Disclaimer: This isn’t a typical review that begins with a short blurb of the movie and then delves deeper into the elements of the film. The Attack of the Clones was released in 2002 and you had 16 years to watch it. There will be spoilers.
Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones follows up on George Lucas’ first prequel installment, The Phantom Menace. The film picks up 10 years after the events of Phantom when Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is apparently grown up (debatable). It’s a “coming of age” movie for the young Padawan and eventual Sith Lord, detailing his struggles of becoming a Jedi while confronting his inexplicable desire for Senator (previously Queen) Amidala (Natalie Portman). The growing struggles of the Republic’s war with the Separatists also serve as a focal point of the story, drawing equal attention. By most people’s standards, it’s a marked improvement over its predecessor and comes across as a well-rounded film, barring one element, the central character.
It makes sense to first address the primary ill of this film, Anakin Skywalker, particularly his lines of dialogue and courtship of Padme. When the prequel trilogy is set to give the future Vader the spotlight throughout, he should be given strong support from the screenwriting department, and he wasn’t. Dubious word choices, making issue with environments saying he doesn’t “like sand”, referring to Padme as “intoxicating”, and calling Obi-Wan’s treatment of him “unfair,” don’t help his case for being a grown up.
Couple that with a troubling romance between Anakin and Padme, and you have a rough showing that takes up a decent amount of screen time. The relationship was already on sorry footing with the age difference, laid bare in Phantom when Anakin meets a grown-up Padme when he’s only 9 years old. Not as bad as this real-life Tony Bennett story where he met his future wife for the first time when her mother was pregnant with her, but still… Bad. It’s not a believable romance since it moves too fast, jumping from a scene where Padme calls Anakin’s staring “uncomfortable” to them being a bit more candid and intimate a few moments later. The jumps were too quick.
Setting the sniping aside, to truly appreciate, or rather salvage the Anakin story arc, it’s important to look at the larger picture at play here, the story of how he becomes Darth Vader. Paying attention to the rumblings of his anger and impatience, and the outbursts of rage that follow do reveal some depth to his character. Clones lays the foundation for Anakin to turn to the Dark Side, and it starts with his fears for his mother, fears that end up turning true. Her death at the hands of the Tusken Raiders forces him to massacre the whole tribe, men, women, and children. That’s a significantly disturbing reaction from a man learning to be a Jedi. When you pay attention to Skywalker’s actions as opposed to his words, Clones becomes more than palatable, and it paints the path to him becoming Vader. The audience should ignore his relationship to Padme to some extent and focus more on his relationship with his mother, at least in this film, as their relationship is in no way unnatural. Most people love their mothers, but most people don’t fall in love with 9-year-olds.
Moving away from Skywalker, the performances of the other cast members were quite phenomenal. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan, Frank Oz as Yoda and Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, all represent distinct levels of calm and composure for the Jedi and the Sith. One impressive feat of the prequels is in showing the depths of the Force and what it can do. The film shows how Obi-Wan, Dooku, Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda are at different stages of enlightenment (for lack of a better word) when it comes to the Force, and this hierarchy becomes crucial in creating our personal investments in the characters. McGregor is particularly fascinating to watch since he does echo Alec Guinness’s mentor role from the original trilogy when he’s with Anakin while adding newer layers when he’s with Jedi far superior to him. His failure to defeat Dooku in a lightsaber duel is one example, along with his deference to Jedi Masters Yoda and Windu.
Building up the Jedi’s background and history is a much-needed element since the original trilogy left so many questions unanswered. As the prequels focus on the Jedi and the rise of the Sith through Emperor Palpatine, it builds on what Phantom started by fleshing out the different worlds, and the political machinations in the galaxy. This could be white noise to some, but it’s important in establishing the events of the original trilogy. How did the Stormtroopers come about? How did the emperor rise to power? How did Anakin/Vader and Obi-Wan fall out of favor with each other? Clones answers these questions. It can’t be passed out as just meaningless trivia because the prequels give sounder footing for the original trilogy’s characters, in terms of their motivations.
Other notable improvements of the film include the CGI, which seems to have progressed by leaps and bounds compared to Phantom. Maybe having fewer Gungans does help. The battles sequences, along with the early chase scene where Anakin and Obi-Wan chase the hired assassin do a better job of meshing the CGI and the live-action elements. And having more lightsaber action that is better choreographed is always a plus.
Overall, a better movie compared to Phantom.
- Anakin’s character arc is a poignant one… If you can ignore some of his dialogue.
- The character development of the Jedi (Obi-Wan and Yoda, for the most part) is much better.
- Answers some questions the original trilogy left hanging, e.g. the Stormtroopers.
- Better use of CGI, though there is an increasing use of it over practical, on-set effects.
- More lightsaber duels!
Since you know why you should watch Attack of the Clones, take a look at the reasons to watch Revenge of the Sith.
Movie Info (From IMDb)
Production companies: Lucasfilm
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid
Screenwriters: George Lucas, Jonathan Hale,
Producers: George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Lorne Orleans
Director of Photography: David Tattersall
Production Designer: Gavin Bocquet
Costume Designer: Trisha Biggar
Editors: Ben Burtt,
Music: John Williams
Casting: Robin Gurland