One of the things that boggles my mind about Star Wars, and the prequels in particular, is how right they got the character of Anakin Skywalker. I think what does it for me is how intense and attached Anakin is to everything, and how it makes sense for who Darth Vader was and how he acted in the original movies, including the events that lead up to his redemption.
This all clicked for me once I saw the movie Hayden Christensen was in right before Star Wars. As soon as I was introduced to Sam from Life as a House, I felt like I knew exactly what George Lucas intended with Anakin. In fact, I think it points to the kind of out of the box thinking Lucas is famous for that he saw an angry, drug-addicted kid who tries his hand at prostitution and was like, “This guy will make the perfect Anakin Skywalker!”
It makes sense. Here you have a kid who was brought up in slavery and the only love he had ever known was from his mother, who was torn away from him. He’s put into an order where he has to deny all attachments even though he’s basically the human equivalent of Velcro, and squash his emotions even as he has to use his feelings all the time. He’s also being groomed by The Ultimate Evil on a regular basis. He’s heroic and brave, saving Obi-Wan many times and leaping into danger, but he’s also a hot mess and a completely unreliable narrator. His bad decisions ultimately lead to his downfall and the suffering of everyone he’s ever loved for generations, so would it have made more sense for the character to not be an arrogant, emotionally unstable guy who is oftentimes heroic but makes terrible decisions?
If that’s the character, then Hayden Christensen was perfect at it. He was never going to be your Disney Big Brother and that’s not what was needed here. What the story required was someone who could annoy and charm in equal measure and Christensen fits that bill perfectly. Throughout Attack of the Clones, he makes me want to cringe, slap him, or hug him in pretty equal measure. In Revenge of the Sith, I thought he was the perfect fallen hero who makes a string of disastrous choices. It’s also what makes his character a solid bridge between Luke and Leia and Vader. He’s reverse engineered with Luke’s love and Leia’s temper, but he also has to link some of those traits to Vader as well.
I know Vader is The Coolest Badass Ever and all that, but if you flip the script on that, he was also a nightmare of a boss and a slave to the Emperor. (My favorite quote along these lines is “He’s not Satan, he just goes down to the corner and gets Satan’s cigarettes.” — from this Rolling Stone article.) He’s also still the human equivalent of Velcro and can’t let anyone go. I mean, Luke almost dies falling through Cloud City and out a portal to get away from him in Empire Strikes Back, and there’s Vader calling up over Force Skype to have a chat as they try to go into hyperdrive. This attachment is ultimately what redeems him, too. I like the idea that instead of going with someone who was this hardened warrior, Lucas went with an inconsistent punk kid with a lot of issues.
I’m glad it was Space Sam.