad that changed everything in my life.

That house is Christensen’s farm in Canada, a kind of fortress of solitude you might associate with a hermit-like Ben Kenobi, but perhaps not the flashy in-your-face Darth Vader. In order to convince Christensen to come back and play Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader for the limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi, director Deborah Chow went to Christensen’s farmhouse directly. It wasn’t a hard sell, exactly, because, for Christensen, part of the appeal of this Star Wars series was to attend to some unfinished business of the prequels.

“I think this story does a really good job of connecting the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy,” he explains. “So those callbacks are gonna land better on an audience that is more familiar with those stories.”

One of those callbacks came in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s penultimate episode, in which a flashback reveals Anakin and Obi-Wan, in somewhat happier times, before all the Darth Vader stuff which dominates the show’s present tense.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in a flashback scene in Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Lucasfilm

Christensen is interestingly neutral on how people come to the new show. “If you haven’t seen the prequels, or didn’t like the prequels, this show is still a standalone thing,” he says, adding with a laugh, “plus, it’s got that nice recap at the beginning. That’s all you need to know.”

Even though Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker are the same person we tend to think of a before and after. Part of the drama of Obi-Wan Kenobi is that it blurs that line, reminding us that this terrible villain was once a hero. And, just like in 2005, he had to work out quite a bit to become the physically imposing as Darth Vader. For Obi-Wan Christensen shares Darth Vader body duties with stuntmen Dmitrious Bistrevsky and Tom O'Connell. But, for fans, knowing that it’s Hayden in the suit — even when we can’t see his face — creates a kind of strange, intangible nostalgia. If the real Darth Vader is really in the Darth Vader suit, but we can’t see his face, does it count?

Hayden are you in there?

Lucasfilm

For Christensen, the answer was a big yes.

“I think that process was very important for me,” he says. “I needed to become that character again, physically. I just consumed as many calories as possible. I put on 25 or 30 pounds to fill out that [Darth Vader] suit.”

This process took about nine months, but Christensen reveals he didn’t retain his jacked Darth Vader bod after filming was completed. “I try to avoid the dad bod thing,” he says with a chuckle. “And I was trying to maintain that Vader body after we finished. But, honestly, I pretty much just went back to my old diet. I kind of deflated after that.”

Anakin Skywalker might be cursed to stay in that Darth Vader suit forever, but not his alter ego. Vader might be a tragic dad, but Hayden Christensen is living happily ever after.

Obi-Wan Kenobi airs its series finale on Wednesday, June 22 on Disney+.