From the peaks of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ to the troughs of ‘The Phantom Menace’, no film series has ever inspired such devotion, such passion, such extreme nerdiness. So here, in an entirely personal list, Time Out presents the 50 best ‘Star Wars’ characters in order of greatness.
Canadian heartthrob Hayden Christensen was just 19 when he landed the role of pouty, petulant Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker in the second and third of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels. Those films may have sparked a still-raging controversy among the hardcore fanbase, but they were huge commercial successes – all three remain in the all-time box office top 100 – and rocketed Christensen to instant global stardom.
Seventeen years after the release of Revenge of the Sith, Christensen is stepping back into the role that made him famous – and into probably the most recognisable movie costume of all time. In Disney+’s new Star Wars spinoff Obi-Wan Kenobi, he dons the iconic breath mask, codpiece and motorbike leathers to play intergalactic overlord Darth Vader, as he once again comes face-to-face with his old Jedi Master, Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor.
We asked Christensen about the drawbacks of the black suit, his decades-long friendship with McGregor and whether Darth Vader really is an antihero for our times…
You only got to wear the Darth Vader costume briefly at the end of Episode 3. How did it feel stepping back into it?
‘It was an incredible experience putting that suit back on. It’s hard to put into words, it brought up a lot of emotions for me.’
Is it as unwieldy as it looks?
‘It’s so hot and so heavy! But you know, there’s an under-layer to the Vader suit that has cooling liquid in it, so when you’re not working you sit down and get plugged into this device that circulates the liquid and helps you cool down. And the need for that mechanical element makes you feel even more like the character.’
Is it also kind of nice to film something where you don’t have to worry about hair and make-up?
‘Completely. It’s great to hide behind a mask!’
Does the character of Darth Vader feel like he belongs to you now, in a way he might not have before?
‘That was part of what was really exciting about this, getting to really explore Darth Vader. Obviously, in the prequels I was Anakin Skywalker, and I got to show that transition, but I didn’t get to spend much time in the suit. So to come back and revisit the character at this point in the timeline was huge.’
Do you see them as separate characters, or just a continuum of the same person?
‘I absolutely see it as a continuation. Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker, he’s just experienced a radical ideological shift and suffered some really severe battle wounds.’
Radical ideological shifts are all the rage at the moment! Did you think about that while you were shooting?
‘All the time. I think what makes this character so compelling is the change he goes through. He’s gone through this seismic shift, and now he’s trying to reconcile that. And ultimately he does find redemption. It’s quite a journey.’
Ewan McGregor said it was spine-tingling seeing you back in the suit. Did you feel the same seeing him back in his dusty old Jedi robes?
‘It was a surreal experience. That was my first day back and it’s a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.’
I understand the two of you have stayed in touch over the past 17 years?
‘Ewan and I became really close filming the prequels: we spent a lot of time together on and off set, and we’ve remained close over the years. It’d been some time since we’d seen each other, so there was a bit of catching up to do, but we have so much history together that it was easy to pick up where we left off. And these characters have tremendous history too, so we were able to apply all that to the work.’
Kathleen Kennedy talked about seeing you and Ewan getting really excited on the set. Is that how you felt?
‘You can’t help it. You pick up a lightsaber and revert back to being a kid again, realising all these fantasies. The entire experience on the prequels was an incredible adventure for me. I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better. Getting to play the part that I did; getting to work with the people I did. Working with George Lucas was one of the great professional honours of my career. And getting to travel the world – I’d never been outside North American prior to that, [and] I went to Australia, Italy, Spain, Tunisia. So to have the opportunity to come back and do more with this character was hugely exciting.’
Final question. Can you go to a beach, ever, without someone popping up and saying: ‘Wait a minute, aren’t you the guy who hates sand?’
‘Ha! I may have gotten that a few times.’
Obi-Wan Kenobi streams on Disney+ worldwide May 27.