Retcon This! Casting Anakin Skywalker

In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.

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As is tradition, this past holiday weekend (and any holiday weekend, for that matter) meant Spike was marathoning the Star Wars films, and as is tradition, I found myself watching the Prequels…in Standard Definition with commercial breaks. I’m certainly not proud of the way I spent my Saturday. However, viewing the Prequels doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing experience, and can often become an analytical battle of the mind in regards to what Lucas could have done differently. Many cite Jar Jar Binks as the biggest problem of the Prequels, others point to the overuse of CGI, some lament the writing and direction, but when it comes down to it, the Prequels are the story of how Darth Vader came to be. Look no further than the miscasting of both Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker if you want to point the blame.

The concept of an origin story for Darth Vader excited Star Wars fans worldwide when first announced in 1993. What lucky kid (who was not alive when any of the original films were first released in theaters) would be cast as the boy who would grow into the Lord of the Sith? Casting Director Robin Gurland searched for two years to find the 9-year-old version of the Nubian Cyborg with the voice of Mufasa, “a resourceful and hopeful boy” whom Lucas wanted to be “very outgoing, intuitive, inventive and self-reliant. He had to appeal to both young people and their parents.” After auditioning HUNDREDS of crumbsnatchers, Lucas “settled” on Jake Lloyd, the young thespian well-regarded for his tour de force performance in the seminal holiday film Jingle All the Way.

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“I was looking for someone who was a good actor, enthusiastic and very energetic. Jake is a natural.” — George Lucas

“Jake had all the right qualities that George was looking for in Anakin. He’s smart, mischievous and loves anything mechanical — just like Anakin.” — Rick McCallum

Personally, I never pegged Darth Vader as “energetic”, “enthusiastic” or “mischievous”. Maybe “cold”, “calculating” and “ruthless”. Sure, the Anakin in the Prequels is before his fall from grace, and Vader would eventually redeem himself at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, but there needed to be more of a sense of the tortured man Anakin would become. That might be a lot for a 9-year-old actor to handle, and he could only really work with what he was given, but it just goes to show that Jake Lloyd’s “YIPPEE!” portrayal of Anakin Skywalker was the biggest mistake of Episode 1.

At least we only had to deal with Jake Lloyd’s Anakin for one flick. Out of over 1500 applicants, Hayden Christensen was plucked from relative obscurity in 2000 to play the 19-year-old Skywalker in both 2002’s Attack of the Clones and the Prequels’ climax Revenge of the Sith in 2005.

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“When Hayden came for his first meeting, I opened the door, and I just suddenly became flushed, because I knew. I sat him down and looked at him through the camera, and all of a sudden, I could feel goosebumps. I couldn’t get too excited, because it’s just the initial meeting, but by the end of it, I just knew that Anakin had walked in the door. I literally picked up the phone and called George and said, ‘Anakin just walked in.’ But I had to continue on, because casting is kind of a never-ending process.” — Robin Gurland, Casting Director

Christensen’s Anakin proved to be even more whiny than Mark Hamill‘s Luke from A New Hope, and about as wooden as the forest moon of Endor. There are flashes of Darth Vader in Christensen’s performance, primarily when he keeps his mouth shut and he’s slaughtering children. Apparently Christensen locked up the role of the elder Skywalker thanks to his chemistry with the woman who would launch a thousand Star Destroyers, Natalie Portman, during screen tests, and man oh man, did that not translate to film AT ALL. Comparing Portman’s chemistry with Christensen in Episode II and III to, say, Portman’s chemistry with Chris Hemsworth in Thor and Thor: The Dark World is like comparing the coarse, rough, unwelcoming desert of Tattooine to the torrential rains of the soaking wet ocean planet of Kamino.

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What if Gurland hadn’t sh– the bed and cast more capable actors as Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels? Everything else remains, including the good (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Darth Maul) and the bad (Jar Jar, CGI, writing/directing), but the central character, one of the greatest villains in the history of fiction, is given a better shake. Would the Prequels have been less of a blight on the Star Wars legacy?

Flash back to 1996, and Lucas and Gurland are searching for a 7-year-old to play Anakin Skywalker in Episode I. Let’s say Lloyd’s mom’s car got a flat tire on the day of his audition, and instead, Gurland is impressed by a young unknown British actor. After all, while James Earl Jones is an American born actor, his vocal performance as Darth Vader in the Original Trilogy had a distinct regal accent, which was nowhere to be heard in Lloyd or Christensen’s performances. That young actor would follow his troubled, chilling performance as a young Anakin Skywalker with a starring role as The Boy Who Lived in the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise. While his initial performance as Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone was a little wide-eyed and candy-coated, Daniel Radcliffe would grow into the role, and is currently one of the most well-regarded young actors of his generation. He didn’t rage quit the business like Jake Lloyd because a few too many kids teased him about his ICONIC FILM ROLE on the playground. If cast as Anakin Skywalker, would Radcliffe have been considered for Harry Potter? Maybe not. But as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I would have been willing to make that sacrifice.

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Whether or not Radcliffe would go on to play Harry Potter, we’d still need an older actor to portray the all-growns-up version of Anakin for Episodes II and III.  We’ve corrected Anakin’s accent thanks to Radcliffe, so let’s find another Brit to chew the CGI scenery. Born in 1981 (same as Christensen), this unknown would need to ooze the charisma required to lead infinite Stormtroopers into battle and woo the woman who would birth Luke and Leia, conceal an inherent darkness and jealousy (not angst) that would eventually consume him, and let loose with unbridled rage that would shatter the universe. Little did we know that Tom Hiddleston would eventually portray Loki as the Anakin Skywalker we had hoped for all along. And in just one scene in Thor: The Dark World, Hiddleston had more chemistry with Natalie Portman than an entire Naboo vacation with Christensen. Just imagine the type of Tumblr love Anakin Skywalker would still be getting to this day with Hiddleston in the role.

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Retconning Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen with Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Hiddleston as Anakin Skywalker in the Prequels is one of those butterfly effect scenarios along the same lines as going back in time to kill Baby Hitler. While preventing future atrocities, would we then splinter the space time continuum ensuring some sort of dystopian future? Would we never experience the joy of Tom Hiddleston as Loki or watch Daniel Radcliffe become a man as Harry Potter? And would it all be worth it? Would the Prequels have actually been any better with different actors in the pivotal role, or would it have just ruined the lives of Radcliffe and Hiddleston like it did Lloyd and Christensen?

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Who ARE these people!?

Jason Knize, K-Nice if you're nasty, is a co-founder of PanelsOnPages.com, resident News Editor, and one-half of the World Tag Team Champions, The 11th Hour. You can usually find him in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy...The PoP!ulation Forums.

   

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