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Film

The cult popularity of Hayden Christensen

@Russellisation

Young, fierce and sporting a charming rat tail (AKA a Padawan braid), Hayden Christensen was filling bigger shoes than he realised when he appeared in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones in 2002 as a young Darth Vader. Armed only with the melodramatic, faux-Shakespearian dialogue of George Lucas, the actor entered a prequel trilogy in disarray with the heavy expectation of lifting it from the realms of disappointment. 

Such proved too great a task, with the trilogy infamously being thrown to the baying Star Wars fans who began to tear it limb from limb. Decrying the introduction of ‘midichlorians’ that made much of the series’ magic redundant as well as the overindulgence in CGI, few were spared from criticism, with Hayden Christensen taking much of the flack when it came to the flat acting performances. 

“I don’t like sand, it’s course, rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere,” became one of many lines that were mocked throughout the trilogy, emblematic of a script that favoured flamboyant moments of melodrama over realistic dialogue. 

Taken aback at the audience’s resentment, franchise stars such as Ewan McGregor have previously discussed how they struggled to repair their image following the prequel films, with Hayden Christensen being no different, taking a significant step back from acting after the release of the third movie. Delving into his love for agriculture, Christensen bought a farm in 2007 where he raised livestock, grew crops and operated machinery, a far cry from his flashy time on the silver screen, though ironically similar to his fictional character, famously known for growing on a farm on the dusty planet of Tatooine.

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Whilst Christensen enjoyed life far, far away from the movie industry, a dark deal would change his fortunes more than he could imagine, with Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm and the Star Wars brand changing the franchise forever.

Created as a transparent commercial exercise by the biggest movie studio in Hollywood, Disney’s sequel trilogy, which began with The Force Awakens in 2015, was the product of several suited board members, preparing the films so that they would fall in line with the modern success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Uninspired, unloved and painfully mundane, each of these films fail to grasp the true tone and romance of the original films. 

As a result, the prequel trilogy, which was long considered a cinematic failure, gained increasing support and cult popularity in light of the shortcomings of Disney, with fans flocking back to the originality and fun of George Lucas’ singular vision. 

An attempt at Shakespearian tragedy that falls charmingly short, George Lucas’ prequel trilogy became beloved, with an undeniable slice of irony, as Star Wars fandom inherited the films as their own, birthing such online joys as the Reddit community ‘Prequel Memes’. Whilst such sites and conversations often mock the bizarre dialogue of Lucas’ films, they also demonstrate the excitement and frenetic joy that pervades the prequel films, recalling the vibrancy of the original films. 

Part of this fervent love included a newfound appreciation for Hayden Christensen, with his performance in the final two prequel films now considered highlights alongside several other iconic moments. It is surely a result of this change in popular opinion that has led the actor to return to the franchise for the upcoming TV series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, with his arrival being met by rapturous applause from fans. 

Now, with the series merely a matter of days away, the return of Christensen is being seen as a beloved reunion, with any bitter thoughts of his performance in the trilogy touted ‘the most disappointing of all time’ being left firmly in the past. For fans of a galaxy far, far away, this is a chance to reconnect with the essence of the series that feels long lost, and for Christensen himself, returning was simply a “no brainer”. 

Speaking to The Guardian in a recent interview, the actor revealed that he sees the new series as a “really exciting opportunity,” with the decision to return made “in a heartbeat”. Detailing further, he said: “When I got the call, I was instantly elated,” Christensen added, explaining, “I was just so excited to get to come back after all these years,” featuring once more beside his co-star Ewan McGregor. 

As for the backlash to his original character, it appears as though Christensen has also grown wise with age, explaining that the venomous hatred at the time “goes back to the sort of ownership that people feel towards these characters”. Clarifying his thoughts further he commented, “It’s almost like public domain. These characters really do belong to everybody,” with his thoughts shedding some enlightening reflections on the state of the modern franchise. 

Present at the very birth of blockbuster moviemaking, the emergence of Star Wars is recognised as one of the first franchises that enveloped fans within its makeup. After all, whilst the series was dormant through the late 1980s, early 1990s and mid-2000s, it was the passionate fans of the franchise who kept the series running in the background, stoking the fires of the series’ popularity with conventions, meet-ups, Youtube videos and much more. 

To feature in a Star Wars movie, or indeed to direct one, is to subsequently join a family of fandom where your participation is not required but is certainly invited. 

Sharing much romance with the Star Wars series itself, the revival of Hayden Christensen’s career is a loving tale of regeneration, with his success coming as the result of regretful, adoring fans who want to get back to the heart, joy and thrill of a franchise they so cherish. 

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