Every Single Star Wars Fan Owes Jake Lloyd An Apology

The release of "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace" was cause for much ballyhoo in Hollywood. Following the release of "Return of the Jedi" in 1983, "Star Wars" entered something of a low-profile period, releasing only an often-unremarked-upon TV movie in 1984 ("Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure") and a second TV film ("Ewoks: The Battle for Endor") and two animated shows ("Ewoks" and "Droids") in 1985. For over a decade, "Star Wars" was only to be found on home video, watched repeatedly by young Gen-Xers who only fell more and more deeply in love with the extant chapters. That decade allowed the myth of "Star Wars" to grow; so by 1999, the release of "The Phantom Menace" became perhaps the largest blockbuster event in modern franchise film history. Fans were waiting outside theaters for weeks in anticipation. 

"The Phantom Menace" was initially adored by fans, and many committed to seeing it multiple times before a consensus opinion began to form: "The Phantom Menace" ... kinda sucks. For one, The plot was strangely staid for a "Star Wars" film, focusing on trade disputes and civics over heroism and villainy. The character of Jar Jar Binks (realized through then-revolutionary CGI, and voiced by Ahmed Best) was widely derided as shrill and useless. Indeed, several critics pointed out how much he resembled a racist caricature. No element of "The Phantom Menace" was more derided, however, than the depiction of a young Anakin Skywalker, the child who would grow up to be Darth Vader. 

The bullying of Jake Lloyd

Anakin was played by 9-year-old actor Jake Lloyd, a performer who had previously appeared on several episodes of "ER," as well as in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas film "Jingle All the Way." Lloyd was selected to play Anakin for his enthusiasm and energy, a stark contrast from the cloaked supervillain of the 1977 film. Lloyd's youthfulness — not to mention silly lines of dialogue like "yippee!" — put off viewers, leading to a harsh and unwarranted online bullying campaign against the young actor. Starring in a film as big — and as disliked — as "The Phantom Menace" made him a target. He continued to reprise the role in tie-in "Star Wars" video games, but he never escaped the cruelty the world's most massive film audience. Because of the teasing he received at school, Lloyd retired from acting in 2001, the year he turned 12. 

The years weren't kind to "The Phantom Menace," and for at least 15 years following its release, many began to consider it as one of the worst blockbusters ever made. Fanboys wrote crass songs about how George Lucas ruined their childhood, and no one ever came to Lloyd's rescue, continuing to point to his performance as risible and unprofessional. Lloyd, although attempting to leave the movie behind him, was still the object of mockery for many, many years.

Lloyd has said in interviews that he burned his "Star Wars" merchandise, and that he cannot ever watch the movie again, calling it "creepy." He says he learned to hate appearing in front of the movie cameras, and would go on to study film at Columbia College in Chicago. 

He dropped out after a semester.

Let the bad times roll

Sadly, Lloyd's woes did not end there. Although he effectively stayed out of the limelight for many years, in 2015, Lloyd's mother Lisa would call the police to handle a violent outburst of his. It was revealed at this time that Lloyd had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and had gone off his meds during the incident in question. Lisa did not press charges. Later in 2015, Lloyd would have an additional run-in with the police after running a red light in South Carolina. The police chased him, forcing Lloyd to crash his car into a tree. Lloyd was arrested and held in a South Carolina jail for an unreasonably long 10 months before being transferred to a psychiatric facility. 

To compound his troubles, Lloyd's younger sister Madison, who also had a bit part in "The Phantom Menace," suddenly and unexpectedly died in her sleep in 2018. She was 26. Following Madison's death, Lloyd moved closer to home. In 2020, Jake's mother Lisa released a statement, published in Geek News Now, that Jake had finally been officially diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Lisa expressed nothing but affection and support for Lloyd, and was eager to help him through the worst of times. 

The statement read:

"We would like to thank everyone for their kind words, their support, and goodwill. Jake has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but unfortunately he also has a symptom called anosognosia which causes a lack of insight into his illness. This only adds to the struggle he faces, which has been very difficult after the tragic loss of his younger sister, Madison. He has moved closer to his family and we are all working hard to help him with this."

How much the bullying eroded Lloyd's mental health can only be a matter of speculation, but it certainly didn't help matters.

Unduly targeted

Lloyd would not be the only actor bullied by "Star Wars" fans. Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar Binks, has reported that he considered suicide after the bad reaction audiences had to his character. More recently, actor Kelly Marie Tran was badgered off of social media when fans reacted badly to her portrayal of Rose Tico in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in 2017. She would eventually write a piece in the New York Times defending herself. Lloyd, only a child at the time of "The Phantom Menace" did not have the wherewithal to write an article, and merely had to bear the brunt of fandom's worst elements. 

The statement from Lloyd's mother continues:

"He is still a kind and caring person and we hope to have him back to his fun and entertaining self as soon as possible. Jake will continue to make progress with the love and support you continue to show."

The character of Anakin Skywalker has also been played by Hayden Christiansen, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Sebastian Shaw, Matt Lucas, Matt Lanter, Spencer Wilding, Matt Sloane, Phil LaMarr, and several others besides. Lloyd is the only one who was bullied for his performance. 

The world owes the man an apology.