Warning: This article contains positive talk of Hayden Christensen’s performance in the Star Wars franchises. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the online news article.
The press circuit for the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series has begun and it has oddly, but warmly, transported fans back to the early 2000s when the prequels first premiered with The Phantom Menace. Both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen are reprising their roles as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, and unlike the fan response after the prequel movies, they are both being welcomed with open arms. It has been 20 years since Episode 2: Attack of the Clones was released, and Christensen says he finally feels accepted and “embraced” by the fans, and while this is very heartwarming, it comes with the realization of what Christensen had to endure when stepping into the iconic, pre-established role. With the prequel movies so harshly critiqued, and the Obi-Wan series being praised and lifted after 20 years, it begs to ask what caused this change in the fandom, the demanding expectations of fans, and how harsh critiques hurt those within fandoms.
It is impossible to discuss the prequels without addressing the mass critiques that came from Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, which caused fans and critics alike to express their concerns about the prequels. It is no secret that the ones that were hit the hardest were the actors, including Ahmed Best who voiced Jar Jar Binks, and Jake Llyod, who retired from acting after playing a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. A lot of people will reiterate that you have to have “tough skin” to be in the industry, but that’s a cop-out response, and often from those who do not understand the true work that goes into film making, and how intertwined the elements are. I spoke to Christian Davis, a local filmmaker in St. John’s, NL, and asked about the importance of a story when it comes to a good movie.
“Films are naturally a combination of almost every art form coming together to tell a story,” said Davis. “Photography, story, sound, writing, acting, visual effects, score – it’s all part of the bigger picture, but if you were to rank them, I’d definitely say that the story comes first, followed by the acting, and then all of the technical elements that go along with helping to achieve that storytelling.”
Reminded of the “I hate sand” moments in Attack of the Clones, Davis says there is no amount of money, resources, or talent that can go into a movie to make it better if the story is not well written and prepared.
“If the story isn’t good to start with, it doesn’t matter if it has a $100M budget, it isn’t going to stick with audiences and fans.”
Aside from the story, there are many other factors that go into why any franchise’s content causes fans to react a certain way, a major one being nostalgia, which is especially evident in the Star Wars universe. When the prequels were released in the early 2000s, fans who were waiting for a blueprint of their original experience were met with a wild difference- which is to be expected when the last Star Wars movie they consumed, Return of the Jedi, came out in 1983. A lot had changed, from storytelling to CGI, there were many factors that made the prequels look and feel different from the original trilogy, and many fans argued that it wasn’t in line with the movies they grew up with. This can also be said for the sequel movies that Disney produced just a few years ago; with a large stretch of time in between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, it created a different look and feel, with a lot of non-cohesiveness.
“Nostalgia’s obviously got a lot to do with it and it seems everybody has their own ideas of what the next perfect Star Wars story is, so that any deviation from what they have in place in their minds already, means it isn’t as good as what they had in mind and it isn’t going to live up to their expectations automatically,” Davis explained. “That mindset by default means they’re never going to be happy…unless they create it themselves professionally, which will never happen for 99.9 percent of people.”
This behaviour has only grown since the prequels, especially when Disney+ released The Force Awakens in their new sequel trilogy series. Just like the prequels, actors were the victims of unwarranted hate and harassment, especially the show’s female actors.
“The bullying of Daisy Ridley and Kelly-Marie Tran off of social media. And I do mean bullying, not creative criticism at all,” said Davis. Davis tells us, as a professional in the field, that for the most part, a lot of the criticism isn’t constructive in terms of movie-making.
“I definitely remember reading one YouTube comment that attacked the first shot we see of Finn in the first trailer for Force Awakens – the one where his face pops up into frame in a medium-close-up shot in the desert, with his helmet off,” said Davis. “I remember the comment being verbatim a ‘very bad shot’ – it’s perfectly lit, in focus, composed well, and he’s panting hard so it’s not like Boyega phoned it in… what makes it ‘a very bad shot’ to whoever commented?”
