There’s been some talk among Star Wars fans about whether it was necessary for Lucasfilm to have Hayden Christensen play Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi. While the studio’s decision to bring the actor back was met with praise when it was announced, some fans had begun to wonder heading into Kenobi’s Disney+ premiere if Christensen’s presence was going to be truly felt.
Those concerns stemmed from the fact that Christensen is largely set to appear in his full Darth Vader costume, which covers his entire body and therefore masks his identity. And with James Earl Jones returning to provide Vader’s voice, there was reason to be skeptical about whether Christensen’s Star Wars return would end up feeling like anything more than a symbolic move by Lucasfilm.
Fortunately, Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 3 makes it clear why Lucasfilm chose to bring Christensen back, and why his return was necessary for the show’s depiction of Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin’s Return — In Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 3, Ewan McGregor’s fallen Jedi crosses paths with his former padawan, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen), for the first time in 10 years. By the time the series begins, the latter has already settled into his Sith Lord persona, and when he meets Kenobi again on Mapuzo he’s wielding his signature red lightsaber and wearing his iconic Darth Vader suit. In other words, he looks nothing like his former self.
Despite that, the episode makes it clear that it’s still Anakin Skywalker who Obi-Wan has found himself face-to-face with again. Not only does the episode begin by showing the process Anakin undertakes every time he puts on his Vader suit, but he also has a notable exchange with Kenobi on Mapuzo. Kenobi asks his former padawan what’s become of him, only for Anakin to respond, “I am what you made me.”
It is a noteworthy moment because it seemingly ignores the separation between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader that’s often been implied in other Star Wars titles. During his violent reunion with Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars Rebels, for instance, Vader tells his former Jedi padawan, “Anakin Skywalker was weak. I destroyed him.” In the Original Trilogy, Obi-Wan also infamously avoids telling Luke the whole truth about his father by saying Darth Vader “betrayed and murdered” Anakin.
In Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 3, that distinction does not exist. Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, and everything he does in the episode is a direct product of Anakin’s rage and emotional turmoil.
Unchecked Aggression — The Darth Vader seen in Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 3 isn’t the same tactful and cold schemer who causes so much havoc in A New Hope. He’s not even the Terminator-esque figure who chews through Rebel soldiers in Rogue One. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Darth Vader is instead more bitter, savage, and reckless than any version of the character fans have previously seen.
From the moment he’s introduced, Darth Vader is driven by his desire to make Obi-Wan pay for all the pain he believes his former master caused him. That emotional volatility makes Vader’s true identity clear, and as he makes his way through a Mapuzo town by systematically torturing and murdering a number of civilians it’s hard not to feel like Kenobi’s Vader is the scariest depiction of the iconic villain to date.
The show’s decision to emphasize Anakin’s unbridled emotions also makes Christensen’s presence underneath his Darth Vader costume unique. As Vader, Christensen brings back the aggressive, volatile physicality of his prequels performance, and in doing so ensures that his version of Vader feels different from past iterations of the character.
The Inverse Analysis — Notably, Hayden Christensen makes an appearance in Obi-Wan Kenobi free of his Darth Vader costume. The actor appears early, when McGregor’s Obi-Wan sees a vision of Anakin standing in the distance. However, Obi-Wan doesn’t really need Christensen’s unmasked appearance to ensure his presence is felt.
Christensen’s physical performance as Darth Vader is startlingly relentless and hostile. His work in the episode, coupled with the installment’s script, makes sure that Kenobi’s take on Darth Vader actually feels like Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith.
Christensen’s performance in Episode 3 of Obi-Wan also opens the door for the Disney+ series to act as a bridge between Star Wars’ Prequel and Original Trilogies. If it manages that, then Obi-Wan Kenobi may finally explain how Darth Vader went from being an agent of unrestrained, reckless rage to a cold and calculating Sith leader.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is streaming now on Disney+.