Seven Days of Star Wars
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
(PG, 142 minutes, 2002)
This is the third installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.
Day one examined 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Day two looked at Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Today’s entry is for the second of the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which is set 22 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.
I was still in college when this came out, and it was a special trip to The Gateway in Salt Lake City with my future wife, my sister, and a friend of hers. It was one of the first times I was able to get advance tickets for a movie. While it was an exciting movie for the saga’s mythology, it has become my least favorite of the Prequel Trilogy.
The acting chemistry issues I discussed with Revenge of the Sith apply more heavily here. I get Anakin being a hormonal teenager, and I get the courtly love story elements, but it’s just Hayden Christensen and his lack of chemistry with Natalie Portman that grates on me.
The bigger issue I have with Attack of the Clones is the Jedi Order.
Anakin’s issues with attachment are noticed as early as the first reel when he and Obi-Wan are going to Padmé’s apartment. Anakin is obsessive – and actually downright creepy – about Padmé’s safety. Being near her, in his own words, is intoxicating. So, when the Order decided to send a Jedi with Padmé back to Naboo, they should have sent a completely different Knight. Send Anakin with Kenobi to investigate the assassin, or even place him on library duty while Kenobi’s away. As trite as it sounds, remove him from the temptations away from his oath to the Jedi Code.
If the Council thought it appropriate to send Anakin as a protector to further his independent study as a budding Knight, then it should have been painfully clear to Kenobi at the Battle of Geonosis that this attachment was a problem. Yes, the Clone Wars were beginning and every able-bodied Jedi was needed on the front lines – interpreted at this point as a defense of the Republic – but every effort should have been expended to keep Anakin separated from Padmé.
Even Yoda knew it was a problem. This wasn’t the Dark Side clouding things; this was arrogance and ignorance, and it pervades the entire film. The Jedi truly brought about their own downfall because of it, and it frustrates me because I’m watching intelligent people make stupid choices without recognizing just how stupid they are.
So, yes, I’m hard on the movie. But there are things to like about Attack of the Clones.
The Rumble in the Rain
With a lot of the character drama being downright irritating, the action sequences pick up the tab, and one of the coolest sequences is the “Rumble in the Rain” on Kamino.
We got a small taste of Jedi versus Mandalorian in Return of the Jedi, but this really showcases how badass both Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi were. It also comes up again when Kenobi tails Fett’s Slave I to Geonosis and they face off again in the planet’s rings.
There are a few elements in Attack of the Clones that foreshadow Anakin’s descent into darkness. The first is his discussion with Padmé in the fields of Naboo about how politicians should be made to agree with the common good. While he is joking with Padmé, it feels like he actually believes it, at least in part.
Another element is after Anakin’s dream on Naboo when he’s meditating on the lakefront. His stance echoes back to The Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s meditations on the Super Star Destroyer’s bridge.
Finally, the obvious foreshadowing for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is his vengeance against the Tuskens after his mother dies. He walks straight down the path detailed by Yoda in The Phantom Menace – “Fear is the path of the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – and creates a disturbance so large in the Force that it even shakes the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn. This leads Yoda to question and explore life after death, which is a key element of the Original Trilogy.
While the chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen gives me trouble, the wedding scene at the end of the movie is one of the most beautiful of the franchise.
Natalie Portman’s costumes in Attack of the Clones were, for the most part, very elegant and elaborate. The wedding gown was a nice change of pace, and calls back to the peasant disguises that the character wore during the return flight to Naboo. The wedding dress maintains the elegance of the character, but delicately melds it with a simplicity that reflects the monastic Jedi robes of her husband. It also calls back to the concepts of courtly love by bringing in medieval and typically Arthurian elements.
The ceremony takes place in the same place where the pair were in hiding on Naboo, which is where they shared their first kiss, and the bright sunset behind them over the water is symbolic of the crucible yet to come.
The Battle of Geonosis and the Lightsaber Duel
The Battle of Geonosis finally delivers on the promise of stories set in the Golden Age of the Jedi Order by showing a lot of Jedi doing Jedi things. In this case, it’s a massive lightsaber battle, and it’s the moment where I sat up in my chair and really engaged until the end of the film.
On top of being a showcase of Jedi talent, The Battle of Geonosis is the start of the Clone Wars, which was only a whispered legend in the Original Trilogy. The movie shifts genres to a war epic, and while the CG effects are a bit dodgy, they are also a test bed for the technology that drives a lot of the blockbusters a decade and more later.
The feather in the cap of this sequence is the lightsaber duel with our heroes and the duplicitous Count Dooku. It was fantastic to watch Christopher Lee fencing with a lightsaber – the long shots were a double with Lee’s head digitally replaced, but all of the close up work was his alone – and watching him dispatch powerful Jedi like Kenobi and Skywalker was amazing. I did not expect what followed, but I cheered for the first time in the film when Yoda dropped his walking stick and ignited a lightsaber to battle Dooku, and it says a lot that the Sith Lord had to effectively cheat to escape.
“Across the Stars”
The one part of the entire love story that I do really enjoy is the theme “Across the Stars”. The theme is both elegant and tragic, and feels inspired by the classical waltz music one would typically hear in a Victorian or Edwardian period piece such as Pride and Prejudice. The piece has a courtly innocence that is layered with the darkness yet to come from the forbidden love affair, and is one of the highlights when I watch this film.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish off the Prequel Era with my favorite moments from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
My Rating: 7.0/10
IMDb rating: 6.7/10