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Mother of 'Star Wars' child actor details his mental health struggles

Jake Lloyd, who played a young Anakin Skywalker, disappeared from the public eye after being cast in "The Phantom Menace" at eight years old.
The real-life saga of 'Star Wars' child actor Jake Lloyd
Posted at 12:11 PM, Mar 11, 2024

May will mark 25 years since "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" first lit up movie screens.

Many fans are already celebrating the silver anniversary, thanks to a fresh round of published interviews with cast members, a new poster and news the film will soon be returning to theaters.

Noticeably absent from the recent coverage, however, is one key member of "The Phantom Menace" cast: Jake Lloyd.

The child actor, chosen over 3,000 others to play podracing phenom and Jedi-to-be Anakin Skywalker in the George Lucas space opera, turned 35 last week. Since the movie, Lloyd has been mostly out of the spotlight, his life largely a mystery to his devout fans.

In an exclusive interview with Scripps News, his mother, Lisa Lloyd, provided a glimpse into Jake’s personal saga in the years since appearing in that galaxy far, far away — sharing her son’s turbulent struggle with mental illness, family tragedy and the reasons she’s more hopeful today than she’s been in years.

She also wanted to set the record straight about what her son really thinks about "Star Wars."

Lisa noted that her son is aware that she is speaking out to tell his story.  

“Jake started having some trouble in high school,” Lisa said, recalling the time she first noticed her son’s personality changing. “He started talking about ‘realities.’ He didn't know if he was in this reality, or a different reality. I didn't really know exactly what to say to that.”

One day after school, Lisa asked her son if he’d finished his homework.

“And he was like, ‘Well, I don't even know if I need to do it. I don’t know which reality I’m in,’” she said. “And I'm like, ‘Well, you're in my reality today, so you have to do your homework.’”

Lisa took Jake to a doctor who suggested he might have bipolar disorder. They tried different medications to treat his symptoms, but she says nothing worked. Jake graduated from high school in 2007 and was looking forward to attending classes that fall at Columbia College Chicago.

His brief enrollment at the private arts school didn’t go great.

“He missed a lot of classes, and he was telling me that people were following him,” Lisa said. 

She could sense a downward spiral. Jake would sometimes mention seeing people with “black eyes” staring at him on the street, and having late-night conversations with "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart through his TV.

“He didn't tell us he was hearing voices at the time. But he was,” Lisa remembers.

After a semester and a half, Jake left college in March 2008 to live with Lisa in Indiana. A series of appointments with therapists and psychiatrists eventually led to a diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia. 

“When they finally told him, it totally threw him off into an even worse depression,” Lisa said. “It was really hard.”

SEE MORE: He asked his fellow Star Wars fans for help. One saved his son's life

The American Psychiatric Association now uses the umbrella term “schizophrenia” to describe the disorder Jake was diagnosed with. It can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech and a lack of motivation that can impact virtually every aspect of a patient’s life. Schizophrenia affects 1 in 300 people, or approximately 24 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. 

A neurological condition called anosognosia complicated efforts to treat Jake. The condition causes a patient to be unaware of, or unconsciously in denial, about their symptoms.

“He didn't think he needed to take medication because he wasn’t sick,” Lisa said. “He didn't think he needed to go to the therapist because there's nothing wrong with him.”

Lisa said certain medicines eventually lost their effectiveness or Jake would sometimes quit taking his medications entirely, opting to occasionally self-medicate with illicit drugs.

In 2015, Lisa got a phone call from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department in South Carolina. Jake — on a solo road trip from Florida to Canada — was under arrest and facing multiple charges after deputies said he led them on a multi-county chase before crashing his car.

Lisa hired an attorney to get her son out of lockup, but Jake wasn’t responding.

“I tried to call him and he wouldn't talk to me. Just flat out refused,” she said. “I was talking to the people at the jail and trying to explain to them that he's off his medication. But they wouldn't give him his medication.”

Lisa demanded Jake be sent to a hospital but was told there were no available beds. Jake would end up spending 10 months behind bars.

“As a mom, you're just pulling your hair out because your child needs help. You know that he's sick. You know that he's not going to get any better unless he gets some medication,” Lisa said.

Refusing to give up, Lisa kept mailing notes and cards to Jake while he was in jail. When he finally called, she was able to get him into a hospital for treatment, before eventually moving him to California.

Lisa said it was a struggle getting Jake to keep appointments with doctors and take his medications. He once called in a panic, she said, telling her he’d been shot by an intruder inside his apartment. After a few terrifying moments, Lisa realized her son was actually hallucinating. 

