Note: this article originally ran in March 2021 and has now been updated to reflect the news that Christensen is also appearing in Star Wars: Ahsoka.
The ensemble cast for Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a healthy mix of familiar faces and returning favorites, but one name stands out above all others. Hayden Christensen is making an unexpected return to the franchise, reprising the role of Darth Vader 15 years after Revenge of the Sith and serving as a major antagonist in the Disney+ series. Not only that, but Christensen is also reportedly appearing in the Mandalorian spinoff series Star Wars: Ahsoka.
Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker has always been divisive at best. However, this should only be seen as great news for anyone eager to learn about this lost period in Obi-Wan and Anakin’s lives. Not only is this a second chance for Christensen to make Darth Vader his own, it may very well solve a decades-old Star Wars mystery. How can the series tie up a major loose end from Return of the Jedi? Read on to find out.
Solving a Major Star Wars Plot Hole
Disney has gotten a surprising amount of mileage out of using new Star Wars projects to address old plot holes and unanswered questions about the movies. Marvel’s current volume of Star Wars alone has done everything from canon-izing Luke’s yellow lightsaber to revealing how Luke managed to recover his X-Wing from Cloud City. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series has the potential to address a much bigger and more crucial loose end from Return of the Jedi.
As writer Nick Arkis points out, there’s something very odd about Vader’s conversation with a newly captured Luke on Endor. Luke insists some trace of Anakin Skywalker still remains, to which Vader responds, “Obi-Wan once thought as you do.”
How does Vader actually know Obi-Wan felt that way? When we last see the two together in Revenge of the Sith, a despondent Obi-Wan leaves his fallen friend to slowly burn to death. When they meet again in A New Hope, Obi-Wan gives no indication he thinks Vader is capable, or deserving, of redemption. To Vader, Obi-Wan is simply an enemy to be vanquished and one more tether to his old life to be severed. So why in Return of the Jedi does Vader suddenly have this newfound insight into Obi-Wan’s motivations?
The answer, it would seem, is that the two had another fateful encounter in between the two trilogies. Having had years to meditate and reflect, Obi-Wan probably has far more perspective on his pupil’s tragic downfall. He understands how Anakin became corrupted and knows the Emperor can’t have entirely eradicated the goodness within Darth Vader. When they do finally reunite in the new series – whether that occurs in person or through some sort of Rey/Kylo Ren-style Force communion – we may see Obi-Wan try to reason with Vader and reawaken Anakin Skywalker. Obviously, he’s not going to be successful, but we may come to realize the events of the series mark the first step in Anakin Skywalker’s long journey back toward the light. While Obi-Wan’s appeals will fall on deaf ears in this series, they’ll resonate enough with the Dark Lord of the Sith that he relays them to Luke years later.
If Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi is nothing more or less than the story behind Vader’s cryptic words to Luke in Return of the Jedi, it’s a story well worth telling. And it’s one that can only be told by bringing Hayden Christensen back to the fold and showcasing the frail, wounded man beneath the armor.
Reuniting Obi-Wan and Anakin
Christensen’s casting is certainly an intriguing development. It implies we’re going to see an awful lot of Darth Vader in the series, likely both in and out of his ebony armor. After all, why bother bringing Christensen back if we’re not going to see Anakin’s face? It’s not as if he was recruited to play Vader in Rogue One. We may even see the series borrow a page from Marvel’s Darth Vader comics and show Anakin’s mental self-image as he meditates.
That does raise a lot of questions about how the series is supposed to fit into the larger Star Wars mythos. As far as the movies would have us believe, Anakin and Obi-Wan don’t have another encounter in between their duel on Mustafar and their rematch aboard the Death Star. Why would they? Obi-Wan’s one mission during this entire 19-year period is to keep a low profile and guard young Luke. The last thing he wants is to put himself on Vader’s radar again.
That all being said, it’s not as though there’s anything in the movies explicitly ruling out the possibility of another meeting between Anakin and Obi-Wan. When Vader first detects Obi-Wan’s presence aboard the Death Star, he muses, “I sense something, a presence I’ve not felt since…” Conveniently, he stops short of naming the place and time. Since the release of Episode III, fans have naturally assumed Vader was reflecting on the Mustafar duel. But apparently we were wrong.
If there’s one thing past Star Wars TV projects have excelled at, it’s dancing between the raindrops of the movies to tell new stories. The Clone Wars gave us a revived Darth Maul and Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano without violating anything that happens in Episode III. A lost Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader story set between Episodes III and IV is hardly out of the question.
