Haley Joel Osment just made my Star Wars dream come true

Chris Tilly
Haley Joel Osment's head on Jake Lloyd's body in The Phantom Menace.

Thanks to a live reading of The Phantom Menace over the weekend, Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment made my Star Wars dream come true, while reinforcing everything I thought about the first prequel.

I didn’t like The Phantom Menace much when I saw it in cinemas back in 1999. I like the movie even less now, with the hype, sky-high anticipation, and childhood nostalgia no longer clouding my critical faculties.

I managed to find some positives when previously writing about The Phantom Menace, including Darth Maul, the lightsaber battles, and Ian McDiarmid’s performance. But they are overshadowed by the many negatives that spoiled the prequels, which I listed as follows: 

  • Characters are lifeless, with few having anything approaching an interesting or satisfying arc. 
  • The tone is off; the films aimed at kids one minute, then turning weirdly adult the next.
  • The story is confusing, getting bogged down in boring bureaucracy, failing to nail down a protagonist, and featuring hours of flat exposition. 
  • The humor is dire, at times puerile, and frequently using racial stereotypes for a cheap laugh.
  • The computer-generated effects look pretty, but are shiny and artificial, lacking the lived-in realism of the OG trilogy.
  • Key performances are downright cataclysmic… with humans sounding more like aliens than the actual aliens in the prequels.

The problem at the heart of The Phantom Menace

Another issue is that Anakin Skywalker is the heart of that first movie, but that character is also an annoying brat who’s borderline unwatchable.

I’m not sure how deliberate that is. The intent was clearly to have Anakin be a normal kid — the typical boy next door — to reveal that Darth Vader wasn’t born evil. Making his downfall the result of masterful manipulation, and therefore nurture rather than nature.

Anakin was played by Jake Lloyd, who received criticism for his performance, much of it unfair and unwarranted. After all, it was writer-director George Lucas who was steering the ship and guiding the onscreen actions of this nine-year-old boy.

Jake Lloyd running on sand dunes as Anakin Skywalker.
Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace

But I’ve always thought The Phantom Menace could’ve gone in another direction. As during the summer of 1999 — just three months after Star Wars returned — The Sixth Sense hit screens and promptly became a box office phenomenon. 

Grossing more than $650 million from a budget of just $40 million, audiences watched the movie multiple times, largely due to the killer twist. But also because of young Haley Joel Osment, playing the little boy who could see dead people.

The then 10-year-old delivers a performance that’s touching and unnerving in equal measure; one that earned him an Academy Award nomination, and rocketed Osment to global stardom. 

Recasting Anakin Skywalker

Ever since that summer, I’ve always wondered how The Phantom Menace would play if the ghost kid had played the Force kid. There’s a chance that Skywalker would seem evil from the off, contradicting that aforementioned intent. 

But if Osment reigned the creepy in, I believe it would’ve made for a much more compelling Anakin and, as a by-product, we’d get a much better film. That’s just speculation on my part, however, and this fan-casting remained my Star Wars dream. That is until this past weekend.

At a small theater in Los Angeles, a comedy collective called Dynasty Typewriter staged a live reading of The Phantom Menace, in which Anakin Skywalker was played by… Haley Joel Osment. Making my wish come true.

Admittedly, Osment is 36 years old now, and sporting a pretty hefty beard. While this live-reading of what the collective calls ‘The Naboo Movie’ was being played strictly for laughs. 

But when Osment jogs on-stage around 49 minutes in — wearing what looks like a bin liner — I could finally see the Anakin I’d pictured in my head for decades. And while the dialogue is still dire, and his interactions with “angel” Padme continue to be wrong on multiple levels, Osment is superb.

Though he definitely leans into the humor of that terrible script, as does the entire ensemble, with highlights including Jar Jar being played by the real voice of Daffy Duck and Matt Gourley turning Nute Gunray into a gentleman lawyer from the Deep South. 

But while I laughed throughout the near three-hour performance — which serves as a reminder of just how bad The Phantom Menace remains — I also couldn’t help but be moved when finally seeing the Anakin Skywalker that might have been.

For more from a galaxy far, far away, check out our run-down of all upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows, as well as our list of the best Star Wars characters.