A real nightmare

Jake’s sister Madison was two years his junior. She had also appeared in "The Phantom Menace" as an extra in the film’s finale. Lisa said her daughter always had a knack for encouraging Jake to take better care of himself and stay on track.

In 2018, Madison unexpectedly died in her sleep of natural causes. She was 26.

“He just couldn't handle it. He didn't know how to process it,” Lisa said. “Sometimes he would just start saying that he really missed Madison. That's about as much of a conversation as we'd have about it. “

“At least he was acknowledging it,” she added.

In March 2023, Jake suffered what his mom calls a full-blown psychotic break. 

It happened as she was driving him home after picking up food at McDonald’s. Lisa noted that Jake was already having a bad day.

“He said he wanted to turn the car off. And he turned the car off in the middle of the three lanes, and we were in the middle lane,” Lisa recalled. “There was a lot of yelling and screaming.”

Drivers stuck in the traffic jam called 911. 

“The police got there, and they asked Jake some questions,” Lisa said. “He was talking to them, but none of it made sense. It was all word salad.”

Instead of jail, Jake was admitted to a hospital that day. A couple months later, he transferred to an inpatient program at a mental health rehabilitation facility.

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He’s currently about 10 months into an 18-month stay. Lisa hopes it will be a significant turning point for Jake, noting that he's been showing remarkable improvement with the help of therapy and treatments. 

“He’s doing much better than I expected,” Lisa said. “He is relating to people better and becoming a little bit more social, which is really nice. It's kind of like having more of the old Jake back, because he has always been incredibly social until he became schizophrenic.”

Jake is also starting to understand more about his condition and the importance of consistently taking his medication, according to his mom. For the first time in many years, Lisa says Jake is more enthusiastic about hanging out with family friends at barbecues and celebrating holidays. 

For his birthday, Lisa and Jake went to the movies and filled up on popcorn watching "Wonka."

“He really loved it,” Lisa said. “That was one of the things that we couldn’t do when he was off his medication was watch movies. He just didn’t have the attention span for it.”

As for "Star Wars," his mother said Jake is still a huge fan of the movies and shows. Most recently, he’s been watching episodes of the "Ahsoka" series on Disney+. Lisa even gave Jake an action figure of the lead character Ahsoka Tano last week as a birthday present.

“He loves all the new 'Star Wars' stuff,” she says. “People think Jake hates 'Star Wars.' He loves it.”

Lisa is also eager to dispel what she says is a common misconception: that an avalanche of negative reaction to "The Phantom Menace" drove Jake to quit acting and contributed to his mental illness.

“It would have happened anyway,” Lisa insists, pointing to a history of schizophrenia on his biological father’s side of the family. “I believe that it was genetic. And his psychiatrist also agrees that Jake was going to become schizophrenic.”

She also insists that in 1999, Jake was largely shielded from the toxic vitriol swirling around the prequel film.

“I protected him from the backlash. He was just riding his bike outside, playing with his friends. He didn't know. He didn't care,” Lisa said. “Everybody makes such a big deal about that. And it's rather annoying to me because Jake was a little kid when that came out, and he didn't really feel all that stuff because I didn't let him online.”

Lisa acknowledges that high school kids would sometimes bully Jake over "Star Wars," something he mentioned in past interviews. But she says walking away from Hollywood had more to do with family drama at home.

“People say he quit because of 'Star Wars.' Well, that's not true. It didn't have anything to do with 'Star Wars.' It had more to do with our family. And we were going through a divorce,” Lisa explained. “Things were unsettled and kind of rough. And Jake didn't seem to be having a lot of fun auditioning anymore.”

Lisa said Jake still likes wearing "Star Wars" T-shirts and sometimes gets recognized in public. When asked if she sees Jake one day starring in another "Star Wars" project, Lisa said it’s not something that’s in the cards.

“Jake loved filming 'Star Wars.' He had so much fun,” she recalled. “I would love for him to get well enough to be able to do a little bit of something, and I’m sure he would maybe like to do that. He couldn't at this point, but you never know how much he's going to improve. So we'll see.”

Lisa said though all the challenges, she’s learned important lessons about remaining calm and having the patience to listen and understand what Jake is feeling deep down. Exactly what his future holds is uncertain, but today his mother believes it’s brighter than it has been in a long time.

“We're in a lot better place. And we do have a lot of things to look forward to,” Lisa said. “We all love Jake, and we want to be around him. I just want him to be happy.”

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