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Unhappy endings for the child actor who played Anakin Skywalker

Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin in The Phantom Menace, interviewed as a grown man in 2009:

This video makes me cringe. I’m not sure exactly why Lloyd is so bitter, but he clearly can’t disguise his disgust. It doesn’t help that the delighted “reporter” goads him on so shamelessly. Seriously, who ends an interview with this?

Before we let you go, child stars get a bit of a reputation; they turn to, y’know, a life of drugs, so may the Force be with you.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised; the media has exploited Jake Lloyd for most of his life. Back in 1999, Jake navigated the press junkets as well as any kid his age could. But if it’s hard for adult actors to navigate that world, it’s impossible for a ten-year-old boy. Watch this awkward interview, inexplicably conducted on a pastel-colored bed. When Jake voices the vain hope that he’ll be cast in Episode II, the crew chackles from behind the camera. Jake looks instantly crestfallen.

Throughout the ensuing exchange, Jake self-consciously projects a precocious, cute persona, but the performance feels off—almost over-rehearsed. In retrospect, a child that young should never have been asked to do dozens of interviews a day for weeks on end.

For a more recent example of exploitation, take this TMZ piece from last summer. The host can hardly contain his glee as he relays news of Lloyd’s arrest for reckless driving. Who knew you could fit so many podracing references into a two-minute video?

I can muster far more sympathy for Jake Lloyd than for Alec Guinness (who also came to resent his Star Wars fame). When Lloyd was cast, he couldn’t possibly have understood how the role would “dominate his destiny”. Like many child actors, he was ill-equipped to handle the spotlight’s glare.

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Salvaging Star Wars, Episode III: show some character

Recently, I’ve been outlining ways that the Star Wars prequels might have been improved. First, I suggested that the whole ‘prequel’ concept is irredeemably flawed. Then I complained about how real-world analogues cheapen the Star Wars universe.

Today’s complaint? The Star Wars prequels spoil some of cinema’s best-known, most beloved characters.

Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, that quintessential space wizard. Now, if we’re honest, the Jedi Master comes across a bit static—even in A New Hope. In that original film, Obi-Wan learns nothing and can’t be rattled; he’s more like Luke’s Jedi Encyclopedia than an actual character. Even Alec Guinness himself despised the character and cursed the film’s “rubbish dialogue”.

In fairness, though, it made sense that Obi-Wan wouldn’t change much in Episode IV. The film depicts only the very last chapter of a much longer life story. Obi-Wan’s defining moments happened decades earlier, we learn: Clone Wars heroics and a tortured falling-out with Vader.

That’s where the prequels’ potential lay; we’d finally get to see how it all happened. How did Obi-Wan become the cool, unflappable mentor of A New Hope? What flaws did he overcome? What conflict shaped his elderly personality? One idea: maybe Obi-Wan’s inability to save his mentor’s life haunts him. Maybe it makes him overprotective. Maybe that control-freak behavior pushes Anakin towards reckless power grabs. In any case, regardless of the arc’s specifics, Lucas shouldn’t have hesitated to rough up the golden boy a bit.

Instead, Lucas extends Obi-Wan’s milquetoast personality all the way back to day one. He was (we learn) always incorruptible. Always steady. He’s always been the beige palette against which more colorful characters are painted: Luke, Qui-Gon, Vader.

Speaking of Vader… there’s another great character squandered. The prequels inherit the greatest villain of all time—then manage to spoil him. To Lucas’s credit, Anakin does has an arc (unlike Kenobi); he journeys from adorable, pod-racing wunderkind to moody teenager to malevolent cyborg. But if Obi-Wan’s statis bores us to tears, Anakin’s metamorphosis confuses us. We never quite believe the reasons we’re given for his downfall. Why can’t Anakin handle his mother’s untimely death? Why does he snap. After all, his son faced nearly-identical tragedy (his family’s horrific immolation) with courageous determination.

How might the prequels have better explained Anakin’s degradation? Show us how childhood wounds fester into adult corruption. Make the Skywalkers’ slavery unpleasant to witness. Make Anakin damaged and powerless as a boy, so that his hell-bent power quest makes sense. Show us the hurt; don’t rely on Hayden Christiansen to emote it with furrowed eyebrows and a whiny delivery.


Next time, we’ll wrap up the “Salvaging Star Wars” series. In our crosshairs? The prequels’ over-reliance on CGI, to the detriment of story.