Following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, and before Disney+ was even launched, Ewan McGregor's return as Obi-Wan Kenobi was at the top of Star Wars fans' wishlist. The time spanning Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope was a gap in the Jedi Master's story and one that was rich with storytelling possibilities. When Obi-Wan Kenobi was finally confirmed for Disney+, Lucasfilm elevated fan expectations by announcing that Hayden Christensen would be joining the series as well.
Even though Obi-Wan's solo story was originally intended to be a TV series, the success of Star Wars on Disney+ and the series-style format changed that.
And, then, during Disney Investor's Day 2020, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy announced the details of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which not only included the involvement of Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader, but also the promise of Kenobi and Vader's "rematch of the century."
However, despite this promise, and Hayden Christensen's role in marketing the series, it wasn't until the fifth episode of the six-episode series that audiences saw the actor's face for more than a beat.
Now that all six episodes have come and gone, it seems that Star Wars wasted Hayden Christensen in choosing not to choose the Chosen One for a larger role in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Fans Found the Lack of Hayden Christensen Disturbing
Despite Kathleen Kennedy's tease about Vader and Kenobi's epic rematch, Star Wars fans knew that the show, first and foremost, would be about Kenobi.
In fact, at the start, Hayden's role was expected to be somewhat limited given the fact that Obi-Wan and Vader's encounters needed to be few but meaningful for the sake of canon and the emotional weight of the story.
But that all began to change leading up Obi-Wan Kenobi's Disney+ release.
In addition to reports about the show's use of de-aging tech for Hayden Christensen's role, the actor also confirmed that he watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series to prep for the show. This, of course, is significant because The Clone Wars largely focused on Anakin and Kenobi's adventures leading up to Revenge of the Sith and explored their relationship in a way that prequel films never could.
Due to this, fans naturally began to speculate about Obi-Wan Kenobi employing flashbacks, a la The Book of Boba Fett, allowing Hayden Christensen to play both Anakin and Vader.
The support for these assumptions only grew when Obi-Wan Kenobi's promotional campaign kicked off with not only Ewan McGregor and Reva's Moses Ingram at the forefront, but also Hayden Christensen.
In fact, at Star Wars Celebration 2022, both Hayden and Ewan took to the stage together at the screening for the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, all to the epic choir refrains of John Williams' "Duel of the Fates."
At the conclusion of the series' second episode, audiences received their first glimpse of Hayden as Darth when the Sith Lord became aware of Kenobi in his bacta tank.
This stinger was then followed by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it mirage of the actor as Anakin Skywalker in Part 3.
Fast forward to the show's fifth episode, where the fans finally saw Christensen as a prequel-era Anakin Skywalker during a flashback sequence in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
He wasn't de-aged as much as had been expected and certainly didn't look quite like his younger self from Attack of the Clones; but remarkably, it didn't matter.
Not only did this episode utilize flashbacks in a way that served the narrative and the characters, but Hayden's performance as Anakin was spot-on and as if no time had passed. Anakin Skywalker had truly returned.
In addition to this cameo, Christensen's voice was also used with James Earl Jones for certain scenes involving Darth Vader. Reva's Order 66 flashbacks also included quick shots of the fallen Jedi. But with only the finale remaining, fans wondered how the show would use Christensen considering his relegated screentime thus far.
In the end, the hyped "rematch of the century" turned out to be a dim-lit, albeit emotional, duel on an unknown planet where Ewan McGregor was finally able to fully lean into his character's abilities once more.
It concluded with Vader's helmet being split open, revealing a defeated but defiant Hayden as Anakin; and honestly, it's one of the actor's best moments ever from his Star Wars tenure.
Breaking Down Hayden Christensen's Disney+ Screentime
Overall, Hayden Christensen briefly appeared as Vader twice: once at the end of Part 2 and then at the end of the Episode 6 rematch.
As Anakin Skywalker, Christensen appeared for a second in Part 3, for another second or two in Reva's Order 66 flashbacks, and then in a series of momentary flashbacks in Episode 5.
While it's true that his voice was used at times, so was his dialogue from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It's possible that with today's tech, he wouldn't have been needed for voice work at all.
On the other hand, Obi-Wan Kenobi utilized Darth Vader rather consistently. In fact, the Ewan McGregor-led series offered fans some incredible Vader moments in the same way Rogue One did.
But even though Christensen was cast to play Anakin and Darth Vader, he was only in the suit for headshots and close-ups. An Obi-Wan Kenobi stuntman confirmed that Christensen was replaced in scenes involving full body shots of Vader and during fight scenes.
And, so, now that the extent of Hayden Christensen's role has been broken down, and due to his performance in Part 5, did Star Wars waste the actor?
Not Knowing the Power of an Anakin Skywalker Cameo
There is a distinct difference between fan expectations and missed opportunities. But sometimes, both labels can apply to a singular situation.
That's what happened with Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Yes, fans wanted to see more of Hayden as Anakin. But the use of his character also made sense from a narrative standpoint.
Anakin and Obi-Wan's fraught relationship and their respective pasts is the heart of the series and is why Kenobi lost his way to begin with. Keeping both the protagonist and the antagonist and their conflict at the forefront makes for a better, tighter story and serves their development.
Not only did Anakin's prequel era Part 5 appearance prove that, but the overall episode outshone those prior who focused on new side characters and accomplished little.
Also, using Hayden Christensen more in the series made sense from a logistics perspective.
Due to the events and dialogue of A New Hope, the writers of Obi-Wan Kenobi were restricted in their interactions between Vader and Kenobi. Honestly, this is probably why the Inquisitors and Reva were brought into the series since the show needed antagonists they could put anywhere.
But the writers weren't limited in how much they used Hayden's Anakin. Juxtaposing Kenobi's memories of missions and disagreements with his Padawan would've helped with the show's timeline restrictions, and they also would've complemented Obi-Wan's personal struggle to reach his own Master, as well as his interactions with Leia.
In the end, fan expectations for Obi-Wan Kenobi were wrong; and no film or series should be judged according to what the audience expected or hoped for.
However, a film or series can be judged for failing to capitalize on its characters and story.
Also, again, Lucasfilm promoted Hayden Christensen just as much as Ewan McGregor in the show's marketing, lending more support to fan expectations than providing a clear picture of who was actually front and center in the series.
Still, with what little screentime Christensen did receive, his performance packed an emotional wallop and blurred the lines between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader. However, in remembering the impact of his performance and how it contributed to Obi-Wan's progression, it's hard not to wonder what Obi-Wan Kenobi could have been.
Much like the legacy of the prequel trilogy, there's good there. Fans know it. But in the end, fans are left knowing there could've been so much more.
All six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are available to stream on Disney+.