To find the right person to play Anakin Skywalker in the 2000s Star Wars prequel trilogy, creator George Lucas auditioned more than 1500 actors. Because the character is doomed to embrace evil and become the franchise's iconic villain Darth Vader, Lucas is quoted as saying he, "needed an actor who has that presence of the Dark Side".
His search led him to cast Canadian actor Hayden Christensen and as our Zoom interview gets underway it's easy to understand why. Christensen has a brooding and quiet intensity about him. Even when joking around, expressing his excitement to return to Star Wars or earnestly talking about how grateful he is for the opportunities the part has extended him he carries a shadow.
We're talking today because, after 17 years, Christensen returns to the live-action world of Star Wars and the role of Anakin/Darth Vader in the new series Obi-Wan Kenobi, which begins tonight on Disney+.
"It's a really interesting exercise playing this character at a different time in my life," Christensen says after expressing his excitement about returning. "My feelings and perspectives on things have definitely changed a lot."
He was only 24 when Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the prequel trilogy, was released in 2005, so growth and change are inevitable. But like a Jedi Master - or, if you prefer, a Sith Lord - weilding a lightsaber, Christensen deftly deflects an opportunity to expound on this.
"Without getting into anything to specific, there's just a lot that happens in that amount of time," he replies. "I'm a father now, I've got a 7-year-old daughter, my responsibilities in life are different. That changes the way you see the world."
Then he pauses, and adds, "I feel like I was at a place in my life that I had the necessary fuel needed to play this character now."
Disney has guarded specifics about the show tighter than the Empire guarded plans to the Death Star, with few details slipping out, but Christensen is happy to divulge a little info.
"This is Darth Vader, in a lot of ways, in his prime. He's very focused on finding Obi-Wan and is driven by his anger. He has a lot of internal conflict that he's dealing with, a lot of unresolved issues. Of course he's still struggling with the loss of [his wife] Padme, but also his relationship with the Jedi Order and specifically with Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's very driven by anger, but it is more complex than that."
It's the complexities of the character that he says brought him back.
"These were things that I was very interested in exploring. There always has to be a bit of humanity in him, especially as in the end he does find redemption - through the love of his son no less. So there always has to be a little bit of Annakin in there for him to access. But, Annakin buried very deep down inside.
"What makes the character so complex and so compelling is that internal struggle of identity. It's very interesting stuff. The character obviously has a lot of mystique and mystery and you don't want to over inform him too much, right? But, if we can do a little bit of that, I think that goes a long ways."
When he first appeared in the role, 20 years ago in Attack of the Clones, he was stepping into Darth Vader's iconic boots. Now, 20 years on, for a generation of Star Wars fans his portrayal of Anakin has become as iconic as Vader was back then.
"Yeah, what an honor to get to play these characters. I pluralise it as if they're different characters but obviously it's the same person," he chuckles.
"I felt a huge weight and responsibility when we were doing the prequels because Darth Vader is this iconic character that has transcended into popular culture in such a unique way. I knew there was gonna be a decent amount of scrutiny because these characters mean so much to so many people. I knew there was gonna be some strong opinons. The extent of which maybe I had underestimated and that was definitely challenging at the time," he says.
"But the experience of making the films was extraordinary. I'm really proud of those films. It's been amazing to see the impact they've had on our culture and watch the kids that those movies were made for now grow up and have their own kids and pass on these stories and have them live on in that way. Its very special."
Who: Actor Hayden Christensen, who plays Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars.
What: New Star Wars series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
When: Begins tonight on Disney+