Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (Padme Amidala), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Frank Oz (Yoda), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett/The Clones), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Silas Carson (Nute Gunray)
Totalitarian Government (Soon)
“Episode II – Attack of the Clones. There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several thousand solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic. This separatist movement, under the leadership of the mysterious Count Dooku, has made it difficult for the limited number of Jedi Knights to maintain peace and order in the galaxy. Senator Amidala, the former Queen of Naboo, is returning to the Galactic Senate to vote on the critical issue of creating an ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC to assist the overwhelmed Jedi… ” – opening text crawl
It has been ten years since the events of The Phantom Menace. Padme is no longer Queen of Naboo, but she now serves on the Galactic Senate. The Republic has been having troubles lately as more star systems drop out to join the separatist movement. Keeping the peace has put a great deal of strain on the Jedi, who simply don’t have the manpower to handle all the galaxy’s many problems.
Padme has come to Coruscant to help push for the Republic to form a standing army that can be used to help with the threat of enemy star systems. Unfortunately an assassin has targeted the senator for destruction. At the urging of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, she accepts the aid of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker who chase down her would-be killer and interrogate her. She gets out that she was hired by a bounty hunter before she is killed from afar.
Now Obi-Wan is out to investigate who this bounty hunter is and why an army of clone soldiers was ordered nearly ten years ago to serve the Jedi Order, Anakin and Padme go into hiding and then go to rescue his mother from slavery, C-3PO and R2-D2 establish their steamy sexual tension, and the Senate pushes to elect Palpatine temporary rulet of the Republic so that he can order the army without the majority vote.
The biggest problem with making a prequel story to Star Wars is that we already know what happens. Anakin Skywalker joins the dark side, Palpatine becomes the emperor and holds the galaxy in his iron grip, and all the Jedi save Yoda and Obi-Wan will die and those two will go into hiding on tiny backwater planets. Why should we be compelled to watch?
The Phantom Menace didn’t really answer this question, instead taking the form of a lazy psuedo-remake that prioritizes sci-fi imagery and special effects over all else. Attack of the Clones finally offers a good and proper answer. The prequels’ end is largely a forgone conclusion but with Attack of the Clones the undercurrent of the story becomes how Palpatine is playing both sides of the conflict. I seems only Palpat- I mean “Darth Sidious” (I have no idea why the movie continues to pretend that he’s anyone else) knows everything that’s happening and is manipulating everything. Palpatine’s scheme is fairly ingenious and it shows that he has no friends in this plot, only enemies. The only indication of this undercurrent in the first movie is the way that Palpatine uses his alliance with the trade federation to convince them to attack Naboo so Padme would have reason to vote the previous Chancellor out of office, electing Palatine in his place.
Less brilliant is the relationship between Anakin and Padme, I’m starting to see why it’s good that all the developments in Han and Leia’s love-life happen between films. There’s really not enough time for a decent romance story but that’s irrelevant because Attack’s love story would be bad if had a thousand years to develop. Anakin is 19-years old and acts as a 19-year-old would if he had a laser sword, telekinesis, and martial arts prowess. Padme remains as intelligent, independent, calm, and doesn’t suffer fools. I don’t believe that Padme would like being the same room as Anakin let alone date him, she’s way out of his league but the movie needs her to get all moony eyed over this creep so she can have his babies.
The dialog doesn’t help matters. For all the hate that he gets Hayden Christensen isn’t as awful as he seems. He’s not a great actor and is wooden on a good day but in no other movies have I seen him so stilted and dead-eyed. He seems to be going for stage-play acting but failing and though Lucas is clearly trying to go for Shakespearean dialogue, he’s nowhere near to being a good enough writer to pull that off. Christensen being one of the weaker actors is most effected (that scene where he talks about massacring the Tusken raiders caused me physical pain), but even Natalie Portman and Samuel L. Jackson occasionally choke on the mouthful of horseshit they’re often asked to spit out. Only Ewan McGregor seems immune to this problem because he’s a goddamn superstar.
As I mentioned last time, the genre mash-up concept of Star Wars pretty much died with the first one, but here Lucas at least tries to bring some new stuff to the table. Most notably he’s going for medieval court politics, Shakespearean romance/tragedy, and pulp detective novels. The most promising new element is the third aspect with Obi-Wan’s investigation into Jango Fett and the clones. I hated this part in previous viewings as it didn’t feel Star Wars-y enough but now I consider that a boon. Ewan McGregor is one of this trilogy’s assets and the way Obi-Wan reveals the plot as he gets deeper into the mystery is a nice change of pace to how Star Wars films have presented information to us in the past. I do have problems with this character becoming more and more the focus of the story, but I admit that Obi-Wan is far more compelling than Anakin.
Jango Fett is ultimately as pointless of a diversion as his son in the previous trilogy. Unlike Boba, Jango does have a couple of decent action beats and a likable characterization as played by Temuera Morrison. He is a continuation of the prequel trilogy’s theme of killing off the most interesting villain too quickly and leaving us with the duller ones.
Our big villain, Count Dooku (or Darth Tyranus if you’re feeling nasty) just doesn’t work. I don’t mind the idea of developing a villain in the background to be revealed later but I feel like they should’ve done the set-up in the first movie. It’s apparent that the character was invented as this movie was being written rather than being the plan all along as it seems unlikely that when looking for a potential Sith, the Jedi Council would overlook a rabble-rousing former Jedi. I like Christopher Lee’s performance but I wish they hadn’t saddled such talent to such a pointless character.
Somehow C-3PO belongs in this movie even less than the previous one. He exists here for one big sprawling joke and the characters barely seem to realize that he and R2 are even there. R2 is literally a deus ex machina at this point, in one scene he just sprouts jet boosters and hovers through the air to save Padme from certain peril.
The effects have improved immensely in the three years since the last film. There’s still a bit of dodgy CG but it largely deals with unnatural motions and isn’t terribly prevalent. We have a wide villain grunt types as well as a lot of neat prototype designs of future Imperial weaponry such as AT-ATs. The use of green screen is amazing and many of the film’s shots look like paintings as a result. This is a vibrant and colorful film full of beautiful imagery.
The sprawling action sequence in the film’s third act is overindulgent, but in a good way. We see how Padme, Anakin, and Obi-Wan are capable in their own ways as they fight off three beasts in a gladiatorial arena. We see Mace Windu and the Jedi council take on an army of droids and insect people in the same arena, and we have the first full show of force from the Clone army as it takes on the Trade Federation.
Unfortunately the lightsaber battles at the end are some of the worst in the series, there’s a part where we just show close-ups of Anakin and Dooku whirling the damn things over their heads and looking intense for several seconds, and pointlessly make a parallel to Luke’s disarming in The Empire Strikes Back (thankfully this bit and a halfway decent ship chase through an asteroid field are the only obvious callbacks to that film.) The only slightly thrilling fight is the one between an elderly man and a CG muppet. Admittedly it is nice to finally see Yoda showcase why he’s a master Jedi, but it also happens to feel rather silly in the process.
Even I’m surprised by how kind I’m being to this movie. I hated Attack of the Clones on release but this time I found a lot to like and a lot less to despise. It still utterly fails at its emotional through line, the dialogue is atrocious, good characters and actors are wasted on a plot far too packed with extraneous junk and easy fan service. It doesn’t hold a candle to all but the worst parts of the original trilogy, but it is a pretty good sci-fi actioner in its own right, hearkening back to Star Wars‘ source material if not its spirit (I love the goofy b-movie title) and there is just a bit of that creative spark that made Star Wars a hit even if it is only a flicker in the dark. It’s certainly a more worthwhile endeavor than was Episode 1.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground. “
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