Saturday, February 1, 2014

Leave Jake Alone!

[So sorry about not delivering on those other things I promised this week, and that this one's a day late. Things are still hectic over here!]

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

Seriously, folks. Don’t make me cry this to a camcorder.

Leave Jake Lloyd alone already.


Imagine for a second that you’re a kid, and you get cast to play one of the biggest roles in one of the biggest movie franchises in the world. You do your very best, and the director likes you and the cast likes you. But much of the audience, at least the vocal ones, don’t. You’re called lifeless. You’re called out as one of the main reasons the franchise is somehow now “ruined”. It has followed you throughout the rest of your life.

No wonder Star Wars is now ruined for Jake Lloyd, who burned all his SW stuff, quit acting to become an editor, and gets very uncomfortable whenever it’s brought up.

That’s pretty depressing. And you know what the worst part is?

It’s 100% undeserved.

"Why would you make me sad?"

Now, it would be impossible for me to sit here and tell you that every single second of Jake’s performance was pitch-perfect. Why is that? Because he was at the time a child actor. Every child actor I’ve ever seen, even the Oscar-nominated ones, has at least one scene or two where, for whatever reason, they just don’t seem to get everything together believably. One or two scenes that would have benefitted from another retake or twenty.

What differentiates a good child actor performance from a bad one is the amount of such scenes that exist. And in that respect, Jake Lloyd gave an incredible performance as Anakin Skywalker.

"I'm sorry, can we do another take? My inflection as good that time, but I'm not convinced my face was listening to me"

I’ve said before there’s only one scene of his that still bugs me, and that’s the goodbye speech to C-3PO. And even then, the more I watch it, the more I see what he was going for there. He’s distracted by his sadness of having to leave his mother, so he’s being uncharacteristically cold to his creation as he struggles to come to terms with his feelings. Unfortunately, in the final cut, he just seems emotionally inconsistent instead of emotionally struggling. But you know what? It’s forgivable.

It’s forgivable because the rest of it is spot on. Anyone who tells you different doesn’t realize just what kind of character Anakin is at this point. Anakin is a happy-go-lucky, over-emotional little nine-year-old boy. He loves having a purpose, he loves helping people, and he loves his mother. Once that is taken away from him, he has a hard time coming to terms with himself and his new surroundings.

And Jake Lloyd absolutely NAILS that, even when speaking Huttese (ESPECIALLY when speaking Huttese).

"Hascrewmie dopot, sleimo!"

Jake Lloyd’s problem was never that his acting was substandard in any way, at least in comparison to other child actors. Jake’s problem would be the same as would plague Hayden Christensen later on: the audience did not expect Darth Vader to be anything like that. They expected something so different that when they didn’t get it, they blamed the actor.

"Yes, I've got mud on my face, but that doesn't make me a big disgrace!"

Well, no more. I’m not standing for Jake-bashing anymore. Stop it, all of you. Jake, or is it “Mr. Lloyd” now? You’re pretty much all grown up at this point, but I’m hoping this finds its way to you, because I want you to know that someone appreciates your work in the Saga.  Someone out there loves your work in the Saga.

"What does your heart tell you?"

It’s pretty wizard.


  1. I may disagree on the appraisal of his performance (I think it's weak, but understandably so for a child actor), but yeah, the sheer vitriol he gets for it is beyond disturbing.

    I mean, mostly it stems out of this unfortunate tendency a lot of people have to, when they don't like something, absolutely vilify the people responsible for it. Thus the seemingly-serious remarks of George Lucas violating people's childhoods (I'm not going to use the word more commonly seen), or the hatred spewed out towards people like Lloyd, Christiansen, or the other multitudes of people blamed for the supposed "travesty" of the films. We somehow forget that these people are human beings, with likely good intentions in making this work of art, and even if we find the art to be bad it's no reason to treat the people involved as if they're the scum of the earth.

    And before anyone comments- this isn't an internet thing. This is a human thing that we do all the time throughout life, and it's one of the more unfortunate sides of our nature.

    1. Yes it is. The net makes it easier, more public, but it didn't create it.

  2. I think he delivered a pretty good performance. Some people already had a bad opinion of him from Jingle All the Way, another film with undeserved hate. Others just didn't like "baby Vader" and other strawmen. They wanted a teenage "badass" Anakin. Though one can argue he was pretty "badass" for a 9 year old. These are some of the factors people used againnst Jake.

