STOLEN CHILDHOOD

06.23.15 9:15 AM ET

The Real-Life Fall of Anakin Skywalker: Jake Lloyd’s Journey From ‘Star Wars’ to the Slammer

The star of ‘The Phantom Menace’ was arrested after getting into a high-speed chase with cops and crashing into a tree. But there’s more to the story of Jake Lloyd than meets the eye.

In today’s flashback to the ’90s news, former child star Jake Lloyd, the Turbo-Man fanatic from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas movie Jingle All The Way and the infamous first Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace, was arrested on charges including resisting arrest and failing to stop for a police officer in South Carolina this weekend. Police saw Lloyd speeding, and began to follow him, but rather than slow down, Lloyd sped up and according to TMZ eventually reached 117 miles per hour as he led police on a chase that ended with Lloyd crashing into a tree.

Lloyd has released no statement as he was kept in custody for the day after his arrest. But even upon his eventual release, it seems unlikely that Lloyd, now 26, will have much to offer by way of the podracer and Darth Vader jokes that greeted the news of his arrest. After his sojourn as the young Anakin Skywalker, neé baby Darth Vader, Lloyd quit the entertainment business and since then he has surfaced only rarely—usually with nothing but bad things to say about his time in Hollywood and his time working on the Star Wars films.

According to interviews that Lloyd did several years ago at science fiction conventions and with magazines, his time working on the Star Wars films led to bullying in school that he described as a “living hell” exacerbated by having to do upwards of 60 interviews a day. “I’ve learned to hate it when the cameras are pointed at me,” said Lloyd. “When you have something like that there’s a lot of expectations for it to meet the standards of the public and I don’t think George [Lucas] did that.”

After his turn in the famously hated first prequel, Lloyd reportedly destroyed all of his Star Wars memorabilia and quit acting—and true to his word, he has not appeared in a film since. Instead, Lloyd pursued college and film school with hopes of becoming an editor or a documentary filmmaker. When he was arrested this weekend, he gave a false name, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the inevitable media storm (media drizzle?) that news of his arrest would provoke.

Lloyd is far from the first former child star to struggle with life after fame, and in truth, perhaps because there have been so many people to publicly grapple with this aspect of celebrity culture, it is hard to drum up sympathy every time another kid we saw in a movie once goes off the rails. The world is full of suffering. In any given day, there might be stories about mass incarceration, mass deportation, mass murder, and mass destruction. Why does Jake Lloyd matter?

In some ways, the complaints that child stars make of their lives are a sign of fatal entitlement. There are thousands of doors that remain open to Jake Lloyd, regardless of what he does in his car, that will never be opened to the average person. Certainly Lloyd has done himself no favors, describing his traumatic bullying as kids making “lightsaber noises” at him in the halls—a taunt that sounds similar to the many Hermione jokes fellow child star Emma Watson has described as part of her own school experience at Brown, but which did little to derail her from an impressive film career and an ambitious partnership with the UN as an activist. But at the same time, with a new weaponized white boy making the news what feels like every day, maybe it’s time to start taking the seemingly trivial cases like Lloyd seriously.

This weekend, Pixar’s Inside Out opened to $90 million, the second-highest in the studio’s storied history, all based on the premise of understanding the fragility and the complexity of a child’s emotions. Sometimes we forget that the ability to cope with our emotions is something that we have to learn. Pixar has built their reputation on the theory that being a child isn’t easy, and the feelings of children are no less complex than adults’. So as wonderful as it is that Pixar has found a way to make a film about how hard it is to be a young girl, one hopes that parents take their sons as well as their daughters to see Pixar’s film this weekend. Too often young boys are left to fend for themselves emotionally—entitlement and bitterness are products of an emotional life that has been neglected.

DXN66P STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE. Image shot 1999.

LUCASFILM/Ronald Grant Archive /Alamy

Jake Lloyd in 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.'

That there are so many stories surfacing every day of men taking their feelings of alienation out against others is a sign that boys across the globe are struggling to have their feelings taken seriously. That there is nary a child star in 20 years—from Corey Haim to Macaulay Culkin to Justin Bieber—who has been able to avoid catastrophe, is a sign that Hollywood is doing a particularly bad job of protecting the children among its ranks.

Does Jake Lloyd’s allegedly “stolen childhood” justify his reckless risk of his life and others for the sake of a speeding ticket? No. Absolutely not. Millions of people who have a terrible time as a 10-year-old manage to walk away from that time and mature into responsible adults. But at the same time, does Lloyd’s entitlement retroactively absolve the filmmakers behind the Star Wars films of their responsibility to care for the child who was going to be the face of their hundred-million-dollar franchise film? 

A couple years ago in The Toronto Star, there was an open letter published from one genius filmmaker to another, as director Sarah Polley took the opportunity to address her former boss, Terry Gilliam, about the time that she spent as a child actress working on his film The Adventures Of Baron Von Munchausen. Her letter is plain, and though not accusatory, she pinpoints the ethical issues at the heart of working with children on film sets.

“The adults who should have been there to protect me were my parents, not you…[but] you can’t underestimate how in awe of you people like them can be. They didn’t want to be an annoyance or an inconvenience to anyone, and it must have been daunting to imagine holding up 100 people for your kid.”

It’s not a filmmaker’s responsibility to parent the children who work on their films, but at the same time, wouldn’t it be for the best if Hollywood gave the child actors something to hold on to besides just money? Wouldn’t it be nice if we took care of boys before we had to worry about what they’ll do as men?