Ron Howard stood up for Jake Lloyd amid Phantom Menace backlash

Back in 1999, Ron Howard came to the defence of The Phantom Menace star Jake Lloyd after he was constantly bashed for his performance.

jake lloyd ron howard

A number of us will be celebrating Star Wars Day this weekend, May 4th, by binging as many of the franchise’s movies as we can. Yes, that may even mean working in The Phantom Menace, the much-derided film that set the tone for the rest of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. One of the primary targets of the hate was nine-year-old star Jake Lloyd, who was taking on a lot of responsibility to play Lil’ Vader. But one guy he had on his side was one of the nicest fellas in Hollywood: Ron Howard, who leapt to Lloyd’s defense after he was attacked in mainstream media.

Ahead of The Phantom Menace’s release, Newsweek published a piece that cited “insiders” saying that Jake Lloyd couldn’t act his way out of a pod racer, with the publication referring to him as “Mannequin Skywalker.” But Howard – who was actually at one point approached to direct The Phantom Menace – wouldn’t stand for attacking a child.

In a letter sent to Newsweek, Howard wrote to the author: “While your “Buzz Wars, Episode One” piece was generally snide and insipid, the pot shot at nine year old Jake Lloyd was down right irresponsible. The piece cites, unnamed “insiders” who are critical of this nine year olds performance . I have no way of knowing how accomplished or professional he may have appeared during the principal filming, but I seriously doubt these “insiders” are inside enough to have seen an edited version of the new Stars Wars, because I have and in my opinion, Jake Lloyd is terrific in the film (which, by the way, is truly amazing).”

Howard – a former child actor himself – continued directly defending Lloyd and child performers as a whole, adding, “Movies are subject to public scrutiny, yes, but for Newsweek to attack a child’s performance based on rumor and without even having seen the movie is shameful. As someone who was acting professionally at an early age, I can assure you that nine year old Jake is quite capable of reading , understanding and feeling the full humiliation of a piece like that. He may not be able to comprehend the reason that it was printed, however, but then obviously neither can I. Maybe someone from your editorial staff should try and explain it to him.”

Sadly, Jake Lloyd cut his acting career short due to the constant bullying he received. He, too, would experience numerous mental health issues, including suffering from schizophrenia. Lloyd’s mother has been transparent with fans, detailing what her son went through in the years following The Phantom Menace. Fortunately, there has been a shift within the industry as far as who is off limits, backed by the major outcry when the Razzies nominated 11-year-old Ryan Kiera Armstrong for Worst Actress, something they quickly – and rightly – rescinded.

Overall, it’s a sad story that Jake Lloyd had to go through any of this, but it’s pretty incredible to see prominent Hollywood players sticking up for him at a time when it was so easy to do otherwise or stay silent.

Should child actors be off limits from this level of criticism? Was Jake Lloyd really that bad in The Phantom Menace?

Source: Star Wars Facts

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Mathew is an East Coast-based writer and film aficionado who has been working with JoBlo.com periodically since 2006. When he’s not writing, you can find him on Letterboxd or at a local brewery. If he had the time, he would host the most exhaustive The Wonder Years rewatch podcast in the universe.