Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker is underrated
This post is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and something that I finally need to get around to sharing with other people. I should have done this immediately after re-watching the first three episodes with Nannette while things were still fresh, but instead, I’m doing it almost a year later. I don’t remember exactly all the details or specific examples, but I’ll try my best. Maybe I’ll come back and edit this after I watch them again. Anyway…
Hayden Christensen did an incredible job with Anakin Skywalker. Before you stop reading because there’s no possible way I could be right, hear me out; maybe I’ll change the way you see his acting performance in Star Wars: Episodes II and III.
The biggest complaint I hear about Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker is that he is stiff, delivering his lines awkwardly and playing his role mostly devoid of emotion. It just doesn’t seem good enough or realistic. I think that this could have been a deliberate choice by Christensen because of who Anakin is and because of what life and circumstance has shaped Anakin into being.
Anakin is an incredibly emotional character. He thinks with his heart instead of logic, often following through on impulsive actions brought on by those emotions. Anakin’s intense feelings are prevalent in many scenes: he is worried about and seeks power to protect his mom and Padme, he murders an entire Tusken village after learning about the death of Shmi, he is angered and upset that the council won’t make him a Jedi master, and pretty much any other scene involving Padme, like when Padme falls out of the gunship in Episode II and Anakin almost risks expulsion from the Jedi Council by going after her instead of working to end the war. This emotion is heavily contrasted by Obi-wan’s desire to adhere to their duty and think logically.
In fact, it’s this emotional driving force Anakin possesses that makes most of the Jedi Council worried about him. Anakin is out of place among the Jedi. The literal first line of the Jedi code is: “There is no emotion, there is peace.” This is where Christensen’s acting comes into play. Anakin is uncomfortable under this restriction, and that’s why he seems so robotic at times. Anakin is an incredibly emotional person under serious pressure by everyone in his life (except Padme) to stop being emotional. His humor even evolves into the monotone, deadpan sarcasm that is seen with Obi-wan. He’s working so hard at suppressing his emotions that he’s forcibly correcting his speech tones and gestures. This is incredibly in character and a wonderful performance given by Christensen.
The stiffness and awkwardness with which Christensen delivers some lines and acts some scenes is no mistake. It’s deliberate, and it’s incredibly well done. This is obvious when contrasted with Anakin’s emotional scenes where Christensen acts with passion. It’s even further evidenced as Anakin stops his efforts to smother his emotions and becomes Darth Vader. From his appointment to Lord Vader until his famous duel with Obi-wan he is free from the constraints on his emotions. We see a harrowed man who hasn’t quite realized the extent of his actions wipe out the younglings. We see a caring, concerned and loving man check on Padme to make sure she’s safe and that she isn’t aware of what he has done to protect her. We see an angry man confront his brother and teacher in a blinding rage. We see the emotion that he’s been hiding the rest of the time.
Christensen’s performance is resonating and undeniably impactful during the final moments leading up to the conclusion of Episode III. It doesn’t make any sense that that same conviction and heart wouldn’t appear throughout all of Episode II and III unless there was a reason that Anakin would be forcing himself to hide it. The Jedi Order itself was that reason, and the stiffness and awkwardness that is Anakin (barring the emotional scenes where his feelings come out) has some deep meaning to it. Next time you want to drag Christensen for his performance, take a moment to think why the character would be portrayed that way. Christensen did a wonderful, incredibly underrated job with his role as Anakin Skywalker.
TL;DR: Anakin is an incredibly emotional character forced into hiding and suppressing those emotions by the Jedi Order and Code. This is why Hayden Christensen’s performance may seem stiff and awkward at times. The awkwardness is purposeful and his performance is incredibly underrated.
Disclaimer: Anakin is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe, so this may just be me grasping at straws trying to justify what people say is a subpar performance from Hayden Christensen. However, I feel like I’ve given this analysis objective treatment and truly believe that he deserves more praise for what I consider to be an incredible job portraying such an interesting and deep character.