WHEN Hayden Christensen auditioned for the role of the young Darth Vader in 2000 he was happy to have nabbed a couple of souvenir hats from his visit to George Lucas’s secretive Skywalker Ranch.
Little did he expect, as a then 19-year-old unknown, to land the part of cinema’s most revered baddie.
But after his two resulting Star Wars movies had hit cinema screens, the Canadian actor must have wished he had borrowed a stormtrooper’s Kevlar helmet.
For Hayden’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in the smash-hit sci-fi series came in for a barrage of criticism.
The Razzies, or Golden Raspberry Awards, are given for Hollywood’s worst performances, and he was given two Razzie Worst Supporting Actor gongs.
One critic called him “an ‘N Sync kid who doesn’t have as much talent”, and he was said that his romantic moments with Natalie Portman’s Senator Amidala “couldn’t be Amiduller”.
Since Hayden’s debut 20 years ago, fans of the original 1977 Star Wars movie have continued to gripe about the prequels Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith, which told how Anakin became Darth Vader.
By 2010 it was enough to make him quit acting for four years in favor of the quiet life on a secluded farm in Canada.
Now though, Hayden has a shot at redemption among Jedi obsessives. He is slipping on the black mask and cape again for the £100million six-part TV series Obi-Wan Kenobi, which launches today on the Disney+ channel.
The 41-year-old actor will be wielding lightsabers with Ewan McGregor, who returns as the mysterious Jedi Knight of the title, first made famous by Sir Alec Guinness in the original film.
Hayden said of the flak he has faced: “Of course, that’s a challenging thing. But I feel like I’m sort of over that in a way. ”
And any fan negativity seems to have been eclipsed by the excitement about the series, which is what studio executives were looking for.
The trailer was viewed seven million times in its first day, and the show is sure to add to the channel’s 130million subscribers.
Fans will get to see Obi-Wan’s life on the desert planet Tatooine, where he is guarding Anakin’s son Luke. Our bearded hero fears that if the chosen child falls into his father’s hands, Luke could also turn to the “dark side” of the invisible force that permeates this fictional version of our universe.
Ewan is earning a rumored £1.6million per episode and next year his new wife Mary Elizabeth Winstead will appear in another Star Wars spin-off TV series, Ahsoka, which will also feature Hayden.
She and Ewan recently had a son and Ewan said, “Our little boy has been born into this massive Star Wars family.”
Old connections played out well for Hayden, who remained pals with Ewan over the years. A source told The Sun that the Scots actor lobbied for his co-star from Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith to join the cast in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It’s a chance that Hayden, whose films have largely been flops, didn’t expect.
He said: “Getting to step back into these characters again was just surreal, you know? I would never have thought. ”
It is an echo of his feelings when he first went for the Vader role, when his only previous movie part was a small one in Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film The Virgin Suicides.
Hayden said of his Star Wars audition: “Never did I really think I could potentially actually get the part – it seemed too big.
“Then when I got the phone call, I was in disbelief. It had just a massive impact on my life. Professionally, obviously, and personally as well, it really changed so much for me. ”
But not in the way he had hoped. The handsome star was predicted to be the new Leonardo DiCaprio, who reportedly missed out on the Anakin role, with a life among the Hollywood elite beckoning.
An insider said: “In his twenties, when Hayden was at the peak of his Star Wars fame, he and his brother Tove were all over the LA party and celebrity social scene, and realized the benefits that came with Hayden’s burst of global fame. ”
But it all disintegrated after poor reviews of Attack Of The Clones and Hayden’s 2008 sci-fi movie Jumper. The one consolation from making Jumper was that he fell for co-star Rachel Bilson, of The OC fame.
The couple have endured a stop-start relationship as Hayden’s career.
They were engaged in 2009 before calling it off the following year, then quickly getting back together again. Rachel, 40, and Hayden never did marry, but they have a seven-year-old daughter, Briar.
The couple shared their time between a Los Angeles pad and a 200-acre farm north of Toronto, which he once said he wanted to fill with pigs, cows, horses, sheep, goats and “maybe alpaca”.
In 2018 he explained his desire to escape from Hollywood: “It was very much informed by my involvement in Star Wars, and how quickly things changed for me.
“I just needed a way to check out. I was 19 when I did Star Wars and even though I thought I was mature enough to fully grasp what the experience was, I was still a kid.
‘TIME TO REFLECT’
“To get perspective on that, you need time to reflect, and an environment where I could do that. Something inside me needed space. So I went out and found space. ”
He also took a break from acting, from 2010 to 2014, even though he knew it was a risk.
Hayden said: “You can’t take years off and not have it affect your career. But in a weird, sort of destructive way there was something appealing about that to me. ”
Since returning, his movies have included the totally forgettable low-budget action flicks Outcast, with Nicolas Cage in 2014, and First Kill, with Bruce Willis in 2017.
A fuller workload for Hayden and Rachel didn’t help their relationship and the couple split for good in 2017. Nevertheless it has been an amicable break-up and Briar splits her time between both parents.
She is yet to see any of the Star Wars films and Hayden said: “I feel like I’m probably dragging my feet at this point, because all of her friends have seen the movies.”
It was in the fall of 2019 that Hayden was invited by the makers of the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series to return to a galaxy far, far away once more.
He was not about to turn down such an opportunity and said: “It was a no-brainer. When I got the call I was instantly elated. I was just so excited to come back after all these years. ”
It had been 15 years since he had worn the Vader suit, which he only slipped on at the end of the 2005 film Revenge Of The Sith.
But he said: “Getting to put the suit back on, putting the helmet back on, was a very surreal experience.”
Neither Disney nor production company Lucasfilm have said who will be voicing Darth Vader in the new series, but James Earl Jones’s intimidating tones have been used for every Star Wars movie featuring the iconic baddie.
The 91-year-old actor did the job in Revenge Of The Sith after the famous black mask was placed over Hayden’s head, and again in The Rise Of Skywalker, the third installation of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, in 2019.
How many appearances Vader will make remains a closely guarded secret, while the main baddie in Obi-Wan Kenobi is set to be the Grand Inquisitor, played by British actor Rupert Friend.
But the Vader role is going to be significant enough for Hayden to be worried about what fans will think.
He said: “It’s Star Wars, so you know, there’s just a level of expectation you want to satisfy.