After doing what I think was a pretty solid defense of Phantom Menace, it’s time to do the same for Attack of the Clones.
I feel less confident in this one.
Let’s start with the good though, shall we?
A lot of what was great about Episode I like the style and design and world building and all the constants in the series are still here. The new worlds are fun and full of potential and the special effects open up new possibilities. I particularly love how much more we get to see of Coruscant’s underbelly in that cool chase scene.
And one of the things I forgot to mention in my Phantom Menace article but still holds for this one is how much I specifically love the Naboo designs. They very much represent the way the future looked in old sci-fi serials and films. The retro style enhanced by the past’s view of the future us brought to life in ways that weren’t possible with older effects. The Naboo ships in particular look terrific.
But there are also lot of thematic callbacks as Anakin’s journey continues to mirror Luke’s journey. We see a more mature, more trained Anakin but who still carries a lot of inexperience and even recklessness despite his own feelings that he’s actually being held back. In theory, the idea of seeing that adorable, energetic, rebellious little boy grow up into an angsty teenager with his own feelings and agenda, all the while knowing where his journey will end, is interesting to contemplate. There’s even an interesting moment where Anakin and Padme are discussing the “broken system” as he calls it and where he explains his idea for a perfect galactic government- one that conspicuously resembles a dictatorship. I’ll give credit for foreshadowing there.
And even Lucas, bless his heart, does a better job than he gets credit for for mapping out this arc. It’s too bad that Hayden Christensomething sucked all the life out of the character. There have been some defenders of his performance, calling him subtle. Yes, of course. In fact, he’s so subtle that he’s practically doing nothing.
Although every once in a while there is a glimmer of something great. That Tusken Raider sequence and the following scene with Padme are pretty solid. And you’d have to be pretty heartless not to feel a little emotional as Anakin reaches his captive mother just in time to watch her die in his arms. In fact I’m getting a little motional just thinking about it.
And jumping off of Anakin, the idea of a forbidden love between a Jedi and a senator is an intriguing concept to explore. Again, in theory of course. On paper, there are many elements that add layers and charm, the way their differing feelings and beliefs play into the story and add richness to their bond. Unfortunately, everything interesting about their love is bogged down by speeches about sand and dialogue so on the nose that even Oscar winner Natalie Portman can’t make work. All of which could be forgiven if the two actors had any chemistry whatsoever. That scene by the fireplace should have been filled with steamy reticence and enough sexual tension to make Mulder and Scully blush, but instead the scene feels like two kids on prom night trying to figure out if they’re going to bone or not.
To her credit though, Padme is a strong character in these first two films and is worthy enough to have young girls look up to her- and not just because she shoots a gun, but because of her resolve and her strength. It’s easy to forget that when all she does in the third film is cry.
In fact a number of characters in this movie deserve more credit. For all the love we give Boba Fett, he didn’t actually do much. He followed some people through garbage and then got knocked into a death mouth by a blind guy. But Jango Fett manages to kick some serious ass. His fight with Ob-Wan is a highlight (one that incorporates more hand-to-hand than we’re used to) and- love the movie or hate the movie, you have to admit- that asteroid field chase is phenomenal. Even if little baby Boba Fett was doing this weird whisper/yell the whole time.
I guess the action is where this film really shines as all I’ve really got left is the coliseum on Geonosis. Much like my earlier points about Anakin and Padme, the idea of an alien coliseum in the world of Star Wars is cool in theory. Thank God that in this case it’s cool in execution as well. The coliseum sequence starts out descent enough with Anakin, Padme, and Obi-Wan taking their chances against three alien creatures, but gets even better when an army of Jedi come to the rescue. We’d always seen one or two, three at the max, Jedi fighting, but never this many. We get to see the Jedi make due on their promise on being the bad asses of the universe. Plus we get to see Samuel L. Jackson whip out a purple lightsaber (a purple lightsaber) and say, “this party’s over.” I mean, come on, who wouldn’t like that?
I don’t hate this movie at all, but I don’t necessarily love it either. It’s just a very “meh” movie. Most of my adoration comes from nostalgia though. The romance is a misfire, Hayden Christensomething is lifeless, and Yoda flipping around with a lightsaber is something I loved as a kid but I’ve begun to outgrow. There’s a lot in the movie that’s drawn out or simply extraneous (was Dooku an essential addition) or just doesn’t make much sense.
Plus that whole sequence with C-3PO flopping around in the droid factory and swapping heads with a battle droid was awful, just awful.
But it’s still essential viewing whether you like it or not, and there’s plenty of stuff to keep you interested and entertained, as well as some nice little nuggets of things to come.
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