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Ahsoka Stars Rosario Dawson, Hayden Christensen on Prequel Respect

Ahsoka Stars Rosario Dawson, Hayden Christensen on Prequel Respect

Actors often have the difficult task of meeting each other on the same day that their characters are supposed to convey a sense of history between one another, so that’s precisely what makes the story of Ahsoka’s Rosario Dawson and Hayden Christensen all the more special. 

In the summer of 1995, the two budding teenage actors attended drama school together at New York City’s Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, so Christensen was right there when Dawson’s career was established by way of Harmony Korine and Larry Clark’s provocative indie, Kids. Similarly, in 2002, Dawson caught up with Christensen in the middle of his Anakin Skywalker era, as they both filmed their respective roles on the set of Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass. In 2004, the critically acclaimed biographical drama would go on to be nominated for best picture at 19th Independent Spirit Awards, where the two friends would present an award and unknowingly take photos that would have a tremendous impact on their lives nearly 30 years later. (The main image of this piece includes one example.)

“That was actually one of the photos that [Lucasfilm’s] Dave [Filoni] saw when he first imagined potentially casting me [as Ahsoka]. He was like, ‘How is that even possible?’” Dawson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So to see us young together and really have this strange, weird, magical, connective, fortuitous history and connection to all of it, it’s definitely something that the fans have been very excited about. Who could have ever imagined this? You can’t make this stuff up. You can’t write it.”

Dawson is referring to the fact that she and Christensen are able to use their shared history to portray the far more complicated history between Ahsoka and Anakin, as former Jedi Master and Jedi Padawan. Ahsoka, in the Clone Wars animated series, turned her back on Anakin and the Jedi Order after she was blamed for a crime she didn’t commit. The Order, realizing the error that was made, reinstated her, but the damage was already done and Ahsoka went her own way. However, Anakin would then go on to become Darth Vader, causing untold death and destruction, and Ahsoka, ever since then, has partially blamed herself and her absence for what transpired. And as depicted on The Mandalorian and Ahsoka, this longtime burden causes her to resist the idea of training Grogu and Sabine out of fear of setting up similar downfalls. 

When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and relaunched the film franchise with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the messaging at the time was all about recapturing the spirit and aesthetic of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy. There was also a noticeable reluctance to embrace the Star Wars creator’s then-divisive prequel trilogy, but that slowly started to change, beginning with a rousing ovation that Christensen experienced at 2017’s Star Wars Celebration. He then provided a voice cameo in 2019’s sequel trilogy capper, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, before December 2020’s announcement that he would be reuniting with Ewan McGregor in the Deborah Chow-directed limited series, Obi-Wan Kenobi

As a whole, the Star Wars prequel trilogy wasn’t well received at the time of each film’s theatrical release, though the trilogy capper, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, earned mixed-positive reviews and was widely considered to be the highlight of the three films. Unfortunately, pop culture wasn’t too kind to the trilogy, and the key figures involved had to endure extreme amounts of flak for their work. You’ll even hear potshots and jokes in comedies and other works that came out in the wake of the prequels. That’s partially why Chow took it upon herself to ensure that Christensen had a positive experience on Obi-Wan Kenobi

At this moment in time, Christensen remains magnanimous about it all. 

“My experience with Star Wars has always been a positive one. The critics certainly took their aim at those films during the prequel days, but I always felt the support from the fans,” Christensen says. “So it’s been really nice to get to come back now and be a part of this franchise, and continue with the character and also enjoy the reception that those films have now.”

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why the consensus around the prequels has shifted. Perhaps it’s the newfound perspective that the audience has after experiencing another 20 years of franchise entertainment that, overall, doesn’t feel as original or singular as Lucas’ creations. Maybe it’s because young millennials are now shaping the zeitgeist and describing the impact that those films had on them at the time. It might even come from older millennials and Gen X watching the films through their kids’ eyes.

But Dawson has no problem calling it like it is: “I like to say that [Hayden’s] got the high ground now.”

As for the future of Dawson and Christensen’s collaboration, they don’t know what’s in store for Ahsoka season two, but Dawson believes that Filoni has plenty of options at his disposal. 

“In episode seven, there’s a couple of other [Anakin training hologram] cassettes, so to speak, and you see him as a Force Ghost in the end. So there’s room, as people are giving me looks off camera …” Dawson says, while Christensen laughs.But there’s room for us to come back together again, and this is just too fun. I would hate for it to end.”

