For two decades now, Hayden Christensen and James Earl Jones have shared ownership of one of moviedom's most recognizable villains. And that partnership continues in the blockbuster Disney+ Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi, which finds Christensen donning Darth Vader's cooling suit for the first time since 2005's Revenge of the Sith, which depicted Anakin Skywalker's final metamorphosis into the seminal big bad. But when the Jedi soldier-turned-Sith Lord speaks, it's Jones's voice that emanates though the mouthpiece affixed to that Samurai-influenced mask — enforcing Star Wars status quo that dates back to George Lucas's original 1977 space opera.
Despite their longstanding professional connection, Christensen reveals that he and Jones have never crossed paths in real life. "It seems a little bizarre that I haven't met him yet," the actor says of his now 91-year-old partner-in-Vader. "I would love to, of course, but our paths have never crossed."
In fact, Christensen admits that he often hears Jones's voice in his head when he speaks Vader's lines on set. (Jones's line readings are added during post-production.) "I'm doing my own version of it," he explains. "I'm sort of pulling from aspects of the delivery and some of the intonation. That's going on in the back of my head." And if they were ever to meet, Christensen knows exactly what he'd like to learn from Jones. "I want to know what it was like for him when they first created Vader — what he was thinking about when he was doing all the dialogue for A New Hope. His voice is so iconic and such an integral part of the character."
In that foundational film, of course, bodybuilder David Prowse wore the Sith Lord's fearsome ensemble, and spoke all of the dialogue before Lucas added Jones's distinctive voice prior to the movie's release. And over the decades, other actors have inhabited the part, including Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous, who shared Vader duties in 2016's Rogue One, when Christensen was still on his extended time-out from the Star Wars franchise in the wake of the prequel trilogy.
Asked whether it was hard for him to watch someone else playing the role in Gareth Edwards's well-received Star Wars story — and if that contributed to his decision to return for Obi-Wan Kenobi — the actor says that he's always viewed Vader as a "collective effort" rather than the property of any single performer. "I loved what they did in Rogue One," he adds. "There have been many people who contributed to Darth Vader, and that film really works, and the stuff with Vader is so powerful. I'm just happy to come back and have another swing at it."
— Ethan Alter (@ethanalter) June 13, 2022
And the Vader we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi is every bit the powerful presence fans saw in the climax of Rogue One, when he stalked the hallways of a starship, slicing Rebel soldiers right and left with his signature red lightsaber. Christensen got to lean into that brutality in the pivotal third episode of the Disney+ series, where Anakin confronts his old mentor, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), and makes the Jedi look every bit his age. It's a lopsided fight scene straight out of Rocky III with Vader as a dominant Clubber and Kenobi as a punch-drunk Rocky.
"I think Vader is even a little caught off guard to see how disconnected Obi-Wan is from the Force," Christensen says. "He's always been an intimidating presence, but in this series he's an even more brutal version of the character. It's been a lot of fun for me to get to play that."
But the actor also says that he never loses sight of the fact that underneath the Sith Lord's mask lurks a lost Jedi. "This Vader is sort of chronologically the closest to Ankin that we've ever seen before," Christensen notes of Obi-Wan Kenobi's storyline, which takes place ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. "So all of his anger and pain and all these sorts of negative emotions are fueling his Dark Side abilities."
"He's at a very angry place in his life," Christensen continues. "I think a lot of this show is about people dealing with their past, and the same is true of Vader and his pursuit of Obi-Wan. There's a character exploration to that hunt and him wanting to kill Obi-Wan is very much Vader trying to kill the Anakin inside of him. So there's some good stuff there."
Christensen also says that Vader's hunt for Kenobi in OBI-WAN KENOBI is rooted in an attempt to kill whatever remains of Anakin inside him. pic.twitter.com/EgLItRpB9b
— Ethan Alter (@ethanalter) June 13, 2022
Besides reuniting with McGregor, Christensen says that the best part about returning to Star Wars after an extended absence is that it's given the franchise's masterminds some time to make the costume more comfortable since the Revenge of the Sith era. "The costume has really improved now — it's easier to move around in," he says, chuckling. "But it's still a beast, and just trying to get to set can present its own challenges. Just swinging a lightsaber is a whole different ballgame!"
Obi-Wan Kenobi is currently streaming on Disney+.