LUCASFILM LTD. / 20th CENTURY FOX (2002)
Director: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz
Part two of the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones had the opportunity to lay the foundations for what was to come in the next four movies – to set up the slow decline of Anakin to Vader, the scheming against the Jedi, sowing the seeds of the Empire etc. Some ideas were there, but overall not enough were successfully there to elevate this movie to where it really should be.
What was good? Obi-Wan’s investigation into the dart and the mystery assailants, leading him to research and undertake his own mission and ending up on the secretive planet of Kamino to duel with Jango Fett, eventually ending with a chase through an asteroid field.
The duel was a good element as it wasn’t drastically over the top, and included hand to hand fighting which was new. Anakin’s section in the second act surrounding his mother and the Tuskan Raiders was dramtic and added much needed weight to the story and Anakin’s story also. The opening half hour of the movie was very good – fast paced, full of action and intrigue, visually great and best of all, fun. Seeing the beginning of the Empire beginning to take shape was an interesting sideplot (amongst many) and the origins of the Death Star were a nice nod. As an addition, having Jar Jar being the unknowing pawn in the Emperor’s plan was a great idea George!
What wasn’t good…? The droid factory section should have been cut out and binned entirely, it’s a terrible part of any movie, and logic blows out the window – R2-D2 flying around on jet packs, boiling liquids not incinerating anyone, C-3PO being a goon throughout – it’s just an annoyingly bad scene. The arena battle at the end looks awesome, but the stakes are lowered as more and more CGI robots are cut down. Anakin’s wooing of Padmé is incredible, if you like it creepy – he looks at her as if he is cooking up the perfect murder, uses corny dialogue to get the girl and constantly whines in front of her (but it clearly worked). Lucas was clearly going for an old school courtship, almost Tudor-style with their outfits in the fields, and the ideas were there – dinner dates, strolls through the fields, late nights by the fire – it was just written so poorly, and with that brings poor delivery. It did also baffle me as to Padmé’s quick change into announcing her love for Anakin, and a quick subsequent marriage, but it had to happen and be shown so I can accept the wedding scene. As with the previous offering, the exposition here is endless – there’s too much telling on display, let us see what’s going on and work it out ourselves!
As with The Phantom Menace, the dialogue is often stilted and poorly written – especially the romance between Anakin and Padmé, this is also down to the delivery but there’s only so much you can do with bad writing (I’ll mention the ‘sand’ comment in passing…) It’s an unfortunate achievement to reduce high level actors such as McGregor, McDiarmid, Jackson and Christopher Lee to wooden and unconvincing performances (only at times, to be fair). McDiarmid had the best story of the trilogy for me, and seemed to enjoy hamming it up more than others (that’s a theatre background for you). Christensen’s delivery at times was too monotone, and almost trying to replicate the speech pattern of Vader himself, and Sam Jackson needed some helium to boost him up a bit. McGregor was given more to do here, and performed admirably with the green screen. Christensen and Portman tried their hardest with what they were given, and both have flashes where they really hit the notes, but not enough throughout.
As should be expected, the movie looks great – even through a tidal wave of blue/green screen and CGI. The new planets – Kamino, Geonosis – look great and have their own identity, especially Kamino, the dramatic ocean and constant waves lend extra spectacle to the duel between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett. Coruscant looks spectacular as a planet-wide city complete with neon lights everywhere, chaotic traffic, skyscrapers higher than heaven and a grotty underworld seething below, allowing for new insights into the galaxy. The shots of the villa overlooking the lake in Naboo are stunning. There are many elements throughout which are classic Star Wars – the desert scenes scream SW, Padmé’s white Geonosis outfit, the return of Tuskan Raiders to name a few, and for me this helps bind all five movies together. Unfortunately, one of the movies pay-offs doesn’t work how it should – the reveal of fighting Yoda. What should have been a grand moment for the all-powerful Master ended up being a whizz-bang of leaps, bounces and noises, and the impact it should have had was lost in a blur of CGI. Still, lightsaber wielding Yoda is still a cool idea.
The music in Attack of the Clones, however, is fantastic – a real high point for the saga. John Williams can almost always be called upon to deliver something great, but his music in this movie (and the prequel trilogy as a whole) actually helped the movie and told a story through music (after Lucas had smacked us in the face with exposition). The majestic Across the Stars is a sublime, beautiful piece of music – tragic, yearning yet laced with hope - a staggeringly good piece of music. The motif is used in various ways throughout the film, and always compliments the scenes. It's a classic Williams/Star Wars score.
The denouement, however, sets us up nicely for the final part of the trilogy, and allows us to have an idea of what to expect when we get there – trouble for the Jedi, the Sith resurfacing, the Clone War raging harder, Anakin’s struggles etc.
For its faults and flaws, Attack of the Clones is a superior movie to The Phantom Menace. It dragged on in parts, and contained some ludicrous scenes and moments but also began to really lay the foundations for what is to come in the subsequent four movies. It’s an entertaining movie dragged down by poor writing and wooden performances, another case of what might have been.
December 1st 2016