It was 12 years ago (May 12, 2000 to be precise) that the wider world met The Man Who Would Be Death Vader. It came after months of breathless Internet speculation, and was announced (as such things were in the days before Deadline and Heat Vision) on StarWars.com. We discovered Anakin Skywalker was a young Canadian named Hayden Christensen, and we were properly introduced to him via a sexy Entertainment Weekly spread a few weeks later.
It’s hard to remember as far back as 2000, but I kind of remember it being a non-event in some ways, like “Oh, that’s the guy.” I remember thinking “Well, he certainly looks like he could have fathered Luke and Leia with Amidala.” Like most people, I thought that Entertainment Weekly cover would be the first of many, and that we would all recall fondly where we were when we first met Christensen, the man who became a superstar. (In fact, I recall thinking this very thought at an airport bookstore as I perused that magazine. The weird thing is that I can’t remember flying anywhere in 2000. I’m almost certain I didn’t. This only gives me more proof that George Lucas is rewriting all of our Star Wars memories one by one. Do you all remember reading this magazine in an airport bookstore? And if so, why?)
12 years later, what is Mr. Christensen doing now? Well … he’s dating Rachel Bilson. This allows him to make regular appearances on JustJared and the gossipy like, where he is exhaustively photographed doing various boyfriend-girlfriend things with her. They seem to go on a lot of vacations, and eat at a lot of restaurants. Of the two, she is the only one who ends up with regular magazine covers and interviews.
Christensen hasn’t had a major film role since Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith. Fans continuously point to Life as a House and Shattered Glass as proof Christensen could hold his own, but he has never repeated those performances. He made a half-hearted attempt to reignite his career in Jumper, and while it was sort of buzzed about at the time and made decent money, it quickly fell flat. Trying to launch an original superhero concept when the world was on the verge of meeting Iron Man and all his Marvel cohorts just wasn’t the best idea. He couldn’t know that, of course. It was just bad luck, like landing the role of a lifetime that ended up…well, not being that at all.
Poor guy. Can you imagine getting the role of Darth Vader, and having it all go so wrong? Star Wars fans have jumped on him and made him a scapegoat, but it’s so hard to completely blame him for that melodramatic, stilted performance. No one in the Star Was prequels (save Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson) comes off well. We didn’t write off Natalie Portman, and she’s just as bad. She had more to her credit prior to the trilogy, of course, and she’s never slacked off since. Now that she did a full-on Travis Bickle ballerina, we know it was the films, and not the performers that was bad. But Christensen’s career still languishes.
One suspects that he’s not really trying. He’s in a weird place. He hasn’t sworn off acting like Jake Lloyd did, but his efforts to pursue it seem half-hearted. He hasn’t made a movie in two years, and his 2010 output was entirely forgettable. Vanishing on 7th Street? Takers? Forgettable, C-level stuff. In between, he made slight headlines last year for bringing a lawsuit against the USA Network, claiming the idea for Royal Pains was his and his brother, Tove’s. The lawsuit was dismissed.
He has two films in pre-production now – The Diplomat and Battlecreek. The Diplomat sort of screams “This film will vanish” since it stars the “Say, where did they go?” likes of Joseph Fiennes and Connie Nielsen. But it also stars Jim Broadbent, and he has a crazy knack of being in films that go all the way. Perhaps the power of Broadbent can make The Diplomat a huge contender.
Christensen is also attached to Battlecreek, which doesn’t exactly scream blockbuster or ready-to-film, but is directed by Alison Eastwood. That’s a family it's good to be friendly with. Perhaps this might be an indie darling that puts him back on the radar. Indie flicks are often the best route for an actor’s atonement and rebirth after flopping in popcorn flicks.
He’s still a young man. (Only 31!) He’s kept his looks. It depends how bad he wants to try again – and if he’s really any good. If he is, all hope is not lost. I can’t help but remember how down and out Josh Brolin was once upon a time, and how he badgered his way into No Country for Old Men. Now he’s someone we applaud to see cast in something. Christensen could have that kind of career ahead of him, provided he fights, and he’s got the method goods to back it up.
One kind of wants to shake him and say "At least fight for it, man. Don't let the prequels win! Show everyone you're better than 'I'm SO in LOVE with YOU.' and 'Nooooooooooo!'" It seems a shame to roll over, and let those movies win. It's one thing failing to break free of a successful and popular trilogy of films. There's some dignity there. But these? Ugh.
But if he trundles on like this, he'll just remain a footnote to film the way he is now, The Man Who Was Darth Vader, written about every 12 years or so as we wonder if he could have been more. Where is Hayden Christensen and what is he up to, we’ll ask wearily, and the answer will always be the same “Eh. Around.” And probably still dating Rachel Bilson.