ET looks back at the young actor's first interview about 'Attack of the Clones,' just days after being cast in May of 2000.
Hayden Christensen was ready for the fun to begin after being cast as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. While stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Phillippe and Paul Walker had also been in contention, George Lucas decided to go with a relatively unknown Canadian actor to kick off Darth Vader's origin story.
When chatting with ET in 2000, and in Christensen’s first on-camera interview after nabbing the role, he could barely contain his excitement about taking his first step into a larger world.
“I can't wait. It'll be so cool to see yourself podracing and using the Force,” the 19-year-old actor shared just days after learning he was set to join Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor in the already in progress prequel trilogy. “It's insanity. I grew up on this stuff.”
Indeed, Christensen came of age during the ‘90s renaissance of Lucas’ galactic saga. Alongside a boom in home video sales, the franchise’s worldwide popularity was continuously reaffirmed by the popularity of Star Wars books, video games, rides at Disney Parks, and theatrical re-releases of the original movies.
When it came time to pick up the phone and tell his family, Christensen added some musical fanfare to pair with the news that his childhood dream was becoming a reality.
“It was funny. My roommate has a Star Wars soundtrack on record, so he started blaring it in the background,” he recalled, while also humming a few bars of John Williams’ iconic score to set the scene. “And my mom heard it in the background and started flipping out.”
Christensen had gotten word he nabbed the role on a Wednesday, the official Lucasfilm press release was sent off on Friday, May 12, and by Monday, he had his work cut out for him.
“I'm trying to get in shape and buff up a little bit. I'm gonna start taking boa classes, which is a stick fighting course,” he explained to ET, appropriately standing in front of a Star Wars mural on the 20th Century Fox studio backlot. “And then I leave for Australia at the beginning of June. I'm very lucky and I couldn't be happier right now.”
Following the release of Episode I - The Phantom Menace in 1999, fans wasted no time speculating who might pick up where Jake Lloyd left off. While the youngster behind 9-year-old Ani famously beat out 3,000 other actors, it wasn’t so much the quantity of competition for Christensen as it was the quality.
In January of 2000, DiCaprio revealed to ET that he had taken a meeting with Lucas at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California, where the filmmaker’s special effects houses are located, as well as home base for all things Star Wars (he reportedly later turned down the role). In addition to Phillippe and Walker, Devon Sawa was also high up in the mix, who at the time was coming off a successful transition from child actor (Now and Then, Casper) to tackling young adult roles (Wild America, Final Destination).
“There were five of us going for it, and then they ended up going with Hayden Christensen from Vancouver, and he did a great job, but, you know, I was heartbroken,” Sawa explained to ET in 2020. He added, “I want to say I came close.”
According to Christensen, another factor in the audition process was a chemistry test with Portman. The two performed a “modified version” of the scene in Episode II where Anakin hints to Padmé that when it comes to fudging the ethics of their respective duties for love's sake -- he’s game if she is.
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.”
“Natalie was really amazing to work with. She's a really committed actress and a really nice person at the same time,” Christensen shared with ET leading up to AOTC’s release on May 16, 2002. “[We were] partners in crime at times and just got along really well.”
Christensen's favorite scene was a non-verbal and even sans-lightsaber moment, but one that to him was “most reminiscent of the previous trilogy.”
“It was just the long shot of me standing there talking to one of the Jawa people on Tatooine,” he shared. “Just because that was where I kind of most felt like, ‘There I was in a Star Wars film.’”
Lightspeed to 2022, Christensen and McGregor are returning to the galaxy far, far away. This time around, it’s for Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. Picking up a decade after the events of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, the limited series sees Kenobi in hiding as he tries to protect the secret existence of Luke Skywalker.
“We couldn’t tell the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi without addressing Anakin or Vader,” director and executive producer Deborah Chow said of Christensen reprising the role.
“They did a lot with these characters in those shows,” Christensen told the outlet. “And they did further explore the relationship. There was interesting stuff there to learn about. It was great fun getting to go back and reimmerse yourself in this world that just continues to grow and become more and more vast.”
Fandom and critical acclaim for the animated TV shows have grown steadily over the past decade, following easy access on Disney+, new spinoffs, and live-action continuations on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. In addition to Kenobi, Christensen also stars in the upcoming Ahsoka series. Since Anakin and the titular character's (Rosario Dawson) relationship was one of the most important, and heartbreaking, storylines across both series, fans are curious to learn how and when on the Star Wars timeline he'll appear (the latter dictating whether Christensen will return as Vader, or perhaps Anakin in a Clone Wars-era flashback).
For now, both fans and Kenobi's cast are content to see these two rekindle their padawan and master relationship 20 years after it first began.
“The most beautiful thing of all is that it’s brought me back together with Hayden,” McGregor previously said of his former co-star. “[Having] another swing at each other might be satisfying for everybody. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoy making it.”
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones streams on Disney+. Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres May 27 on Disney+.