In Ahsoka, Hayden Christensen returns to the role that made him one of Earth’s most widely mocked actors. We’re past the point of the Star Wars prequels being the bane of cinematic quality. People are vocally nostalgic for an era most thought was awful. As Anakin steps back into the Star Wars franchise, it’s worth wondering whether any improvements were made. Looking back at the old days, we can’t imagine him getting any worse.
This Is Where the Fun Begins
Anakin Skywalker is the focal point of the second and third Star Wars prequels. In Ahsoka, he appears as a ghostly guide to help the titular heroine through a hard time. Hayden Christensen technically reprised his role last year in Obi-Wan Kenobi, but he doesn’t do most of the work. Here, he’s back in a position fans haven’t seen. Christensen didn’t lend his voice to Anakin during Dave Filoni’s animated series. Those cartoons added so much to Anakin. They’re easily the best showcase of the character so far. Obi-Wan kept Anakin in the past. The latest show tasks him with evolution. In Ahsoka, Hayden Christensen is asked to be a spiritual guide, a knowing mentor, and a troubled war hero. Anakin seems much happier in this role than he was in his earlier appearances.
Anakin is a temporary supporting character in Ahsoka. He delivers a few heartfelt lines, engages his Padawan in a sword fight, and then disappears. Contrast his confident wisdom with his youthful ambition in Attack of the Clones or his screaming rage in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin displays affection, cracks jokes, and flits through emotional stages. I know it’s a low bar, but Hayden Christensen is responding naturally to stimuli in Ahsoka. For the first time in the franchise, he comes across as a person dealing with an emotionally difficult situation reasonably. Earlier iterations made him into a maniac or a mannequin. Subtle facial expressions and body language let him come off as a human being. That’s already a stark improvement.
Ahsoka Gives Anakin the Help He Needed
If I’m being honest, the mild success of Hayden Christensen in Ahsoka owes little to his performance. The writing is more natural. The direction seems to be semi-competent. Dave Filoni should be thanked for both of those accomplishments. There are still problems. Christensen’s line delivery remains a bit awkward. His timing is frequently off. Rosario Dawson circles around him with a pound of makeup and a ridiculous headdress. Christensen probably felt quite at home, as most of his scenes are still on the digital backlot. He’s not the strongest performer in the show by any metric. Some might even argue he looks sad to be there in places. Though there are problems, there are also many marked improvements.
Hayden Christensen delivers a perfectly serviceable performance in Ahsoka. He’s believable, relatable, and emotionally engaging. His scene is crucial for a few reasons. It’s the show’s most notable fanservice moment, but it’s also the emotional turning point of Ahsoka’s arc. Anakin is the lynchpin of this part of the story. It’s all on his shoulders. Could the Anakin of the prequel trilogy have delivered his lines with the same power? I would argue that this scene would have fallen flat with that level of acting quality. Someone could easily cut Anakin’s treatise against sand next to “from my point of view, the Jedi are evil” to prove that point. Watch those scenes, then watch the look on Hayden Chrsitensen’s face when he tells Ahsoka that there’s more to her than just a soldier. It’s a worthwhile experiment.
Ahsoka continues Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s trend of painting the prequels in the best imaginable light. Those films were judged more harshly than the average science-fantasy epic, but they’re still not particularly good movies. Jar Jar Binks got an absurd amount of flak for The Phantom Menace, while Hayden Christensen became the poster boy for the far inferior sequels. Ahsoka lets the man redeem himself with a decent, though still not perfect, performance in the role that made him a star. I, for one, am happy to see Ahsoka bring Anakin to life in live-action with a passable bit of acting behind him. Christensen was the one they chose to play the chosen one, and it finally paid off.