I was born just as the very first Star Wars movie was about to leave theaters. According to legend, my much older brother snuck me in to a viewing despite the fact that I was a newborn. Maybe that’s why I’ve loved the franchise my entire life. Unlike most fans my age, I can technically claim that I have “seen” all of the movies in theaters!
When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was announced, I was almost beside myself with excitement. It had been a long time since Return of the Jedi had left theaters and, really, I never thought that we’d get another trilogy. As soon as tickets went on sale, I snatched up a pair and, on opening night, I soaked up the electricity in that room filled with fellow enthusiasts. I sat and watched the screen with wonder and for the entire walk home, my companion and I excitedly chatted about what we’d seen and theorized about the future.
I had two small children already and we talked about how impressive it was for a little boy as young as Jake Lloyd to take on such a huge role in such a huge movie. The pressure must have been unimaginable, we said, and we praised him for being able to act and interact with characters and environments that weren’t really there during filming. He had a green screen, some puppets, at best, but he wasn’t really piloting a pod racer or using The Force. What a clever boy, we mused!
It was shocking, therefore, to learn that so many had panned his performance. I’m not sure what they were expecting but the criticism was harsh and unrelenting. Here we had a child who may not have even heard of Star Wars before being cast in the film. Surely, most people understood that a 10-year-old was not going to understand and connect with those films in the same way as someone who had seen each of them multiple times as an adult, right? It didn’t seem to matter. The little boy who bravely brought Anakin Skywalker to life was uniformly labelled a “bad actor” and was summarily thrown to the Hollywood wolves.
No one thought about the fact that, while they defending the precious integrity of their favorite film franchise, they could have been damaging the self-esteem and social life of a small child. The fact that he receded into the shadows and stopped acting appeared to please some people who felt that public exile was what he deserved for “ruining Star Wars.” The actor who took on the role of Anakin in subsequent films, Hayden Christensen, suffered a similar fate but, at least, he was a little older. There’s just no justification for ripping apart the acting skills of a kid in elementary school. How many of us could have actually done better?
One of the things that Lloyd, also known as Jake Broadbent, has talked about in recent years was the fact that his childhood became “a living hell” after Star Wars was released. He explained that, in addition to giving up to 60 interviews a day (again, what adult could handle that?), the kids at school began teasing him. He destroyed all of the memorabilia related to the film and said that he “learned to hate it when the cameras are pointed at [him].”
Is our entertainment really worth hurting a human being this way? Has technology dulled our emotions so much that we don’t even hesitate to write something nasty on social media about a child?
Arrest in 2015
I wasn’t surprised when things weren’t going well for Lloyd in adulthood. I was saddened last June when he was arrested following a high-speed police chase in South Carolina. He was charged with failing to stop for officers, resisting arrest, reckless driving, and driving without a license. He was in jail for the past 10 months but, this week, it’s being reported that he has been moved to a psychiatric facility.
His mother, Lisa Riley, revealed that, while incarcerated, authorities realized that Lloyd was suffering from mental illness and that he needed professional help. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but the good news is that Riley reports that, in just a short time, she’s already seeing major improvements in his personality. For now, the plan is for him to focus on his health and recovery.
Continued Personal Attacks
Despite the news of Lloyd’s hospitalization and diagnosis, comments across the internet continue to be snarky and unsympathetic. More than once I’ve seen someone write “awww, poor baby” and then suggest that he doesn’t have what it takes to deal with the pressure of Hollywood. People are also still complaining about his performance in Star Wars despite the fact that he’s made it clear that the furor over that role has caused so much damage in his life.
Once in a while, I see a beacon of hope and, in this case, it came in the form of a Salon.com article written by Matthew Rozsa, a PhD student who does a fine job of summarizing the cruelty celebrities face as a result of online cruelty. He appropriately addresses the fact that people are more likely to be empathetic towards those suffering from a physical illness such as cancer than they are towards mental illness.
In one of the courses I teach, we talk a lot about the stigma attached to seeking help for mental illness and so many students surprise me by suggesting that those afflicted with disorders are “weak” or even “attention-seeking.” It’s clear that we must continue to work hard to raise awareness about these issues in order to bring sufferers out of the shadows.