NOTE: The Following Post Contains Potential SPOILERS for Star Wars 7
Now that Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens has hit theaters, to record breaking ticket sales and overwhelming critical praise, fans have begun unpacking the biggest Episode 7 reveals, posing questions for Episode 8, as well as culling through various rumors that turned out to be false (for the time being at least). One rumor suggested that Star Wars 1 - 3 star Hayden Christensen was training for a return to the franchise - with many believing that the actor could return as Darth Vader in Rogue One or as an Anakin Skywalker Force Ghost sometime in Episode 7 - 9.
Star Wars fans who remain underwhelmed by the prequels, especially their portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, dismissed the possibility of a Christensen return - assuming that Disney wouldn't let the actor anywhere near their new Star Wars movies. However, we now have official confirmation that the Mouse House might not be quite as reluctant to revisit Anakin Skywalker as some might have thought. It turns out, an Anakin Skywalker Force ghost was considered for The Force Awakens - with an interesting twist - making it to the concept artwork stage (if not further).
The news of Anakin Skywalker's planned inclusion in Episode 7 comes via the Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens book (hat tip to Screen Crush) - released on December 18th by publisher Harry N. Abrams.
In the book, Force Awakens concept artist Iain McCaig explains both the reason Anakin Skywalker was considered for Star Wars 7 as well as the why he was ultimately cut:
"When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.’ That inspired me to propose, for the first time, that Anakin’s ghost could come back […] If we see Anakin Skywalker, because he does flow back and forth between Darth Vader and Anakin, let’s see him as a character with a dark and light side. The reason Luke is this whole new entity is because he was the first to acknowledge his own dark side — that it was not separate from him."
However, the book doesn't just include mention of Anakin's shifty Force ghost, McCaig also supplied the authors with design images that reveal how Hayden Christensen might have looked in the movie.
As the images show, McCaig's team developed a few different iterations of Anakin Skywalker's Force ghost - both a haunting half-Anakin, half-Vader hybrid as well as a relatively straightforward depiction of the character as he was seen in Episode 1 -3 (until becoming Darth Vader) and the epilogue to Episode 6 (in which Christensen eventually replaced original Anakin actor Sebastian Shaw).
For newer fans, who never saw Return of the Jedi prior to 2004, check out the two versions compared in the video below:
In the second set of images from the Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Anakin (as Hayden Christensen) and Vader are presented as separate entities behind an aged Luke Skywalker - suggesting that the inclusion of Anakin's Force ghost might have been connected directly to the self-exiled Jedi Knight. Originally, Luke was going to play a much larger role in The Force Awakens but, as writer Michael Arndt recently revealed, the original trilogy character made it hard for the filmmakers to introduce new characters - since Luke kept becoming the focus of each scene. As a result, Abrams shifted his role in the film - making finding Luke the primary motivation of both the Resistance and First Order (leaving Luke with only a minute of screen time at the end).
Conversely, the first set of images, portraying Anakin as a half-light, half-dark side hybrid would have been the more interesting of the "flowing" ghost interpretations. The entire notion that Anakin would appear in Episode 6 as his "original" self, rather than the "redeemed" version portrayed by Sebastian Shaw, was a divisive point among fans - so it would have been especially interesting to see how Star Wars lovers reacted to a version of the character that was still scarred, even as a ghost, by the darkness within him.
Assuming that the Anakin Skywalker artwork was left on the cutting room floor once Luke became less involved in Episode 7, it's likely that, as McCaig hints, the character might have been a key element in Luke's reluctance and fear of re-entering the fight - especially if Anakin was still "flowing" between the light and dark sides of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader (even in death). It's also possible that light and dark characters might have seen Anakin's ghost differently, depending on their own alignment with the Force (Kylo Ren might view Darth Vader and Rey might view an unblemished Anakin Skywalker); though, without context for who the ghost was appearing to and why, it's hard to know exactly how to interpret the images (or the rules of Force ghosts in general).
Given that Episode 8 isn't likely to portray Luke as outright eager to return, as evidenced by his choice to remain in exile and reluctance to take-up his old lightsaber when Rey offers it over, it's still very possible that the character could reappear in the next installment and McCaig's Anakin Skywalker artwork may still be put to use. After all, even though some fans were unimpressed with Hayden Christensen's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, with the right director and storyline, it might still be possible to vindicate the actor (even Darth Vader was redeemable after all) - with a genuinely great appearance in Rogue One (as Darth Vader) or Episode 8 (as a Force ghost).
It's an idea that we recently pitched in our Star Wars 7: Special Edition podcast. Should Hayden Christensen return in Rogue One - as a fully-powered and terrifying Darth Vader (who is already confirmed to appear), it could set the stage for a great reappearance by the actor (as a Force ghost) in Episode 8 or 9. Understandably, Lucasfilm has their work cut out for them but they've successfully relaunched Star Wars and made it popular again - it isn't a complete stretch to think they might be able to do the same with Hayden Christensen.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode 8 on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Source: Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (via Screen Crush)