This post includes spoilers for Ahsoka episode 4.
Ahsoka‘s fourth episode delivered the ultimate cameo for Clone Wars fans: Hayden Christensen reprising his role as Anakin Skywalker. He’s only on screen for a few seconds, meeting Ahsoka after she falls into the World Between Worlds. But we can safely assume he’ll have a bigger role next week.
A lot of people are very invested in the idea of a Hayden Christensen comeback. While the Prequel Trilogy has a rather negative reputation, Anakin remains a popular character – in part due to the Clone Wars animated series. Combine this with a growing belief that Christensen is an underrated actor, and you have a perfect recipe for nostalgic fanservice cameos.
However this long-awaited reunion comes with a built-in problem: Hayden Christensen is now 42. Any Clone Wars-era screentime requires Anakin to be in his early twenties, leading Ahsoka to employ some digital de-aging effects. This technique is already controversial thanks to previous scenes involving young Luke and Leia, which many viewers found unrealistic and/or unpleasant.
Ethically speaking, there’s a big difference between de-aging a working actor like Hayden Christensen, versus replacing someone with a digital body double. That’s what happened with young Luke and Leia, and (more controversially) several deceased actors in The Flash.
Either way, many viewers also object to digital de-aging on aesthetic or conceptual grounds, accusing these cameos of being a cynical nostalgia ploy. Christensen’s de-aged appearance was compared to smooth Yoda, described as a “computer generated demon,” and generally criticized for looking eerie and unreal. There’s also a theory that Ahsoka‘s VFX team went too far due to complaints about Christensen looking too old as “teenage” Anakin in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This conflict over digital de-aging is partly due to people’s differing perceptions of the Uncanny Valley. Clearly, some viewers think young Anakin and Luke Skywalker look just fine. Meanwhile, others think they look incredibly creepy. Then there’s the deeper question of whether these cameos are actually necessary.
Intriguingly, there’s a potential twist to the Anakin de-aging debate. While Anakin’s Ahsoka cameo positions him as a young Jedi Knight, fans noticed a discrepancy in his costume. He’s carrying a different lightsaber; possibly Darth Vader’s. So instead of being a Clone Wars-era flashback, this could actually be Vader’s force ghost – or a projection of Vader/Anakin from a later period in the timeline.
And if that’s the case, then why bother de-aging him at all?