The wonderful thing about Darth Vader, as far as Star Wars creatives must be concerned, is that while he did eventually cop it during the events of the original George Lucas film trilogy, he was alive and kicking for a much longer period than we’ve generally witnessed on either big or small screens. There was that powerful season two finale to Star Wars Rebels, in which the Sith Lord battled his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, and of course the brief scenes in 2016’s excellent film Rogue One, both of which featured the return of James Earl Jones’s essential velvety tones.
What then of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi, the forthcoming Disney+ TV show in which Hayden Christensen, he of the execrable prequels, is billed as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader? Even in the original movie, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, in which the Jedi Knight finally falls to the dark side, Lucas had Jones voice the not-so-iconic scene in which Anakin finally pulls on the dreaded shiny black armour. Perhaps it was still Christensen in the suit – he certainly looked like a much titchier Vader than the one portrayed physically by the British bodybuilder Dave Prowse in the 70s and 80s films. But even if it was, the Canadian actor didn’t exactly have much to do.
With the second full trailer for the six-part Obi-Wan Kenobi having dropped yesterday for Star Wars Day, the question of quite how Vader will be portrayed in the limited series has been pulled even more sharply into focus. Those who are secretly hoping Deborah Chow and her team are about to right all the wrongs of the prequels might well be disappointed, and the biggest problem could well be Christensen.
One of the greatest problems with George Lucas’s second Star Wars trilogy is that it was never really possible to connect the whiny teenager of Attack of the Clones and most of Revenge of the Sith to the monumentally badass figure seen in 1977’s Star Wars and its follow-ups. This is, of course, not entirely Christensen’s fault, as he had the twin horrors of too much green screen acting and terrible screenwriting to cope with. But it’s hard not to imagine that if Lucas had had an actor of the calibre of Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in the equally middling but usually well-acted sequel trilogy) he would have found something more in those stale, stale, whingey lines of angst and misery.
Now Christensen is returning to battle Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, who in the events of the series is holed up on Tatooine in a cave, masquerading as Ben Kenobi (which, when you think of it, is not the most spectacular pseudonym) and keeping one eye out for the safety of a preteen Luke Skywalker. It appears Vader has sent various baddies out into space to try to track him down, namely Rupert Friend’s Grand Inquisitor (a sort-of Imperial SS-type) and his red lightsaber-wielding minion, Reva.
McGregor, we know, will be a tour de force in the new show, even if he is given the most limited material to work with. Friend and Moses Ingram, as Reva, already look like two of the coolest Star Wars villains we’ve yet seen. The return of Joel Edgerton as Anakin’s step-brother Owen Lars in the new trailer is hugely welcome – the Australian is a serious Hollywood player these days even if his role in the prequels was pretty limited.
But Chow’s best bet here would be to keep Christensen’s involvement to a minimum, perhaps appearing only briefly during a scene in which Vader’s suit is damaged and his original voice bleeds through – something similar happened during the previously mentioned battle with Ahsoka Tano. This would allow Reva and the Grand Inquisitor to do most of the bad guy heavy lifting, leaving Vader as more of a background figure. And yet Christensen’s involvement has been so heavily trailed that you wonder if this is the way Lucasfilm is planning to go.
There’s also the issue of continuity to deal with. The best Star Wars entries of the past 20 years, like Rogue One, have somehow managed to close gaping plot holes in earlier films (how did the Rebels manage to blow up the Death Star?) rather than opening new ones. And yet if Obi-Wan really does come face to face with Vader once again, what does that do to the line in 1977’s Star Wars in which the Sith Lord states: “We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master”? It would now make about as much sense as Lucas’s decision to add loads of dodgy CGI to the original trilogy.
There’s a danger here that without the 91-year-old Jones doing the iconic voice, Lucasfilm might end up ruining yet another major Star Wars player, after the difficulties the studio had with a certain bounty hunter in the recent The Book of Boba Fett. Avoiding that fate, if Christensen really is going to be front and centre here, seems about as likely as successfully navigating an asteroid field (though it should be pointed out, this has been done before).
Perhaps I’m worrying about nothing. Perhaps it will all be fine, and they secretly have Jones signed up. I love Star Wars, and I desperately want this one to be as good as The Mandalorian. But if the plan really is to have Christensen as the major antagonist here … well, I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this.
Obi-Wan Kenobi starts on Disney+ on 27 May