    Even being a "badass" can be a mask to hide personality flaws, classic OT Vader was more pathetic than badass. Throwing fits of anger and killing people in those fits isn't "badass", it's pathetic which I think some fans either forget or ignore. That is besides Vader being a broken man in every sense. Jake's Anakin is the least pathetic version of the character we see and it's sad it goes over most people's heads.

    While the tendency to vilify isn't internet only, the net does amplify it alot. Sadly the internet spreads hate very well.

    1. There were a lot of things wrong with Jingle, but it's mostly harmless.

  3. I don't really think it's Jake himself that the people hated, any child actor that George cast in the role would have received the same response by the haters. They hate him for the same reasons they hate Hayden...because he isn't 'badass' or 'dark' or 'edgy' enough for them.

    I sometimes get the impression that the Prequel haters want to turn Star Wars into the Godfather or something... they want it to be this dark, serious, drama. So anything goofy or lighthearted is looked upon with complete contempt. When they first saw the OT as a child they probably thought it was some serious stuff and are therefore unable to see through their nostalgia glasses that the Original Trilogy was just as goofy and lighthearted as the Prequels.

    That's why TPM, get's the most hate because it's the lightest of the Prequel films. So it's not Jack's fault and I hope he knows this...the haters would have bashed ANYONE in the role because they didn't want to see Vader as a caring, loving little boy. Just like they didn't want to see him as a emotionally immature teenager in AOTC...they wanted him to be Darth Vader already, to always be dark and disturbed, so anybody George had cast in these roles would have been racked over the coals.

    I think Jack did an awesome job in the film, and if his performance doesn't seem 'deep enough' for some, remember he's just a little boy playing a little boy. Children aren't that complex, and neither is Anakin at this point in his life. He's just a sweet little boy who, like most children his age, is eager to make new friends and show off his room and things he's 'building'. Other then the fact that he's a slave and is strong in the force he's not much more complex then the kid next door.

    So what 'more' could Jack have done with the character?

    I'll tell you what...nothing.

    1. Autocorrect?

      As I like to tell people: if you want to get an idea of what Star Wars is about, watch Vader's revelation from Empire out of context and divorced from everything you remember, and I guarentee you'll laugh your butt off because it's ridiculous and cheesy. It only becomes the powerful moment we remember when we suspend our disbelief and invest in it.

      Too many people were unwilling to invest and suspend for Phantom because it's not as easy when you're older and know every movie technique.

    2. I'm actually not fond of criticisms like "cheesy" because the tend to extend out of a modern unwillingness to take a film on its own terms instead of distancing oneself. It's the attitude that's pervaded a lot of critical thinking since the internet and, really, MST3K, and I find it troubling for a lot of reasons.

      The key for me is just- can we accept the emotionality and affectation of the scene within the context of the film? It does no good to pull it away from that because *most* climactic scenes in films look a tad ridiculous when completely divorced from that context. We have to look at- given what we know about these characters and what we've been led to feel about them up to this point, as well as understanding the stylistic trappings of the film itself, does this emotional reaction make sense? And I'd say, yeah, Luke's sobbing completely works. The only reason anyone would laugh at it nowadays is merely that it's become so ingrained and parodied that it's nearly impossible to actually view it the way it's intended.

      Worth noting, though, I don't believe the ability to invest in a film has anything to do with "suspension of disbelief". The way that term is being used here, it almost sounds like willful ignorance- "yeah, I know the scene is total crap, but I'm gonna let it work". And naturally, I don't think that's true. I think what you're getting at is similar though- it's the willingness to allow the pure visceral reaction art brings to come forth, and not let external factors get in the way of that. When viewed in that way, it's remarkable how well something can work, and conversely how easy it can be to pinpoint why something isn't working.

      I have a longer point about film schools and how there's a fascinating part of this attitude that can come out in the classroom, but given that it's tangential to an already-long post and it's something I've been meaning to write about in a larger sense, I'll spare the remarks. Really should get around to writing that...

    3. I had a long reply that I spent half an hour typing from my phone, and the internet hiccupped and I lost the whole thing.

