Hayden Christensen turns 31 today, but you’re probably wondering what the hell he’s been up to in the last five years. When Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones came to theaters a decade ago, no one could have imagined that the young man chosen to play Anakin Skywalker had anything but a stellar career ahead of him. Unfortunately, Hayden’s professional life mirrored Anakin’s downfall: The movie that should have nabbed him adventurous, sensitive leading-man parts instead wrecked his credibility.
As people might have expected, Star Wars is the project that Hayden is best known for. But that’s not because Episodes II and III were astonishingly good; not only were they bad, but nothing Hayden has done since has redeemed him. Before he played Anakin, Hayden’s career consisted of guest spots on some of the best kids’ TV of the ’90s — Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps – and starred in Life as a House and Shattered Glass. His character in the latter suffered greater and more believable dilemmas than anything we saw from Anakin.
But it’s not as if the Star Wars prequels tainted everyone who was associated with them: Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Natalie Portman have all gone on to roles that have won them critical acclaim, and their Star Wars days were an amusing diversion. Hayden had it tougher, understandably, as he got saddled with so much responsibility in portraying one of cinema’s most iconic characters—not to mention, in a backstory already crippled by fans’ high expectations.
However, he could have helped his case by making Anakin less cheesy! As YouTuber rawbeezeitz points out in this amazing highlights reel, Hayden seemed to have two emotional states in the Star Wars movies: Horny creep or whiny bitch.
I guess that after all the hype that would have christened Hayden the next big star, there was no way that his people could backtrack and write off the Anakin disaster as intentionally campy. His acting was just plain bad, and he was further hindered by an implausible story and awful lines.
Similarly, every role he’s had since has been two-dimensional, in movies defined more by their high-concept premises than the characters that actually populate them: The sci-fi movie Jumper, nearly indistinguishable from the superhero action film Takers that came out two years after it; the lame thriller Awake; and Virgin Territory, a retelling of The Decameron that languished in development hell for so many years that we didn’t even notice when it finally came out.