#11 in my Ranking of the Star Wars franchise.
It’s amazing to think that Lucas could have addressed some of the largest issues with the first prequel head on, but still managed to somehow make a worse movie overall. Attack of the Clones has a clearer narrative with stronger characters, but the clear narrative is populated with idiotic characters who act more like robots with incomplete instructions on how to love like humans do. It’s amazing to think that George Lucas ever got married, considering the romance in this film. It feels more like the rantings of an 11 year old boy who loves the girl in his class just so very much that he’s going to write them together in a story. It’s embarrassing.
I will admit, though, that I was kind of with the movie for the first twenty to thirty minutes. Gone was the directionless storytelling of the first film. There’s even a moment where Lucas seems to knowingly wink at the audience as Anakin and his master Obi-wan break into a political debate and the camera cuts away to a droid releasing monster worms into a bedroom as though to say, “I’m not doing that stuff anymore. I got the good stuff now.” And then we get a rather well done action and chase scene that ultimately, while awkward at certain moments like when just about anyone speaks, comes to a conclusion where the plot advances tangibly.
“This isn’t as bad as I remember,” I said to myself. And then everything collapsed within minutes. Obi-wan was sent on a detective mission (a cool concept) except that he’s a complete moron and needs the first five steps explained to him by other people. And then Anakin and Padme get scenes exclusively together where they are supposed to be falling in love, but Anakin is a psychopathic and awkward robot who doesn’t understand human emotions while Padme should be running away from this creep who won’t stop angsting over her. There’s not an iota of chemistry between them, and the actual exchanges of dialogue between them betray a writer who’s never said a romantic thing to a woman ever.
The story’s terribly built as well. Obi-wan is on a mission that’s supposed to be a mystery that folds upwards into conspiracies and greater mysteries. It’s the sort of stuff that 70s paranoid thrillers were doing in their sleep, but the storytelling is so incompetent that it feels like Obi-wan’s just going in whatever direction he sees movement. He’s not following a logical series of clues in search for specific answers that evolve over time. He’s just getting led from one point to another without really questioning why, how, who, or anything. This should have been the fun half of the movie, but it ends up as a slow drag.
Another major structural problem is Anakin and Padme’s side trip to Tatooine. In the hands of a competent screenwriter and director, this small adventure would feel like it was part of the story around it, but it is literally just an extra thing Anakin and Padme do. It doesn’t affect the story (not just the plot, mind you, but the entire story) at all. You would think that Anakin murdering men, women, and children might alter his relationship with Padme, especially in the face of their burgeoning romance, but she just embraces him, treating him the exact same way as she did before. He doesn’t act any differently afterwards, being the same brash and arrogant young man he was before. A smarter screenwriter would have put Anakin’s mother on Geonosis so that he and Obi-wan would have followed different trails of breadcrumbs for different reasons to the same spot. Hell, let’s spin this just real quick: The Geonisians, fresh with a giant order from the Trade Federation for new battle droids, needs an increased workforce and goes around the Outer Rim of the galaxy buying up as many slaves as they can. In that process, they buy Shmi, Anakin’s mother. He followed her trail there while Obi-wan follows the bounty hunter, Jango Fett, to the same place, where they meet and take down the new battle droid army for different personal reasons.
I mean, seriously, this movie is awfully built. Yes, Lucas toned down on the politics and focused more on characters, but the characters are poorly written and boringly presented. Again, Lucas’ “faster, more intense” direction failed to elicit good performances from his actors. His dialogue is still way outside the realm of both believability and elegance, sitting firmly in the realm of the awkward. Even visually, the movie feels uninspired.
There are designs here and there that are nice, but the movie continues the first prequel’s odd insistence on the ultra clean look that flies in the face of the original trilogy. The only place that looks lived in is Geonosis, and that doesn’t show up until the end of the film. And, I’m not quite sure I would have imagined a platoon of Jedi would look like facing down an impossibly large army when I was young, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been a few dozen people in rubber masks or nothing special all wearing the same outfit and carrying one of two lightsaber colors (save Mace Windu’s purple, of course). And, another thing, the final fight between Yoda and Dooku is a huge letdown. They use the Force for 20 seconds to throw boulders at each other before devolving to a lightsaber fight? The fight itself is fine, but these are two masters of the Force facing off. It’s a perfect opportunity to push the Force in a new direction, perhaps having the two fight on some elevated plane of existence suffused with the Force in some sort of psychedelic display. I don’t know, anything but just another sword fight in a movie filled with sword fights.
All that said, the action scenes can be pretty good, though I believe that Lucas had little to do with them. I remember one bit from the behind the scenes documentary of this film where we saw some early pre-viz of the big battle at the end of the film before anyone presented it to Lucas, and it was essentially what we got in the final movie. He seems to have had very little to do with the actual design and execution of the action scenes, is what I’m saying. Still, they’re in there and have a certain superficial appeal that makes them amusing to watch in isolation.
I’m still flabbergasted that this movie is actually worse than The Phantom Menace, though, and I haven’t even talked about the theme! The overall theme of the trilogy is that of corruption, and it continues a bit in here, but like everything else in the film, it’s handled poorly and intermittently to the point that it never gains any real focus. That’s really why the Shmi stuff is in the film at all, to show Anakin’s further corruption, as well as the endless talk about the Republic being unable to accomplish anything like putting the leader of the Trade Federation in prison. This is an interesting idea with an interesting balance between the larger and smaller conflicts in concept, but in execution it’s boring and a small part of the film.
I can still admire the attempt at seriousness from Lucas while pointing out that he failed miserably at it, though.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1/4
4 thoughts on “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”
This is the one with the four-armed greasy spoon owner, right? The moment I saw that, I knew Lucas’ imagination had failed him.
That’s one aspect I appreciated about Phantom Menace–no shout-outs to pop culture, and no people speaking modern slang.
That’s just about the point where the movie completely falls apart. Where Lucas reveals that he doesn’t know the definition of wisdom.
Somewhere in the prequel trilogy, he realized he’d trapped himself in a shaggy dog story–“And that man became Darth Vader!”–but I think he lacked the self-awareness to see his own limitations as a storyteller. That’s when he needed a Gary Kurtz to kick his ass. Instead, he had dozens of people around him who were all to willing to kiss it.