      But not to worry, as it ties into an article I'm writing very soon - the article after next.

  4. I completely agree with you that Jake Lloyd produced a good performance in comparison to the general standard for child actors his age. In fact in you look at the audition tapes for the three boys who made it to the final stage of the auditions for Anakin, Jake was definitely the best choice that Lucas could have made.

    The problem is that no 8 year old boy could have given a good enough performance to carry the Phantom Menace (Jake was 8 when they started filming).

    I completely understand that George wanted to show Darth Vader as an innocent but getting a 8 year old to pull off a role that is seeped in so much nostalgia and fan tradition was just unfair. In the world of child acting even one year can make all the difference to the nuances of ones performance. An 11 or 12 year old would have been a much better choice.

    For example in an Interview with a Vampire, Kirsten Dunst produced a sufficiently mature performance to carry the movie. The book stipulated the child was 5 years old but the casting directors decided that no 5 year old could possibly pull off this performance.

    In the same way, George made a grave error starting the prequels when Anakin was 9. Honestly as long as Anakin remained prepubertal the effect of innocence would have remained the same but the actor cast would have much more experience.

    1. Any older and the effect of the separation from his mother - one of the keys to Anakin's entire character arc - would have been a little harder to swallow.

    2. I guess some people never watched the "Our Gang" shorts. The kid who played Spanky was a great actor even at such a young age. Hateboys wanted a late teens Anakin who was dark and already bad. They wanted a young Vader, not a young Anakin.

    3. "Any older and the effect of the separation from his mother - one of the keys to Anakin's entire character arc - would have been a little harder to swallow."

      Well, remember that the most memorable and disturbing take on a son's separation from his mother (Norman Bates) took place when that son was in his 40s. That sort of separation anxiety can occur at any age, and there's no reason to assume it'd be any harder to swallow as a teenager and young adult.

      Also, "Our Gang" was comedy. Grounding a child actor in a dramatic role is fundamentally harder to do (to date I can think of maybe 2 or 3 really solid child actors that did drama really well).

    4. And Star Wars is neither drama nor comedy, though it contains some of both.

      And it really is the emotional scenes that Lloyd shines.

      Also, Bates was supposed to be creepy. Anakin isn't...yet.

    5. Yeah, Bates is meant to be creepy, but my point is more that it's possible to buy into an intense separation anxiety no matter what age the person is. There's no reason to assume it just wouldn't have worked with a teenage Anakin or even an adult one- if the relationship was built well and the connection established, that source of empathy would be more than enough for us to give credence to the subsequent anxiety.

  5. While separation anxiety can happen at any age, it is more plausible at a younger age, or at least easier for the public to accept without being creepy. Just because you can accept something does not mean someone else will or won't. Through I think it works better with Anakin being young because it shows Anakin has a history of it, first with his mother then with Padme.

    Showing Anakin as a child was such a bold move by Lucas. It was a great, novel spin on the whole Star Wars story. But the critics don’t want “novel”, they want the same thing over and over again. I never understood the outcry against Anakin’s age in TPM. Did the fanboys expect Anakin to be the same age as Luke was in the first SW film? If so, talk about lack of originality.

    I think part of the problem Hateboys had with him is that to them there’s this unwritten rule that children simply don’t belong in Star Wars (guess they never saw the Ewok films, but then, i guess we’re talking about the main series), like they expected Darth Vader to be shat out of his mother as a fully-grown adult.

    1. This sounds almost verbatim what was posted on SWPAS.

      It's always a tricky subject comparing the two halves of the Saga plotwise, because there's an equal level of original ideas and, to use Lucas' words, "rhyming" ideas.

      Luke and Anakin have very similar stories and go through very similar trials. But it's the minor details - the age they start, who/what they leave behind, etc. - that show how differently they turn out.

  6. The difference between comedy and drama is a sliding scale and not a defined line.

    Jake's role and performance had some humor in it as well as drama. Some of the Our Gang shorts had serious moments. (One early silent short was about Petey the dog, who was so upset believing his owner no longer loved him tries to kill himself, that short was intended to be mostly drama). Star Wars has always had some comedy and humor in it. But some fans object to any of it and insist Star Wars should only be pure drama. Through films that are either pure drama or pure comedy are rare since most are on a sliding scale.