Below, during a recent FYC conversation with THR, Dawson and Christensen also break down their highly regarded episode of Ahsoka, “Part Five: Shadow Warrior,” before Dawson gets emotional while recalling a quote from the memorial of their late Ahsoka co-star Ray Stevenson and how it affected her outlook of Ahsoka and Anakin’s relationship. 

Hayden, I spoke to Obi-Wan Kenobi director Deborah Chow last year, and she said that one of her top priorities was to make sure that you had a good experience on that limited series. Does your involvement in Ahsoka mean that she succeeded?

Hayden Christensen: Oh, big time, yeah. The whole experience has been just awesome. Getting to come back to Star Wars, first with Obi-Wan Kenobi, was amazing. Getting to do that with Ewan [McGregor] was really special for me, as was getting to come and be a part of Ahsoka with my old friend Rosario, and getting to work with Dave Filoni and everyone. One of the really nice things about working in the Star Wars universe is the people. It brings together some really talented, amazing people.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Lucasfilm’s in Ahsoka

Lucasfilm Ltd.

Deb and I also talked about how the tide has really turned on the prequels, and it’s a reminder that movies play the long game. They’re not their opening weekend or critic score. You now receive a hero’s welcome whenever you go to Celebration or various expos, but overall, it wasn’t always like that. I know people, even filmmakers, who regret how they engaged with those films. Is all that stuff now water under the bridge based on how well things have gone with Ahsoka and Obi-Wan Kenobi?

Christensen: Yeah, I mean … Look, my experience with Star Wars has always been a positive one. The critics certainly took their aim at those films during the prequel days, but I always felt the support from the fans. So it’s been really nice to get to come back now and be a part of this franchise, and continue with the character and also enjoy the reception that those films have now. So, yeah.

Rosario Dawson: I like to say that [Hayden’s] got the high ground now. 

Christensen: (Laughs.)

Dawson: I’m a New Yorker, and I haven’t been put up on the Empire State Building, larger than life, [like Hayden has]. One of these days, maybe, but personally, I was so excited when he [originally] got the role, having met him and known him beforehand. And to now be able to see him embody different iterations of this character is such a delicious thing. You don’t normally get to be characters with such longevity, and that  — for me and I think for a lot of the fans — has been most exciting. It’s so compelling to just see his journey continue.

Christensen: That’s sweet.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Ahsoka

Rosario, when you were approached about your own show, how soon did Hayden’s name come up as a possibility?

Dawson: They keep everything so tight to the vest, especially because I am word salad. I will just give it all away, so they don’t tell me anything, but it’s always been doled out in little pieces. From The Mandalorian, there was never any idea beyond that [season two] episode [“Chapter 13: The Jedi”] that it could be more. There was an idea, maybe a possibility, but no guarantee. So to be able to come back on The Book of Boba Fett and then be told that we were going to have our own show has just been such a delight. And being that you’ve seen Ahsoka really be this ronin on her own for so long, it has been so exceptional to be able to explore these relationships that this character has had for so long. I get to play and connect with old friends on screen and off screen, and I’ve also been so excited to see how she’s evolved in this leg of her journey. Again, coming from the film space, you usually get your script and then that’s it. So it continues to unravel before me, and we still don’t know what’s going to happen in the second season. That big question mark is actually really quite exciting, and it’s such a different and fun experience. But when I saw Hayden on Obi-Wan Kenobi, I harassed Dave about it. He didn’t tell me, but I harassed him about it.

When you first met each other at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, was that the same summer that Kids came out?

Dawson: Yeah! 1995.

And then you were both in 2003’s Shattered Glass, but you didn’t have any scenes together. Did you still bump into each other off set? 

Christensen: Yeah, we hung out a bunch when we were doing that film. 

Dawson: Which was really cool. One of the more infamous photos of us was us at the [2004’s] Independent Spirit Awards here in L.A. There’s a picture of us embracing, and we presented on stage together. And that was actually one of the photos that Dave saw when he first imagined potentially casting me [as Ahsoka]. He was like, “How is that even possible?” So to see us young together and really have this strange, weird, magical, connective, fortuitous history and connection to all of it, it’s definitely something that the fans have been very excited about. Who could have ever imagined this? You can’t make this stuff up. You can’t write it. 

