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Star Wars 40th Anniversary Review: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Contributor: Rick McGimpsey

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While I must insist on making it abundantly clear that I love all of the Star Wars films, including this one, I have to admit that Attack of the Clones is my least favourite out of all of them.

Episode II shares the same weaknesses as Episode I, but also has the added problem of lacking memorable dialogue and relying too heavily on CGI, blue screen, and digital filmmaking which all combine into making Attack of the Clones a very banal and bland piece. For instance, the new planets, Kamino and Geonosis, lack the invigorating sense of novelty that previous new planets had. Kamino is a colourless, sterile, and boring environment and Geonosis is virtually identical to Tatooine with the exception of having more rocks and having only one sun.
Much of the visual effects and action sequences are stale and lifeless and betray the fact that the actors were performing in front of a blue screen with little reference to add any reality to their acting abilities. One of the worst looking scenes is where Threepio gets tossed about the Geonosian droid factory as the heavy use of CGI has become extremely dated and is hideous to look at. And honestly I can say that about a dozen other scenes in the movie. Much of the visuals in this movie are either hideous or so banal and uninteresting that they are barely memorable.

But visual gripes aside Attack of the Clones’ biggest issue is its story and characters. Anakin and Padme have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever and everything they say and do in this film feels forced, phoned in, and fake. There is not a single realistic precedent for the two of them to ever fall in love. None.
She outclasses him in every way and is way out of his league. After ten years of separation in which the last time she saw him he was a 9 year old with a crush she is now an idealistic and ambitious senator while he is now little more than a monk serving the Jedi Order. When they become reacquainted she is a mature adult working her way upward in her political career and he is an immature, precocious, adolescent whiner. When Anakin is assigned to protect Padme on Naboo he is supposed to just do his job in accordance to his station as a Jedi Knight. Instead he whines to her about all his feelings about his master and how “unfairly” the Jedi treat him. It seems so inappropriate to me for Anakin to get so vocal with Padme about his personal problems when his lower station and their ten years of separation have left them with little common ground. It’s equivalent to walking into a restaurant and the waiter starts whining to you about how his dad talks to him at home. Padme has no real personal reason to care. The inappropriateness comes to a head when he suddenly tells his supposed protective charge that he needs to leave Naboo for Tatooine to find his mother. Who does he think he is anyway?
George Lucas tries so hard to convince us that there is some deep connection between the two of them, but there simply isn’t. The circumstances and environment they are in just isn’t right for such a connection to take place. The reason why Han and Leia’s romance worked so well is because they spent years together building it up with subtle flirtations, rebuffs, charm, and even fights. It’s a way more realistic look at a budding romance than having Anakin pop in virtually out of no where, behave like a spoiled child with temper tantrums and constant complaining, and say really stupid lines like “I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you- I can’t breath. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating… hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me…” Give me a freaking break! And don’t get me started on how Padme seems to think Anakin’s slaughtering Tusken women and children is OK. Most women would balk at that, but apparently Padme only thinks it makes Anakin a dark, mysterious, attractive bad boy. Attractive bad boys are supposed to wear black leather jackets, ride motorbikes, and say “ehhhhhh!!!” They don’t hack kids to death with a lightsaber! What is wrong with Padme???
And her confessing her love for him at the end equally comes out of nowhere and with no realistic precedent. The only people who could possibly buy this as a real romance are 8 year olds, the socially inept, and George Lucas.

What I can say positive about Episode II is that when it does get action scenes right it does a passable job. The fight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the asteroid field is really cool and I love the use of sound effects when Jango launches the seismic charges. It is one of the few scenes in Star Wars where the music is momentarily put aside to emphasise the sound and it works effectively.
The music itself is passable, but I cannot claim it as one of John Williams’ best works. This and his score for The Force Awakens are probably the blandest soundtracks I have heard for Star Wars, but that is a purely comparative statement and when it comes to Williams his lesser work is still fantastic compared to the average compositions of other maestros.
There are some other improvements and good points to be made about some of the characters as well. Ian McDiarmid’s performance as Senator Palpatine is still as great as always and Ewan McGregor provides a much better performance as Obi-Wan than he did in The Phantom Menace. He is beginning to sound more like Alec Guinness: a trend that he takes further in Episode III. We also get much less Jar Jar Binks which is a plus.
And while I do not regard Count Dooku as the most interesting villain to come out of Star Wars I do have to give credit to the late Christopher Lee who puts his best in everything he does. You can’t get cooler than Christopher Lee and his presence alone is what turns Attack of the Clones from a mediocre movie to an OK one.

Aside from the issues with the love story most of the other things that bug me about Episode II are minor complaints. I can live with the film’s overall blandness, and I can forgive the bad Threepio puns in the arena, and I can even let go of the absolutely ridiculous and farcical Yoda vs Count Dooku fight which everyone seems to like except me. At the end of the day; and after all my complaints are spoken and my grievances heard, Episode II is still Star Wars. It has lightsabers, the Force, epic space battles, Jedi Knights, Ben Burtt’s sound design, and John Williams’ music. It may be the weakest Star Wars movie, but it is still a Star Wars movie. I may not think of it as highly as some do and my tone may seem to convince people that I hate the film at times, but I can honestly say I do like it. I have problems with it and no amount of mindless brand loyalty will convince me to ignore those problems. Despite my criticism I am actually one of the biggest Prequel defenders in my social circle. Attack of the Clones is like one of those brothers or cousins that few people outside of your family like and you admittedly know that they have good reasons to dislike them. But being family you defend them anyway and you accept their flaws. Attack of the Clones is as much as part of the Star Wars family as A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back, black sheep or not. Besides, it’s not as bad as The Holiday Special. You have to admit that.

Check tomorrow for a review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and may the Force be with you.