Those who grew up with the prequels had the same reaction to when the Disney movies premiered, which is the same reaction that original fans had when the prequels came out; people yearn for nostalgia. With a franchise that allows people to leave the realities of this planet and travel the galaxy as a getaway and a franchise that spans many years, fans often are left to build worlds in their heads with what they hope to see for the future. When these feelings come into play, fans often have a biased view of the content that is released, which has nothing to do with the quality, but rather person connects, which Davis says also has to do with the prequels being more loved today.
“People have recently come around over the past few years to the prequels, I think a lot due to some younger fans maturing, and I think that trend will carry forward for Episodes 7-9 down the road.”
The argument that many people present is that the visual quality of the prequels were terrible, yet love the originals, which have less advanced CGI and editing than the prequels. It comes down to the main issue with fandoms; art is subjective.
SPOILERS: If you have not seen Marvel’s Multiverse of Madness, which, what are you waiting for, just close your eyes and scroll a little.
Subjectivity within fandoms is often an issue, and it has been bred into the Star Wars fandom more so than other franchises. Exploring social media for evidence, the main theme that came up was that if you like the prequels most, you’re not a fan, or, if you like the Disney content you’re not a true fan. There are even attacks against Ahsoka Tano actor Rosario Dawson, even with only 20 minutes of live-action screen time so far, which is not only unnecessary but also sets up the unrealistic expectation of actors that enter fandoms. Dawson, who is now shooting the Ahsoka series for Disney+ along with Christensen, has not had the time to even “mess up” her character portrayal; fans have hardly seen her on-screen and are already sounding the alarm bells. This is not just in the Star Wars world either, it carries to other franchises like Harry Potter, and the entrance of John Krasinski in MCU’s Multiverse of Madness. Like Dawson, Krasinski’s role in the MCU was based on fan edits when Fantastic Four was released in 2015 when fans believed Krasinski would have made a better Mr. Fantastic. Flashforward to 2022, and Krasinski is already getting angry fan responses for his portrayal of a character where he is on screen for approximately 10 minutes. The idea that someone cannot be a true fan by liking certain movies, actors, storylines, etc. within a franchise is not only harmful to other fans, and a form of bullying, but it is also detrimental to the growth of the franchise that they allegedly love so much. Art is subjective, and while being a critic is fine, there are constructive and helpful comments, and then there is bullying.
Luckily, Christensen continued to practice his craft and did not step away from acting altogether. Christensen’s return to the franchise and a chance to show Anakin/Vader once more brings peace, freedom, justice, and security to his … old empire?
With fans rewatching Revenge of the Sith, there is no denying there is a buzz about seeing Christensen return to act in the franchise, even though the prequels were very polarizing. Still, there’s no denying Christensen delivers in points of Episode 2 and 3.
“I think that’s where Hayden shines the most when he needs to turn the intensity to 11, in particular on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith,” said Davis. “He’s also good at subtle notes though, like when Padme reveals the pregnancy to him, you can watch his face go through a variety of emotions quickly before answering.”
It wasn’t the perfect performance though, as many fans of his will say, but the good outweighs the bad to those who enjoyed his portrayal.
“I’m not saying it’s perfect though, and it’s also on the director to ultimately okay the performance and move on.”
To see Christensen now glowing during the Obi-Wan Kenobi press tour is uplifting to everyone, whether it be because they have always been Christensen fans, or because they are happy to see him get another chance of bringing this character back to life.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: No Way Home, if you haven’t seen it yet, where have you been?
A similar effect just occurred in December when Andrew Garfield, who also got harsh criticism for his portrayal as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-man, appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home reprising his role alongside Tobey McGuire and Tom Holland. Garfield’s entrance has one, if not the largest, cheer in movie theaters across the world, but the moment that made the most impact was when Garfield’s Spider-Man was able to catch and save MJ, paying homage to the loss of Gwen in his world. The general consensus was that Garfield redeemed his character, and now fans are cheering for him to finally get his third movie- which shows the extreme power of fans. Just like Garfield’s response to being back in the suit, Christensen finds himself in 2022 being praised and welcomed with open arms for another chance at the role.
Fans, whether content makers agree or not, really fuel the narrative for projects, actors, and everything a franchise touches, which can have both extreme negatives and positives. No matter what your opinion of the prequels is, or any franchise content for that matter, let’s say thank you to folks who keep the story going and keep making us fall in love with these characters.