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Hayden Christensen recently discussed the physical transformation required to reprise his role as Darth Vader in the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series. Should actors still be expected to bulk up in order to get roles?

Obi-Wan Kenobi debuted on Disney+ on May 27 of this year starring Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. Fans gathered in living rooms around the world to watch the newest addition to the Star Wars universe. The first two episodes dropped at the same time, allowing the series to set up its premise: ten years after Order 66, in a galaxy where force users are hunted down, a clearly traumatized Obi-Wan Kenobi is called to rescue the missing Princess Leia.

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The series sees McGregor reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi and the much-anticipated return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader. The promise of new interactions between Vader and Kenobi was one of the major draws of the new series, and it didn’t disappoint, adding action as well as pathos to one of Star Wars‘ pivotal relationships.

It appears to have been relatively easy for McGregor to physically become Obi-Wan again. It has been seventeen years since Revenge of the Sith was in theaters, and while McGregor has aged well in that time, he’s still believable as an older Obi-Wan. It was more of a challenge for Christensen to transform his body fitting for Darth Vader.

The Physicality of Darth Vader

Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader
Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

In the original trilogy, Vader is 6’9”, with a massive frame to match. The goal was to make him instantly recognizable as an imposing presence, and between his costume design, his voice, and the fact that he towers over everyone, it’s safe to say that the filmmakers succeeded.

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It’s common knowledge that Vader is voiced by James Earl Jones, but the man in the suit in the original trilogy was body builder David Prowse. He stood at 6’6” and was nearly 200 pounds. As anyone can see, Prowse was considerably larger than Christensen, who is 6’1” tall and usually weighs about 160 pounds.

The height difference between Vader and Christensen was addressed with lifts and no doubt some creative camera angles and other filmmaking tricks. But that still left the issue of Vader’s heft which is especially relevant, since Obi-Wan Kenobi features a scene of Vader out of the iconic suit.

Hayden Christensen on Gaining Thirty Pounds for Obi-Wan Kenobi

Hayden Christensen holding light saber.
Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi

In a recent interview with Fatherly, Christensen revealed that he put on an additional 30 pounds of weight to properly embody Darth Vader. “I needed to become that character again, physically,” Christensen says. “I just consumed as many calories as possible. I put on 25 or 30 pounds to fill out that [Darth Vader] suit.”

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The transformation took nine months, and the results didn’t last. “I try to avoid the dad bod thing. And I was trying to maintain that Vader body after we finished. But, honestly, I pretty much just went back to my old diet. I kind of deflated after that.”

Christensen’s tone in the article was laidback and jokey. But honestly, should he have been so okay with such an extreme physical preparation process for a role?

Actors Speak Out Against Bulking up for Movie Roles

Robert Pattinson as Batman, in bat suit staring grimly off camera.
Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder

Star Wars isn’t the only franchise that expects its actors to tirelessly work out. Actors working under the Disney umbrella and beyond have recently spoken out about the expectations put on them by Hollywood to bulk up for movie roles. Robert Pattinson made waves in 2020 when he told GQ that he wouldn’t be working out in preparation of playing Bruce Wayne in The Batman.

“I think if you’re working out all the time, you’re part of the problem,” Pattinson says. “You set a precedent. No one was doing this in the ’70s. Even James Dean—he wasn’t exactly ripped.”

Pattinson makes a good point, the further actors are willing to go in their physical transformations, the more studios and audiences will expect to see trim, overly-muscled bodies.

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Will Poulter took it a step further, warning that these practices are not only harmful for actors – they’re harmful for moviegoers as well. Poulter will be playing Adam Warlock in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. In an interview with The Independent he warned fans not to try and imitate his diet and workout regimen.

“The most important thing is that your mental and physical health has to be number one, and the aesthetic goals have to be secondary. Otherwise, you end up promoting something that is unhealthy and unrealistic if you don’t have the financial backing of a studio paying for your meals and training. […] I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what I did to get ready for that job.”

The conversation surrounding these physical transformations, and the effect they may be having on male moviegoers, is only the beginning. We can only hope that, as the conversation evolves, Hollywood will return to depicting a wider range of male body types in its films that don’t rely on brutal body transformations.

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