Nearly three years after Disney purchased Lucasfilm, Star Wars: Episode 7 is only a few short months from release; however, while fans are still salivating over new Force Awakens details (and speculation), attention has already begun to shift toward other Star Wars universe movies the studio is prepping. Despite delays for the second Star Wars "anthology" film, following the departure of Fantastic Four director Josh Trank, the first spin-off movie Rogue One as well as the currently untitled Star Wars 8 are still on track.
Gareth Edwards' Rogue One has already started shooting, releasing an official photo of the movie's cast, with Rian Johnson's Episode 8 close behind. As a result, rumors are flying as to what moviegoers can expect from the upcoming films, and how the projects could connect to the original trilogy, prequels, and beloved animated series, The Clone Wars, with a new (unsubstantiated) rumor suggesting that a fan-favorite character - and a divisive actor - could be returning for Star Wars 8.
Following leaked Rogue One set photos that revealed a massive battle, we're now getting word that Darth Vader could appear in Johnson's film - with Hayden Christensen back to depict some version of Anakin Skywalker - one that requires "training." The report comes courtesy of Making Star Wars who claims, according to their sources:
"A team in the U.K. are soon heading to the U.S. to begin training Hayden Christensen for a Star Wars: Episode VIII appearance of some sort."
No doubt, the rumor here is entirely hearsay and short on specifics (a trademark of speculation masquerading as news); that said, Making Star Wars has a decent track-record - so it would be a mistake to dismiss their claim at this point.
Understandably, excitement for a Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker flashback will be, for some Star Wars fans, overshadowed by any potential involvement from prequel star Hayden Christensen. Christensen's portrayal of the love-struck Jedi proved to be one of the prequel's most contentious elements; though, it remains unclear whether the actor (or poor directing) was really to blame for any bungling of Anakin's storyline.
As a result, it's worth reserving judgment before panicking over a rumored appearance by Christensen in Episode 8. After all, a flashback of the hero (or villain) in action could go a long way in helping to re-establish Anakin as one of the galaxy's most powerful warriors.
It's ground that has been explored in both The Clone Wars (as Anakin) and Rebels (with a memorable appearance from Vader) - and the animated series have gone a long way in rebuilding appreciation for Anakin as a character. To that end, a flashback sequence featuring the Jedi in action could be a great way to expand his uneven prequel storyline - while providing needed setup for Episode 8.
Assuming the sources are correct, there are several ways that Episode 8 could, in theory, put a spotlight back on Christensen. As suggested, the most obvious explanation is a Clone Wars-era flashback - featuring a fully-powered Jedi version of Anakin Skywalker. It wouldn't be the first time that we've heard grumblings of flashbacks in the new trilogy - and, even without knowing exactly what happens in Episode 7, it's safe to assume that Episode 8 will share plenty of connections to the first six movies. For that reason, Johnson could get-double duty out of an Anakin flashback: enriching present events with original trilogy ties while also providing audiences with a memorable Anakin Skywalker fight sequence - one that fleshes out the prequels' (often) wooden portrayal.
A less likely idea, but one that readers will bring up, could see the actor reprise Anakin for a Force Ghost cameo; though, the rumor clearly suggests that Christensen is "training" for the role. Last seen onscreen in 2014's limited-Chinese-America release Outcast (with Nicolas Cage), Christensen is in much better shape than prior returning faces in the Star Wars universe - meaning that he's already fit enough for Force Ghost duty. Instead, the mention of training suggests that if Christensen is in the film, he'll be in a choreographed action flashback - not standing on the sidelines during present events.
Using a similar logic, it's also likely that if the actor returns, he'll be portraying Anakin or a pre-augmented version of Darth Vader (read: some time between Vader's assault on the Jedi Temple and mutilation on Mustafar). If the original helmeted iteration of Vader was to appear for a flashback in Episode 8, what would be the point of training Christensen and placing him inside the costume - if the actor was going to be hidden underneath Vader armor for his entire appearance?
It's hard to separate fact from fan-fiction at this point - especially since Star Wars: Episode 8 is still two years from release. This Anakin Skywalker "news" could just as easily be completely made-up or, at the very least, an idea that was floated but eventually rejected prior to production. Still, bringing Christensen back - under new direction - to potentially reframe how fans feel about his contribution to the Star Wars saga is an exciting idea - especially for viewers who believe that it was George Lucas' directing, not Christensen's capability, that undercut the punch of Anakin Skywalker's journey from kid-hero to youngling killer.
Nevertheless, would Disney and Johnson be willing to risk tainting their relaunch with direct connections, and appearances, from prequel trilogy characters (especially after blowback from Lucas' choice to replace Sebastian Shaw with Christensen in Return of the Jedi)? Love or hate the prequels, there's no question that Disney is attempting to carve out a fresh start for the franchise. Vader's legacy looms as a huge influence on the story, but actually bringing Anakin Skywalker back, even in flashback, could hinder rather than invigorate Episode 8.
That all said, viewers who are familiar with The Clone Wars know that Anakin is a much more nuanced, interesting, and downright exciting character - compared to what was shown in the prequels. For that reason, in the right hands, it could be very exciting to see the hero (or villain) back in live-action - even if only for a brief "appearance."
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens will see theatrical release starting on December 18th, 2015. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will follow 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 see theatrical release in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Sources: Making Star Wars