There’s a major lesson being taught in Ahsoka’s fifth episode, “Part Five: Shadow Warrior.” Ahsoka carries guilt over what Anakin became after she left him and the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars, and she’s worried she’ll have a similar effect on Sabine. So was the key point, of several, to have Anakin help her embrace mentorship?

Christensen: For Anakin, he just wants to help Ahsoka get out of her own way, whatever that looks like. She’s still stuck in the past and needing to reconcile certain things, and the desire to have her become the mentor that she needs to be to Sabine is a part of that. But I don’t think it’s just about that.

Dawson: Yeah, you see a hint of that in The Mandalorian when she’s offered to take on Grogu and how reticent she is to do that then. So there is definitely a graduation in that aspect of her life, but I very much saw that interaction in [Ahsoka] episode five as a reckoning and an opportunity for her to develop a different perspective on something that she’s arduously thought about and been traumatized by and beleaguered by. She’s really maneuvered her life around it in so many ways, and one of my favorite beats and moments is when Anakin is challenging her: “Is that all that you are?” It’s about not reducing herself to just that choice [of leaving Anakin and the Jedi Order] and being able to fully see and embrace the entire journey that she’s had and trust herself a little bit more. It’s about having a bit more self-confidence and shedding doubt, burden and guilt and being able to move into a different stage. So that’s probably one of the more rewarding parts of her journey that I’ve gotten to embody. 

Dawson: And as Dave has said, now that she’s reconciling her past, it gives her the opportunity to really look toward what the future is. It doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be more crises and challenges, but she can do it on a steadier ground than she’s had before and she can do it lighter. I love the visual of her going into more of the Ahsoka the White, but it’s also something very internal. We’ve seen her be very stoic at this point in her life, and I’m excited at the opportunity to see this lightning, depending on whatever the scripts are coming forward. But you even get to see that after this episode and in the rest of the series. She’s now able to appreciate that in herself and allow it to shine through, even in that very last beat of disarming Anakin and pulling that saber up and going to that place of just real rage. She’s allowing her to feel it, and she’d held herself back from even really thinking about it. And because of all that, she’s with him again in the [seventh] episode, watching these old [training] videos. She’s not allowed herself to do that because she’s denied that dark aspect of her memories, but she’s now able to appreciate just how wonderful he really was and what a gift he was. 

Dawson: I was just at Ray’s [Stevenson] celebration in Ibiza with Betta [Elisabetta Caraccia], his partner, and his kids, and with his passing, it’s very easy to lean into the despair and the sadness of him being gone. But one of his really great friends said, “It’s important to live the gains.” I’m going to cry, but [it’s important to live] all of the really beautiful things that he gifted us with and what a beautiful human being he was. So I feel that very much in this episode. She gets to finally just appreciate and love this person, unabashedly, without it having to get cloudy and dark, and it’s such a gift.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Ahsoka

Lucasfilm Ltd.

To me, one sign of a great Jedi Master is when their apprentice one-ups them in a duel, and Ahsoka bested Anakin in the World Between Worlds, proving he also taught her well in that regard. Do the two of you agree that Ahsoka gaining the upper hand on Anakin is the ultimate compliment to his teachings? 

Christensen: Ah, you know … (Christensen hesitates to agree in comedic fashion.)

(Dawson & Christensen then laugh, while Dawson claps her hands.)

Christensen: I don’t know! My interpretation is that it was a part of the lesson, but sure, to each their own.

Are you saying he may have thrown the fight [for the sake of the lesson]? 

Christensen: I’m not saying that! I’m just saying …

Dawson: I’m just saying, ellipses.

Dawson & Christensen: (Laugh.)

Dawson: I think it was also a gift from Dave after Ahsoka’s fight with Baylon Skoll [Ray Stevenson] and her falling off of that cliff. She then gets to show a different side [with Anakin]. She gets some comeuppance a little bit, which is really great. It wasn’t fully realized in the script, but there was this beat when Ahsoka left Shin Hati [Ivanna Sakhno] and Sabine [Natasha Bordizzo] to fight in the forest and go after Baylan Skoll. And then Shin suddenly appears without Sabine, and the last time they fought, Sabine almost died. Ahsoka trusted her and left her, and now here comes Shin, alone. So there’s a moment where Ahsoka force-chokes Shin and throws her, and it’s an immediate reaction out of Ahsoka, which is very unusual for her. The upset that comes up shows this darker side, which I think is a premonition of what is to come in episode five. So I really love that because she lost control a little bit, she gets bested in this way [by Baylon Skoll]. And when she gets another opportunity to be confronted in that same kind of moment [with Anakin], she makes a different choice, a better choice, one that leaves her with the upper hand.

