Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be the culmination of the Skywalker Saga, yet it was missing who is arguably Star Wars’ most important character – Anakin Skywalker. Although both Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin and the Star Wars prequels were met with a lot of criticism in the early 2000s, Star Wars has recently welcomed the prequel trilogy and its legacy. Hayden Christensen reprised his role as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and while it was satisfying to see Anakin and Obi-Wan interacting again, Christensen’s best Star Wars return could have been in The Rise of Skywalker.
Essentially, The Rise of Skywalker wasted four perfect opportunities for Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker return. The absence of Anakin in Episode IX is a reflection of a much bigger problem with the sequel trilogy – how it tried to distance itself from the prequels even when the story asked for callbacks to Episodes I, II, and III. The Rise of Skywalker had the most connections with the prequels of all three films in the sequel trilogy, yet it did not feature a Hayden Christensen Anakin Skywalker cameo. From The Rise of Skywalker’s Mustafar sequence to the film’s ending scene, there was no shortage of options for Episode IX to feature Anakin.
One of the most visually interesting moments in the Star Wars sequels, Kylo Ren’s journey in Mustafar could have been much better if there were at least some references to Darth Vader – especially a Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Force ghost cameo. Unfortunately, The Rise of Skywalker’s Mustafar scene is way too brief to even acknowledge Darth Vader lived on that planet. In fact, Mustafar is not even named in The Rise of Skywalker, and the only official confirmation that the lava planet was indeed the one from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge on the Sith came later with The Rise of Skywalker’s Visual Dictionary. Therefore, The Rise of Skywalker’s wasted Mustafar opportunity goes beyond a potential Hayden Christensen cameo.
Curiously, the reason why Mustafar had trees in The Rise of Skywalker is that time helped the planet heal and return to its original biome. In other words, the fact that Darth Vader’s evil presence was no longer part of Mustafar allowed the planet to heal. As such, having Anakin’s Force ghost appear in Mustafar would have worked in terms of canon – and it would have added to the planet’s healing process. A scene between Kylo Ren and Anakin in The Rise of Skywalker’s opening sequence would have also created a bigger conflict for the character, as Ben Solo would have been split between listening to his redeemed grandfather or Emperor Palpatine.
Harrison Ford returned to Star Wars after Star Wars: The Force Awakens for a brief scene in The Rise of Skywalker in which Han Solo reaches out to Ben Solo during a pivotal moment in Kylo Ren’s life. The aftermath of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber duel against Rey was the conclusion of Ben Solo’s redemption, which was solidified by Han Solo forgiving his son. Still, as great as the scene between Ben and Han Solo was in The Rise of Skywalker, an Anakin Skywalker Force ghost could have also worked at that moment. Han’s scene could have continued in the movie even if there were to be an Anakin Force ghost, as Han’s presence was more of Ben Solo forgiving himself than an actual Force ghost.
Anakin’s Force ghost could have appeared to a redeemed Ben Solo as a mentor the same way as Luke appeared to Rey in Ach-To. Ben Solo was about to go to the most dangerous fight of his life, and he would soon face Palpatine and the full extent of the Sith’s power. The Rise of Skywalker skips Ben Solo’s preparation for the final battle, and it jumps from Kylo Ren’s redemption to the moment he appears in Exegol. The gap between those scenes would have been a great moment to feature a conversation between Ben Solo and Anakin’s Force ghost. A moment between Ben Solo and Anakin Skywalker would have also improved the former’s sacrifice at the end of the movie.
The culmination of the entire Skywalker Saga, Rey reaching out to every Jedi that ever existed at the end of The Rise of Skywalker could have been even more cathartic if featured an actual Anakin Skywalker cameo. Hayden Christensen did voice a few lines for Anakin, yet they are easily missable amid all other Jedi voice cameos. The Jedi voices scene in The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be a celebration of the Star Wars legacy, and even Jedi whose status during the sequel trilogy is still a mystery, such as Ahsoka Tano, were heard. While it was an interesting idea to have Rey reach out to all of the Jedi, a visible Anakin Skywalker Force ghost cameo could have fit into that scene.
There was pretty much no connection between Rey and Anakin in the Star Wars sequels, which is a mistake considering that Rey was supposed to be the Skywalker legacy even though she was not related to them. One of the most divisive elements about the sequel trilogy is how it seemly undoes Anakin Skywalker’s Chosen One legacy, as The Rise of Skywalker reveals that Palpatine was never really destroyed. Considering that Rey defeating Palpatine once and for all in Episode IX can be considered as the moment balance was brought to the Force, an Anakin Force ghost cameo right before Rey destroys Darth Sidious would have made the Chosen One prophecy a lot more consistent across all three Star Wars trilogies.
Rey created a special bond with Leia and Luke, yet the history of the Skywalker family traces back to Shmi and Anakin. The Rise of Skywalker’s ending sees Rey defeating Palpatine once and for all and taking on the Skywalker name, which makes the absence of a Hayden Christensen Anakin cameo an even bigger wasted opportunity. Granted, Rey didn’t know much about Anakin Skywalker, which by itself was also a missing opportunity even if Rey was not supposed to be related to the Skywalkers. The Rise of Skywalker’s final scene clearly mirrors Return of the Jedi’s ending, yet it limited itself to the appearances of Luke and Leia only. Anakin Skywalker’s appearance beside the Skywalker twins is something Star Wars never got to show, and it could have happened in The Rise of Skywalker.
Any conclusion to the Skywalker Saga would never be complete without Anakin Skywalker. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker tries to tie all three trilogies into one consistent finale, but the film’s place in the Skywalker Saga asked for an Anakin cameo. The Star Wars sequel trilogy happened at a time when Disney’s Lucasfilm was still trying to distance itself from the prequels, but the reception to Obi-Wan Kenobi proves that there was always room for legacy prequel actors like Hayden Christensen to reprise their Star Wars roles.