The well-known cast of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a mix of new faces and classic characters making their return, but there is one name that stands out from all the others.
Hayden Christensen makes an unexpected return to the franchise reprising the role of Darth Vader 15 years after Revenge of the Sith to become the great antagonist of the Disney + series.
Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in the movies has always divided audiences, and that’s at best. However, his return can only be seen as good news to 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 own Darth Vader, but it can also solve a Star Wars mystery that has been driving fans crazy for decades. Will the series tie up a loose end that has been with us since Return of the Jedi?
Solving one of the great holes in Star Wars history
Disney can take advantage of new Star Wars projects to address old plot holes and unanswered questions we find in the movies. Disney’s current work with Star Wars has accomplished everything from canonizing Luke’s yellow lightsaber to revealing how he managed to get his X-Wing back from Cloud City. The Obi-Wan Kenobi series has the potential to tackle a much larger and more crucial loose end of Return of the Jedi.
As noted by screenwriter Nick Arkis, there is something very strange about Vader’s conversation with a newly captured Luke on Endor. Luke insists that there is still some trace of Anakin Skywalker, to which Vader responds: “Obi-Wan once thought like you”.
How does Vader know that Obi-Wan thought that way? The last time we see them together in Revenge of the Sith, a dejected Obi-Wan leaves his fallen friend to slowly die. When they meet again in A New Hope, Obi-Wan gives no indication that he believes Vader deserves redemption. For Vader, Obi-Wan is simply an enemy to be defeated and one more tie to his old life to be cut. So why in Return of the Jedi does Vader have this new take on Obi-Wan’s motivations?
The simplest answer is to think that both had another encounter between the two trilogies. Having had years to ponder and reflect, Obi-Wan probably has a lot more perspective on his student’s tragic downfall.
He understands how Anakin became corrupted and knows that the Emperor cannot have completely eradicated the goodness within Darth Vader. When they finally reunite in the new series, either in person or through some kind of Rey / Kylo Ren-style Force communion, we may see Obi-Wan attempt to reason with Vader and wake Anakin Skywalker.
Obviously, it won’t be successful, but we can realize that the events of the series mark the first step in Anakin Skywalker’s long journey back to the light. While Obi-Wan’s appeals will fall on deaf ears in this series, they will resonate enough for him to pass them on to Luke years later.
If Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi tells the story behind Vader’s cryptic words to Luke in Return of the Jedi, it will be worth it. And it’s something that can only be told by bringing Hayden Christensen back and showing the frail, wounded man underneath the armor.
Reuniting Obi-Wan and Anaki
Christensen’s return is certainly intriguing. Does it imply that we will see enough of Darth Vader in the series both in and out of his armor? After all, why bother bringing Christensen back if we’re not going to see Anakin’s face?
Not that he was chosen to play Vader in Rogue One. We can even see that the series borrows a page from Marvel’s Darth Vader comics and shows Anakin’s mental self-image as he meditates.
That raises a lot of questions about how the series is supposed to fit into the bigger Star Wars myths. From what the movies would have us believe, Anakin and Obi-Wan have no other encounter between their duel on Mustafar and their rematch aboard the Death Star. Why would they do it? Obi-Wan’s only mission throughout this 19-year period is to keep a low profile and protect young Luke. The last thing he wants is to get back on Vader’s radar.
All this being said, not that there is something in the movies that explicitly rules out the possibility of another meeting between Anakin and Obi-Wan. When Vader first senses Obi-Wan’s presence aboard the Death Star, he muses: “I feel something, a presence that I haven’t felt since …”Conveniently, he pauses before naming the place and time. Since the release of Episode III, fans have assumed that Vader was reflecting on Mustafar’s duel. But apparently, we were wrong.
If there is one thing in which the previous Star Wars series have stood out, it is in dancing among the raindrops that the movies drop to tell new stories. The Clone Wars gave us a revived Darth Maul and Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka Tano without disrupting anything that happens in Episode III. A lost story of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader set between Episodes III and IV would accomplish the same thing.
If anything, the emphasis on Darth Vader should be taken as a good sign for the series. Previous Obi-Wan stories set around this time (notably John Jackson Miller’s 2013 Star Wars: Kenobi novel) have taken a fairly small focus.
They are basically space Westerns set on Tatooine. But with Vader in the story, we can expect a much bigger conflict with a more tangible impact on the Star Wars timeline.
Something is going to force Obi-Wan to leave the safety of his new home and venture back to the galaxy, even if it means risking the attention of his former Padawan. Unfinished business from the Clone Wars? The appearance of other new Jedi? Whatever it is, it will catch Anakin’s attention.
A shot at redemption in Star Wars
There has been a massive cultural shift when it comes to the Star Wars prequels in recent years, with many fans re-evaluating these critically divisive films and their place in the overall Star Wars canon.
There are all kinds of reasons behind that trend. For some, they have simply improved with age and the nostalgia factor, for others, Disney’s work on the sequel trilogy has made this work much more valued.
Although, perhaps, this is due to projects like Star Wars: The Clone Wars. As we’ve argued before, The Clone Wars has redeemed the prequels, adding all the depth and nuance that were missing from the movies. They may have fundamental flaws, but they have found their place of importance.
The same goes for Christensen’s performance as Anakin. While it’s just as imperfect as the movies themselves, there are moments in Episodes II and III where Christensen perfectly embodies the torment and temptation of a promising young Jedi courted by darkness.
And in Christensen’s defense, there were a number of external factors that worked against him during production. It is difficult to interpret in a project where the “settings” are often empty blue backgrounds and computer-generated characters.
Is it any wonder that Christensen’s Anakin and Natalie Portman’s Padmé seem so stiff and awkward with each other? Although, obviously, his work should not be exonerated.
Putting aside the simple pleasure of seeing McGregor again in Obi-Wan’s dusty boots, This series is a chance for Christensen to hit the reset button and try again to bring this iconic and tragic character to life.
This time around, his performance will not be limited by impossible fan expectations or Lucas’ idiosyncratic storytelling choices. With the pressure gone and a new director behind the camera, Christensen may surprise us all and, who knows, solve one of the great mysteries in Star Wars history.