He was Hollywood’s brightest prospect and was supposed to helm a billion-dollar franchise by himself. Why did he disappear from the scene and what convinced him to come back?

How do you go from one of the most promising actors of your generation to a washed-out disgrace who wrecked the most beloved sci-fi movie franchise of all time? 

It’s a swift descent, but it’s a label Hayden Christensen has had to live with for nearly twenty years. At the outset of the Star Wars prequel series, he was touted as the next big sensation of our zeitgeist, the baby-faced heartthrob who would impress audiences with his irresistible charisma, his dashing good looks, and his potential for blockbuster superstardom. He was the Chosen One, after all. 

Well, the movies came and went, and it’s universal consensus that they missed the mark entirely and were nothing short of a steaming pile of garbage. However, the lion’s share of the anger wasn’t directed at the production team, the writer’s room, or even the director; it was concentrated on the leading man at the center of the whole project. 

Many would say the disastrous reception to the Star Wars prequels damaged Hayden’s career for good, but there is always more to the story. What has the Canadian actor been up to since, and how does he feel about his dramatic rise and fall in the early 2000s? 

Hayden didn’t want to ride the Star Wars “wave” for the rest of his career

Hayden Christensen and Darth Vader during Nickelodeon’s 18th Annual Kids Choice Awards – Backstage and Audience at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Though the Star Wars prequel movies were panned by critics and fans alike, they undeniably had quite the impact on the box office. Hayden Christensen’s world changed overnight, and he was thrust into the spotlight at the ripe old age of nineteen. Unseasoned and as green as grass, he was unaccustomed to the storm that had abruptly surrounded and cornered him. Yes, he was on his way to becoming an A-list actor, but he also felt the fury of the diehard supporters of the film series, who were displeased with his performance and were quick to insult him whenever they could. 

To put it simply, everything was just too much. The meteoric rise to fame comes with its own share of challenges, the least of which is being recognized and valued for just one film credit. “I didn’t want to go through life feeling like I was just riding a wave,” the actor told Los Angeles Times in 2015. Star Wars wasn’t going to be-all and end-all of his future, so Hayden eventually withdrew from the spotlight, preferring to focus on some of the other passions he had neglected in favor of show business.  

I guess I felt like I had this great thing in ‘Star Wars’ that provided all these opportunities and gave me a career, but it all kind of felt a little too handed to me. 

Hayden Christensen to Los Angeles Times

What’s ironic is that Hayden Christensen had always planned to take a hiatus. In a 2003 interview, the actor said he didn’t see himself acting in the near future. “I think I could wind up somewhere completely different five years from now, something completely removed from acting,” he shared. Note that the third movie hadn’t even been released at the time, so he was still comfortably in his heyday and was savoring every moment of the rollercoaster. Yet, he had the foresight to understand that the glory wouldn’t last forever, and he would have to make a contingency plan sooner or later. 

Hayden also suffered from imposter syndrome, in that he felt like he didn’t deserve the success he achieved as a young actor. Of course, he loved the opportunities that came his way and felt grateful to be included in a piece of cinematic history, but eventually, it was a “little too handed to [him].” A feeling of inadequacy persisted through the early years, and when he started realizing that he was being blamed for the movie’s creative failures, he lost faith in himself. Was he actually talented, or did he only attain his status through dumb luck?

He wanted to earn his way back into Hollywood

Hayden Christensen (Credit:
Feng Li / Staff via Getty Images)

Ultimately, there isn’t a black or white answer to this question. There’s no doubt Hayden is an admirable actor, but he didn’t get to shine in those movies, at least not as much as the fans were hoping for. You could blame this on the lackluster script or the poorly-executed direction, but he was the person delivering the dialogue and sequences – he would be the most obvious person to put on the chopping block. However, while it’s fair to criticize a person’s performance in a work of art, it’s not fair to determine his absolute worth based on just one feature. You need to provide him with more chances to show the world what he’s capable of, what he brings to the table, what enabled him to land the role in the first place. 

Unfortunately, the toxicity in the Star Wars fandom made Hayden feel disillusioned about the business, so he decided to step away while he could and regain some clarity on what he wanted out of life. Following the release of the final prequel film Revenge of the Sith, Hayden essentially packed his bags and moved to a farm in Canada to clear his head. He did a few movies in the next ten years, but none of them generated the same level of buzz or acclaim.  When compared to Star Wars, nothing would. 

If I can come back afterward and claw my way back in, then maybe I’ll feel like I earned it.

Hayden Christensen to Los Angeles Times

Speaking to Los Angeles Times, he said his self-imposed sabbatical did affect his prospect pool as the offers being extended to him weren’t as appealing as those in the early years. “You can’t take years off and not have it affect your career,” he said; however, that’s the risk he wanted to take when he left the glamorous and flashy riches of Hollywood for the tranquil valleys of Ontario. But, at the same time, as he explained, there was “something appealing about that.” This means his ‘second chance’ at a Hollywood career wouldn’t be so easy to navigate, and he would have to struggle in a way he didn’t get to at an early age. If he’s able to “claw back in,” perhaps his stardom would seem justified, like he’s actually worthy of the attention and isn’t just scraping by. 

Today, Hayden Christensen is preparing to reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi television show – sixteen years since he last donned the suit. “It feels good to be back,” he said while praising his co-worker and director involved in the series. 

Do what’s best for you – not what makes sense

Hayden Christensen’s tumultuous journey through Hollywood renown continues to be fascinating, yet there’s still a lot to uncover. 

He could have ridden on the prequels’ coattails to find himself more exciting and diverse undertakings in the industry, but he chose to depart and re-enter on his own terms. It’s not an easy decision to de-prioritize your career in favor of your mental wellbeing when you’re a budding professional in your twenties, but sometimes you need to do things even if they don’t make sense or mesh well with your vision. Everyone’s pathway is different, everyone’s perspective is different, and every move is a gamble no matter what, but that’s what makes life worth living. It’s the risks and the surprises and the hard-earned personal victories that truly matter at the end of the day. 

Stand up for yourself
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make space for your wellbeing and growth.