How Star Wars: Ahsoka’s Anakin Return Could Validate Biggest Change to Original Trilogy

Hayden Christensen will return as Anakin Skywalker in the upcoming Star Wars: Ahsoka Disney+ series. But how is that even possible?

Star Wars Ahsoka Anakin Skywalker
Photo: Lucasfilm

The Prequel era is back in full force. Not only will we see the return of Ewan McGregor in next year’s Obi-Wan Kenobi limited series but also Hayden Christensen, either reprising his role as Anakin Skywalker in a flashback/vision or as Darth Vader for a never-before-seen confrontation with his old master. Either way, McGregor and Christensen’s first scene together since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith will be a huge moment on Disney+ in 2022.

But Christensen’s Star Wars comeback isn’t stopping there. THR reports that the actor will also appear in the upcoming Ahsoka series opposite Rosario Dawson, although it’s again unclear whether he’ll show up as the troubled Jedi hero or the Sith monster he became after parting ways with his former padawan. Either way, Christensen’s debut in the post-Original Trilogy era does present some very interesting possibilities for what this could mean for Star Wars as a whole.

Remember that Ahsoka will take place during the same era as The Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett, which are set five years after Return of the Jedi. This means Darth Vader has been canonically dead for half a decade when the show begins, and that the Anakin Skywalker that Ahsoka knew ceased to exist over 20 years ago. So how is Christensen’s return even possible?

Anakin vs. Ahsoka

There are already a few of theories. One is that Ahsoka and Anakin will reunite in a flashback, either during their time as master and padawan in the Clone Wars, or as rivals in the age of the Empire. The latter scenario is one Ahsoka showrunner Dave Filoni first dreamed up for the Rebels animated series. It was on that show that Ahsoka learned of her master’s fate after Order 66 and came face to face with Darth Vader for the first time, delivering the heart-wrenching moment fans had steeled themselves for since the final days of The Clone Wars. While their duel inside an ancient Sith temple remains one of the best moments in Star Wars history, but it had no clear winner.

Ad – content continues below

After their duel, Ahsoka spent years inside a mystical plane known as the World Between Worlds (it’s a long story that involves time travel), which is meant to retroactively explain why she wasn’t in the Original Trilogy, before finally resurfacing in a Rebels epilogue set after the fall of the Empire. It’s during this epilogue that Ahsoka sets out on her quest to find Grand Admiral Thrawn, a journey she’s still on in The Mandalorian, and presumably her solo series.

But we don’t know exactly when Ahsoka escaped the World Between Worlds, so it’s possible she had a rematch with Vader just before the climactic events of Return of the Jedi and before the villain faced Luke for the final time. A flashback to a second duel between the two, this time in live-action, would certainly be an early defining moment for the show.

Anakin’s Force Ghost

There’s another, less convoluted way in which Christensen could appear on Ahsoka, though: as a Force ghost that visits Dawson’s Jedi for an overdue heart-to-heart. It wouldn’t come out of left field, either. After all, Christensen has appeared as a Force ghost once before, thanks to one of George Lucas’ most controversial changes to the Original Trilogy.

While the 1997 Special Edition digital remasters of the Original Trilogy saw Lucas make the heaviest changes to his beloved movies, his further tinkering for the 2004 DVD re-release of the films resulted in his most egregious tweak in the eyes of many fans: replacing original Anakin actor Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen for the final scene of Return of the Jedi. It’s in this scene that Luke meets the pre-Vader form of his father for the first time, accompanied by the ghosts of Obi-Wan (still Sir Alec Guinness, thankfully) and Yoda.

Sebastian Shaw and Hayden Christensen as Ghost Anakin

Depending on who you ask, this massive change either makes canonical sense or is one addition too many. Sure, it makes sense that Anakin’s Force ghost would appear to Luke in his Jedi form. After killing the Emperor to save his son, Anakin is redeemed and his Force ghost reflects the goodness that was inside of Vader all along. That could be why we see Anakin as he was in his Jedi days (although he never wore those particular robes in the Prequel Trilogy).

But it can also be argued that Christensen’s cameo is a bit distracting and strips the final scene of its emotional pay-off. Just a few minutes before the party on Endor, Luke had unmasked his dying father, seeing his real face for the first and final time. And it’s Shaw’s heavily scarred face Luke meets, not Christensen’s. So when Luke later sees Shaw’s unmarred face in the final scene, it’s an emotional moment for both father and son, and particularly cathartic for Luke, who finally gets to see a version of the father he knew as the good man he always hoped he’d be. To some, replacing Shaw with Christensen robs the final scene of some of that meaning.

Ad – content continues below

Ahsoka is a different story, though. It makes much more sense for Ahsoka to see her former master as she knew him: as the face of Hayden Christensen before his gruesome transformation on Mustafar. It would also help make Christensen’s Return of the Jedi cameo feel a little less like an awkward retcon and more like the true, canonical version of Anakin’s Force ghost he was meant to be (with apologies to Mr. Shaw). Perhaps his appearance in Ahsoka could even provide an in-universe explanation for why the Force ghost looks like young Anakin and not the old man who died on the Death Star.

And like with Hamill and Shaw in Return of the Jedi, Christensen’s Anakin reuniting with Ahsoka will bring real gravitas to the show. Here’s Ahsoka’s chance to not only spend time with Anakin the way she remembers him but also to find her own peace. When Ahsoka learned that Anakin had become Darth Vader in Rebels, she felt guilty that she hadn’t been around to try and save him from turning to the dark side (not that Anakin’s baggage has ever been Ahsoka’s responsibility). It goes a long way to explain why she’s spent so much time trying to find Ezra Bridger, a missing Jedi who was last seen getting sucked into hyperspace with Thrawn on Rebels. Maybe for Ahsoka, saving Ezra means making up for her inability to save Anakin?

Ultimately, we’re not sure where Ahsoka’s path is headed, or how Anakin fits into it after all this time, but we’re looking forward to finding out when Ahsoka hits Disney+ in the next few years. While you wait, check out the complete schedule of upcoming Star Wars movies and TV series here.