In the latest of our ‘Whatever happened to’ series, we take a look at Hayden Christensen, the Canadian actor who played Anakin Skywalker in ‘Episode II: Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ of the ‘Star Wars’ series. Since starring in the franchise, the actor has somewhat faded into obscurity.
Hayden Christensen had a promising start in his acting career and a number of roles that led to him landing the ‘Star Wars’ gig. One of his early movie appearances was in ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and he performed in several TV series through the 90s including ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ It was his role in the show ‘Higher Ground’ in 2000 that got him more attention than ever.
His breakthrough role was as a misunderstood teenager in ‘Life as a House’ the following year, a performance that earned him Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations. He went on to star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Paquin in the play ‘This Is Our Youth’. He also earned good reviews for 2003's ‘Shattered Glass’ (which was actually released between his two ‘Star Wars’ movies).
In 2000, the then 19 year old actor announced he had landed the role of Anakin Skywalker, with the casting director having gone through 1500 candidates before selecting him. The task wasn’t an easy one. As Anakin (aka Darth Vader), Christensen had to portray a morally complicated young man whose innocence would be corrupted and ambition grow increasingly evil. After finding true love, he would abandon her and all his allies in the pursuit of power.
Unfortunately, the pair of sci-fi movies, as we all know by now, earned Christensen mixed to negative reviews, and time hasn’t exactly done the performances any favours either. He won two Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies) for Worst Supporting Actor, one for each movie.
In 2015, Christensen had “bought some farmland and largely retreated from Hollywood”. In an interview with the LA Times while promoting his film ‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ (which would unfortunately fail to be his comeback), he expressed feeling unworthy of the fame he earned from the 'Star Wars' franchise.
“I guess I felt like I had this great thing in ‘Star Wars’ that provided all these opportunities and gave me a career, but it all kind of felt a little too handed to me,” Christensen said. “I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I was just riding a wave.”
While it was largely assumed that Christensen had distanced himself from ‘Star Wars’, he did attend his first Star Wars Celebration appearance in over a decade in 2017, at an event that honoured 40 years of the saga. He was greeted with a standing ovation but remained on stage for only 10 minutes before a meet-and-greet with fans.
His most memorable role after Anakin was in the sci-fi flick ‘Jumper’. In it, he played a young man with teleportation abilities. He starred opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Rachel Bilson, the latter of whom he ended up in an on-again-off-again romance with, before separating for good in September 2017. They had a daughter with named Briar Rose in 2014. Fatherhood is credited as another reason for why the actor’s career faded.
Christensen talked of being happy to keep a low profile in the aforementioned LA Times interview, saying: “You can’t take years off and not have it affect your career. But I don’t know - in a weird, sort of destructive way there was something appealing about that to me.
“There was something in the back of my head that was like, ‘If this time away is gonna be damaging to my career, then so be it. If I can come back afterwards and claw my way back in then maybe I’ll feel like I earned it.”
And yet, for his claims that he ‘took years off’, Christensen starred in numerous films throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Mind you, they were crap, flopping at the box office and getting critically slated. There was ‘Awake’ with Jessica Alba; direct-to-DVD movie ‘Virgin Territory’ with Mischa Barton; ‘Factory Girl’; horror ‘Vanishing on 7th Street’; ‘Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey’ with Jackson again; ‘New York, I Love You’ with Bilson again; and a bunch of others with generic, forgettable titles like ‘Takers’, ‘American Heist’, and ‘Outcast’ (co-starring Nicholas Cage).
In 2017, he starred in Bruce Willis effort ‘First Kill’, another film that came and went without anyone taking notice. In 2018's ‘Little Italy’, Christensen took on a very different role, abandoning the sci-fi, action and thriller genre roots he has made his home, instead trying out romantic comedies. Christensen’s co-star in ‘Little Italy’ is the lovable Emma Roberts. The lead characters come from warring families in competing pizza restaurants. Of course it all gets complicated when love starts blossoming between the youths. 2018 also saw Christensen star in 'The Lats Man' opposite Harvey Keitel. Neither film took off for audiences or critics.
According to reports, the actor will have a cameo voice appearance in the 'Star Wars' conclusive chapter 'The Rise of Skywalker'. They always come back, huh?