Christensen: (Laugh.)

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Ahsoka

Lucasfilm Ltd.

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Hayden, the alternating silhouette shot that was projected on the Empire State Building, did that shot come out even better than you imagined?

Christensen: Yeah, I just loved that visual [of Anakin and Vader in the distance]. The way that Dave Filoni conceived it and then brought it to life and then edited it, I was very happy with how that came out. I thought it was beautiful. 

Your co-star Eman Esfandi told me a story of how formidable Hayden’s fight rehearsal was in the stunt gym, and how he set an example for his own training. He also said he didn’t recognize that it was Hayden at first. 

Christensen: (Laugh.)

Rosario, did Hayden remotely strike you as a guy who hadn’t done much lightsabering the last two decades until Obi-Wan Kenobi?

Dawson: You could have stopped the sentence at, “Did Hayden strike you?” That would’ve been more than enough!

Dawson & Christensen: (Laugh.)

Christensen: Several times! I got the rust off during Obi-Wan, and then by the time we got to Ahsoka, I was back with the swing of things.

Dawson: Oh yeah!

Rosario, were you present to help guide Ariana Greenblatt’s performance as younger Ahsoka? Or did they have you shooting with another crew?

Dawson: We got to be in rehearsal together and also in the same gym, practicing. I remember a moment where she was doing this little split move, so we did the splits together. I was like, “Come on, lady! This is something that she can do no matter what age.” So we just really laughed about that. We also figured out certain gestures and postures, as she graduates into different phases within those couple of scenes she has. She had to keep that transition connected, which was really, really fun. So it was great to be able to have that time, because you don’t always get rehearsal time and face time with people. And when I came to visit on set, she’d already been training for so long that it was just so cool to not only see hints of the conversations we had beforehand, but also how much she embodied it and made it her own.

Hayden, Rosario mentioned earlier that you don’t know anything about season two, but do you expect more mystical hangouts in your future? 

Christensen: I don’t know. It would certainly be a lot of fun, but I don’t know. We will see what Dave’s cooking up.

Dawson: In episode seven, there’s a couple of other [Anakin training hologram] cassettes, so to speak, and you see him as a Force Ghost in the end. So there’s room, as people are giving me looks off camera …

Dawson & Christensen: (Laugh.)

Dawson: But there’s room for us to come back together again, and this is just too fun. I would hate for it to end. 

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Ahsoka

Lucasfilm Ltd.

A new Star Wars show called The Acolyte recently premiered, and Hayden was part of a lovely video for Amandla Stenberg. What would the two of you tell these new Jedi and new villains as far as how to navigate this very unique experience?  

Christensen: Just have fun with it, because it is such a unique experience. It’s such a special world to be a part of, so relish every moment. 

Dawson: I am loving what Amandla [Stenberg] is doing already, and this is such a great and brilliant moment for Star Wars fans and Star Wars in general, with all of these different perspectives that are being shown. So I can’t wait to watch it. I saw something online about a lightsaber whip [lightwhip]. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I think they’re getting to play in this world in a completely unique and different way than anything else that you’ve seen previously. And that just makes me delight in the majesty and breadth of this universe and world that George Lucas cooked up, so I can’t wait to see it. I wasn’t able to be here for the premiere, but I talked to Ivanna and Natasha, and they were so excited about the first two episodes that they got to see. So I can’t wait. I was screaming at the screen during Andor, which is so good, and there’s no lightsabers in it. It’s a completely different vision, and so I’m really excited for The Acolyte. It looks totally different than what we’ve seen before.

Lastly, when you reminisce about your Ahsoka experience at 2054’s Star Wars Celebration, what day will you remind each other of first? 

Christensen: It would be standing on that bridge and looking at each other in costume, just sort of pinching ourselves and thinking how lucky we are to be able to do this together after meeting as kids for the first time in theater school. So it would be standing on set and appreciating that we were getting to be there together. 

Dawson: I’m really excited about that concept and that idea. We met as young aspiring teenage actors, and it’s just so dope to really relate to the entirety of this experience. That was nearly 30 years ago, so to project that 30 years into the future, I’m just hoping we’re continuing to do this because it’s awesome.

Christensen: Definitely. 

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Ahsoka is now streaming on Disney+.

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