If anything, the emphasis on Darth Vader should be taken as a good sign for the series. Previous Obi-Wan stories set in this era (most notably John Jackson Miller’s 2013 novel Star Wars: Kenobi) have taken a fairly small-scale approach. They’re basically space Westerns set on Tatooine. But with Vader in the picture, we can expect a much bigger conflict with a more tangible impact on the Star Wars timeline. Something is going to compel Obi-Wan to leave the safety of his new home and venture back out into the galaxy, even if it means risking the notice of his former Padawan. Unfinished business from the Clone Wars? The emergence of other new Jedi? Whatever it is, it’s going to capture Vader’s notice.
Hayden Christensen in the Ahsoka Series
Now we know the Kenobi series is just one of at least two new Star Wars projects to feature Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. Christensen is also appearing in Star Wars: Ahsoka. There’s a very Star Wars-y symmetry to the fact that both shows will feature pivotal reunions between a Jedi and their former apprentice.
This casting news raises questions of its own. The Ahsoka series is set after the events of The Mandalorian: Season 2, meaning it takes place roughly five years after Anakin’s death in Return of the Jedi. So how exactly does the character fit into this story?
The obvious answer is Anakin will appear as a Force Ghost. We know he’s among the few Jedi capable of manifesting himself after death, and Lucas even went to the trouble of replacing Sebastian Shaw’s Force ghost Anakin with new footage of Christensen’s Anakin in the RotJ Special Edition. There’s also a precedent for Anakin’s ghost manifesting in the classic Legends timeline, as he appeared to Leia in the 1993 novel Star Wars: Truce at Bakura (not that she was particularly happy to see him).
Despite having redeemed himself by destroying the Emperor, Anakin may feel he has unfinished business to attend to before truly becoming one with the Force. That may well include communing with Ahsoka and trying to end their relationship on better terms. Don’t forget that the two last encountered each other in the Season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels, where Ahsoka saw firsthand just how far her former master had fallen.
Force ghosts tend to appear when living Jedi most need their help. Anakin may take it upon himself to guide Ahsoka just as the spectral Obi-Wan did for Luke in the original trilogy. Anakin may help guide Ahsoka in her hunt for Grand Admiral Thrawn. He may be aware that the threat of Emperor Palpatine is far from over. He could even be the key to steering Ahsoka toward his son Luke. If it turns out that Ahsoka played a role in helping Luke build his Jedi academy, we may well have the late Anakin Skywalker to thank.
As with the Kenobi series, it’s entirely possible the Ahsoka series could also feature Christensen’s Anakin via Clone Wars-era flashbacks. After years of seeing the Anakin/Ahsoka dynamic play out in animated and comic book form, it would be a nice change to see their adventures in live-action for once.
A Chance at Star Wars Redemption
There’s been a massive cultural shift when it comes to the Star Wars prequels in recent years, with many fans reevaluating these critically divisive films and their place in the larger Star Wars canon. There are all sorts of reasons behind that trend. For some, they’ve simply improved with age and the nostalgia factor. For others less than thrilled with Disney’s execution of the sequel trilogy, the prequels might seem less offensive by comparison. And for those younger fans who were children when the prequels were coming out (in other words, George Lucas’ actual target audience), they may not understand what all the outrage was about in the first place.
Though perhaps more than anything else, it’s thanks to projects like Star Wars: The Clone Wars that fans are now able to see the prequels in the best possible light. As we’ve argued before, The Clone Wars has effectively redeemed the prequels, adding in all the depth and nuance that was absent in the films themselves. They may be fundamentally flawed in a number of ways, but these movies have their place in the larger Star Wars saga.
The same holds true for Christensen’s performance as Anakin. While every bit as flawed as the movies themselves, there are moments in Episodes II and III where Christensen does perfectly embody the torment and temptation of a promising young Jedi courted by darkness. And in Christensen’s defense, there were any number of external factors working against him during production. We doubt anyone could have made the wooden romantic dialogue between Anakin and Padmé seem truly genuine. And it’s hard to bring your A-game to a project where the “sets” are often little more than empty blue backgrounds waiting to be filled in with CG environments and characters. Is it any wonder Christensen’s Anakin and Natalie Portman’s Padmé often seem so stiff and awkward around each other?
Putting side the simple pleasure of seeing McGregor back in Obi-Wan’s dusty boots, this series is a chance for Christensen to hit the reset button and try again at bringing this iconic, tragic character to life. This time, his performance won’t be constrained by impossible fan expectations or Lucas’ idiosyncratic storytelling choices. With the pressure gone and a new director behind the camera, Christensen may just surprise us all.
For more on the Star Wars franchise, see what to expect from the long-awaited Knights of the Old Republic remake and check out our picks for the best Star Wars movie moments.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.