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Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, written and directed by George Lucas, 2002, 150 min.
Attack of the Clones is a muddled, boring mess; clunky in pace, visually underwhelming, awkward every time it attempts romance, and not particularly exciting. The title indicates Lucas' ambition to create an adventure in the style of old pulp science fiction, but there's only one scene in the whole movie with enough verve or energy to qualify. Lucas’ team has obviously done a tremendous amount of design work, so the movie often works better in bits and pieces. But overall I’m surprised at how unwatchable Attack of the Clones becomes the further along we get in the story. Usually the millions of dollars thrown at a movie spectacle like this guarantee at least a certain level of competency.
Attack of the Clones picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan Kenobi is still training Anakin Skywalker, and Anakin has become a sulky teenager with too much faith in his own power. No one has really found out who was behind the sinister events of the previous movie, not even Yoda of the Jedi Council or the sly Chancellor Palpatine (or he’s not telling). Padme of Naboo is no longer Queen, but now a Senator for her planet in the Republic. As the movie begins, Padme is on her way to the Republic’s central planet of Coruscant; her spaceship is blown up and she only escapes because she was travelling as an ordinary citizen in her own retinue (makes me wonder why someone would accept the job of a double!). The main story of the movie ostensibly becomes the search for the people who want to kill Padme. Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned to protect Padme, and when another attack is made on her life, Anakin accompanies Padme back to Naboo for safety and Obi-Wan goes off to follow up on a clue. Anakin and Padme are falling in love, despite Anakin’s Jedi commitment, and Obi-Wan is having a number of crazy adventures figuring out what is going on. Eventually all of the plot threads weave together into one massive confrontation on a planet named Geonosis.
I liked two of the action sequences in Attack of the Clones. When the bounty hunter Jango Fett chases Obi-Wan Kenobi through an asteroid field, it’s a nice wink to the classic trilogy; Jango’s detonators are particularly nifty. The only unique sequence in the film that really works is the arena on Geonosis, but before the arrival of the droids and then the Jedi, that is, before the “exciting” conclusion. When Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme are tied to the poles and three terrifying monsters come in, I loved it. This is the precise bit of the movie that I thought had enough verve and energy to live up to the adventure/pulp promise of the title. Two of the worst action sequences are the droid factory (which shouts cheesy video game) and Yoda’s big fight, in which everything we know about Yoda gets thrown to the wind. Tacky, unpleasant, cheap, and tasteless are the synonyms that the thesaurus suggested to me for cheesy, and they all apply to Yoda-as-bouncy-ball. It’s actually a bit demeaning and weird as well, as if the control of the perception of the character had been handed over to someone determined to run the franchise into the ground.
The dialogue is uniformly bad, but the romantic scenes were the worst offenders. Anakin has turned into a petulant and annoying adolescent, and he delivers lines like “Now that I’m with you again, I’m in agony” or “I’m haunted by the kiss you never should have given me” (both from the fireside scene) with a weird mix of fascist impulse and sense of entitlement. Later on, after he has killed a whole encampment of Tusken Raiders, Padme says to him, “You’re not all-powerful, Ani.” He replies by saying, “Well, I should be! Someday I will be. I will be the most powerful Jedi ever!” Apparently, not long after this Padme falls in love with him. And this is on top of the fact that earlier, when they are rolling in the grass after first arriving on Naboo, Anakin literally says that dictatorship is ok “if it works.” I understand that the two characters have to get together, at the same time that Anakin has to become evil, all as dictated by what is to happen later in the chronology of Star Wars. But the one is overbalanced by the other, and we see not much in Anakin that would interest Padme. She’s a pawn in the service of the plot.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is now the only interesting character. He still has an odd, flippant edge to his dialogue that resists the overall tone of the movie. Unfortunately, he does get one of the most undignified bits of foreshadowing; early on in the movie, after the speeder chase on Coruscant, he says to Anakin, “Why do I get the feeling that you’re going to be the death of me?”
Attack of the Clones is plagued by problems that indicate that the role of the Jedi has not been properly thought out. Back in the day of the original films, the Jedi were the last remnant, so they had to struggle to survive and we could understand the problem. But in these prequels, the Jedi are in the prime of their power. We get not much sense of what they can do, and what their influence would be outside of their direct Force powers. For example, it might have been an idea for Obi-Wan to help Anakin get his mother out of slavery earlier (of course it turns out she was no longer a slave anyway, but Anakin didn’t know that), assuming that the Jedi had enough money. The big invasion of Geonosis was supposed to be the big moment of Jedi power, but Jedi are not infantry! Throwing Jedi Knights into a pitched battle with droids makes no sense strategically or tactically. Worse, it seems as if none of the Jedi can properly train a student! The villain this time around, Count Dooku, was trained by none other than Yoda himself. The Jedi judgment seems to be very clouded by the dark side. Yes, I understand that the Jedi Council will be destroyed in these prequels but, as with the situation with Anakin’s mother or the fight on Geonosis, these situations bring down the Jedi in our estimation. So far the Jedi seem to be asking to be destroyed by their own stupidity.
In an apparently unintended note of irony, the much-reviled Jar Jar Binks now comes to his big moment... as the downfall of the Republic. Once Padme goes into hiding with Anakin, Jar Jar of all people becomes the Representative for Naboo. He gets easily duped into putting forth a motion to vote emergency powers to Chancellor Palpatine. Again, yes, I understand that the Republic has to fall in these prequels, but trusting Jar Jar is not much of a tragic flaw. That’s more along the lines of setting your house on fire!
The special effects are supposed to be the big star of the piece, and they are the focus of much of what can be found on the DVD extras (see note below). Unfortunately, they still look fake, despite all the money poured into them. Fake or phony or just a bit plastic-y, in almost every shot. The all-digital characters were still obvious, and my eyes were desperately looking around for some relief. It’s too bad then that every shot in the movie has some sort of digital enhancement.
My reaction to watching Attack of the Clones on DVD was somewhat different than when originally seeing it in theatres. The extras gave me a sense of the enormous amount of design work that went into the movie, which is always laudable. The story seemed a bit more coherent, and I could watch my favourite sequence in the Geonosis arena a few times. Unfortunately, the movie still has one of the most painful and irritating love stories ever filmed, complete with atrocious dialogue, soft-focus rolling in the grass, and a disastrous sense of pacing. The movie suffers a great deal from trying to fit the characters into the plot needs of the prequel. I’ll still watch the next and last prequel, but the evidence so far indicates that the Star Wars prequels are getting worse by leaps and bounds.
DVD Note: Attack of the Clones on DVD comes with many extras. Disc 1 has the movie itself, along with audio commentary during the movie by Lucas and a few other key people. The second DVD has a ton of material, most of it focusing on the special effects. It also has some oxymoronic stuff, like deleted scenes created just for the DVD; like most deleted scenes, it’s easy to see why they weren’t kept. Two substantial documentaries, From Puppets to Pixels: Digital Characters in Episode II, and another about previsualization in Episode II, make up the bulk of the disc. The first is nearly an hour long but not well put together; it could have easily been edited to half the length. Also present are a sound featurette, stills and other material, a 12 part series that was released on the web (some fairly interesting), and a funny R2D2 mockumentary.
Last modified: June 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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