Star Wars considered bringing Anakin back for both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but The Rise of Skywalker is the only one he would’ve fit in.
Anakin Skywalker was considered to return in both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the only sequel where the man formerly known as Darth Vader would’ve fit was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Back when Disney was beginning to flesh out its new Star Wars sequel trilogy, there was a consideration of Anakin returning in the first installment. Several pieces of concept art were drawn up, including of a rather horrifying half-Anakin, half-Vader Force Ghost, but it seems like when Luke Skywalker’s role in the movie was trimmed to just an appearance at the very end, there was understandably no room for Anakin either.
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Similarly, Rian Johnson has revealed that he almost included Anakin’s Force Ghost in The Last Jedi, but that since Luke’s relationship was more with Vader, then he decided to keep the focus on the Luke/Yoda dynamic in the scene on Ahch-To instead. In both of these cases, it makes sense why Anakin didn’t make it. The Force Awakens already had to blend the old and the new, and with the focus more on the next generation, Anakin wouldn’t have fit. Likewise, Luke’s scene with Yoda was a beautiful reflection about their respective time and failures as Jedi Masters, which is a connection Luke doesn’t share with his father.
The Rise of Skywalker, however, doesn’t have a great excuse for not bringing back Anakin, along with Hayden Christensen playing him. While Christensen’s Anakin is heard in the movie as one of the Jedi voice cameos who talk to Rey on Exegol, it’s not as powerful as an actual appearance would have been. After all, this was no mere sequel, but the end of the entire Skywalker saga; that’s a legacy any film would struggle not to buckle under the weight of, but having its eponymous character appear would’ve helped. Even the movie’s title would have fit with a cameo from Anakin, adding yet another layer of meaning to it as he helped solidify his own redemption and help defeat the Emperor once again, and there were several spots he would’ve worked.
One option would’ve been to have Anakin appear to Kylo Ren instead of Han Solo. While Harrison Ford’s return was a nice surprise for fans, it didn’t add much to the journey of either character that hadn’t already been covered. Kylo Ren was defined by his attempts to be Darth Vader, and so having Anakin help bring him back to the light would’ve been even stronger and more connected to the Force, redeeming Ben and honoring Anakin’s own legacy in a way the sequels ultimately failed to do.
Failing that, then The Rise of Skywalker also had two great opportunities for cameos from Christensen’s Anakin in its ending. One would’ve been to make the Jedi voices into Force Ghosts, with Anakin and the rest appearing, a creative decision that, again, would’ve made a much greater impact. Or it could’ve committed to using Anakin at the end alongside Luke and Leia. This would arguably only work if Ben’s ghost was there as well, to have all of the Skywalkers at the very conclusion of the saga they give their name to, but again could have been a fitting send-off.
Unfortunately, it seems like The Rise of Skywalker was the one sequel where Anakin’s return wasn’t considered. In fairness, the film is already stuffed, but as the movie that was designed to bring all three trilogies of Star Wars together, it also feels incomplete without him. With Palpatine being defeated once more and the Skywalker saga coming to a close, then the return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin would’ve been a nice touch to show how fans have forgiven him and the prequels, and to really unify all the eras. Christensen may return at another point, such as in the Obi-Wan TV show, but this would’ve been an idea big screen goodbye.
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