The very end of the super-duper 2004 special edition of Return of the Jedi finds Luke gazing out to see Obi-Wan smiling, Yoda smiling, Anakin smiling, and the audience freaking out. Instead of Sebastian Shaw as an old Anakin, Hayden Christensen suddenly shimmered into view, smirking awkwardly, complete with his big Jedi mullet. And the haters began to hate. But, now with Episode VII so close to release, there’s paradoxically one person I don’t think they can leave out, and that person is Hayden Christensen! Here’s why the ghost of Hayden must return!
For a vast majority of the general viewing public, the name Hayden Christensen no longer has any meaning for them, which in some ways is too bad. The prequels are replete with offensive errors in terms of how stories are best told. Why are there no likable characters? Does everyone’s motivation need to be so muddled? Must we see every single spaceship take off and then subsequently land in excruciating detail?
One of the reasons I think people are so pissed at the prequels is simply because they lack real stakes, since we already know what’s going to happen to the major players. This is in stark contrast to the old Star Wars movies, which are awesomely edited, proceed at a jarringly entertaining pace, and make us care about all sorts of silly things like exhaust ports, carbonite chambers, and yes, even Ewoks.
Hayden didn’t personally do anything to mess any of this up. He was hired to play a brooding young version of Darth Vader, and be reasonably believable as a sexy guy who could handle a lightsaber like a champ. He did this! The character of Anakin Skywalker was never written as likable, so of course everyone hated him. Sure, those lines about not liking sand and constantly saying “M’lady” with that strange cadence of his didn’t help. But, in truth, Hayden delivered not the Anakin Skywalker we wanted, but probably the Anakin Skywalker who was realistic. He’s a talented guy who is told he’s great, but then constantly also told to cool it. He’s young, horny, and powerful. Of course he turned into an asshole.
The nice thing about Anakin is that he gets to redeem himself in Return of the Jedi—which, if you’re a kid experiencing the Star Wars movies in the Lucas-order, is a pretty neat arc. Also for contemporary kids, Anakin is the focus of more hours of Star Wars than really any other character, thanks to The Clone Wars. So for better or worse, the prequel-era Anakin defines Star Wars for a big chunk of the viewing public.
If all the actors from the classic trilogy are reprising their roles, the giant space elephant in the room is how old everyone has gotten. Let’s get real, the focus of these new films will doubtlessly be on new characters, but it would be nice to have some existing Star Wars characters in there too, particularly ones who don’t look super old. Luckily, you don’t have to do any Tron: Legacy de-aging CG action on Hayden. He looks good! How satisfying would it be to see an older Mark Hamill as Luke, talking to the ghost of his father via the Force? Putting Hayden in the context of being the wiser Jedi and making him act with Mark Hamill would force him to up his game. And reconnecting Luke and Anakin in a way in which we haven’t seen since Return of the Jedi could be truly powerful stuff. One of the coolest scenes in Revenge of the Sith is between Yoda and Anakin because it helps bridge the gap between the prequels and the “real” Star Wars films.
The incorporation of Hayden’s Anakin Skywalker as a ghost in the new film could also retroactively legitimize the prequels in the minds of some haters. In contrast to the classic films, the prequels opened up the Star Wars galaxy, rendering it more vast and populated than the classic films ever could. And though we don’t really know anything about Episode VII, it’s a pretty safe bet to assume the scope of the movie will be closer to the prequels than the original films; despite being a sequel to the last film in the classic trilogy, Episode VII will likely not have a “back-to-basics” approach, but instead incorporate more of the prequels’ world-building. Hayden’s ghost Anakin could therefore act as a visual and thematic cue linking these sensibilities. And since some version of Anakin/Darth Vader has appeared in every Star Wars movie so far, it would be strange if he didn’t appear in some capacity.
I’m not saying Hayden’s ghost should serve the same function as Obi-Wan’s ghost did in the old films, but truly, there doesn’t seem to be any reason NOT to use him. If the new masters of Star Wars also want to throw in a ghost Yoda, or a Ewan McGregor ghost Obi-Wan, I would be excited about that too.
Not everything about the prequels was bad, and contrary to knee-jerk popular opinion, Hayden was not even close to being the reason why the movies are inferior to the classics. To put it another way, I’ve written about Star Wars from one side of it to the other, and I’ve never seen anything that made me believe Hayden’s Anakin was the all-powerful mistake ruining everything. That’s just a bunch of simple complaints and nonsense.
So, comb your Jedi mullet, get your Canadian accent going, and join the dark side. Let’s bring Hayden Christensen back!
This post was originally featured on Tor.com on July 9th, 2013.