Today I watched George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Taking place ten years after the Naboo blockade, Attack of the Clones kicks off with Amidala, now a senator having retired from her royal appointments, on her way to the senate on Coruscant to vote in light of a growing independence movement led by the mysterious Count Dooku. During her arrival there is an attempted assassination in which Amidala plays her old body double trick but the psychological effect of this terrorist attack is evident as this film immediately sets up a much darker atmosphere than it’s predecessor. Meanwhile Obi-Wan and Anakin are now a master-student duo, Obi-Wan spends the film investigating the assassination while Anakin protects and woos Amidala, which is creepy because seems to have aged five times as fast as her and she seemed much older than him in The Phantom Menace. This whole case of intense intrigue and investigations inevitably leads to the breakout of total war between the Independence movement and the Galactic Republic.
Right off the bat the new Anakin, Hayden Christensen, is really irritating. He is supposed to be petulant and arrogant, which I understand, but he has no charisma or chemistry with anyone. This makes his forbidden love of Amidala torturous to sit through. This is so unfortunate because I think all the other actors do a really good job, especially Ewan McGregor who has to balance a lot of nuance, he has to present himself as the flawed teacher who failed to teach Anakin wrong from right yet is still good friends with his erstwhile Padawan. He also gets to be a cool detective in a much grittier and urban side of the Star Wars universe.
I quite enjoy the nature of the intrigue in this film, the plots and machinations of the villains are a lot more relevant to contemporary politics. A lot of people decry the politics of this series because it is incongruous with the more mythical and heroic plotline of the original trilogy yet I think the politics is this series saving grace. I would much prefer that the series grew up and dealt with things like terrorism, false flag attacks, rampant militarism, blind nationalism, and paranoia as it has here than re-hashing the old style.
I neglected to mention in my last Star Wars review, an issue with the showcasing of characters and locations from the original series in this one, most notably C-3PO. It makes the setting seem much smaller and less grand, on top of that this series did not need 3PO’s added comic relief. I will give his companion R2-D2 a pass though, he lways struck me as being James Bond but a robot, so to me it makes sense that he was rolling around in this time period, I always felt he knew more than he was letting on in the original films and this just confirms that.
This plot is perhaps the slowest burn in the series, there is an attempt at a more noirish atmosphere in the vein of Blade Runner but the cutting between it and the atrocious love affair undercuts this attempt at a slower pace. It works when there is a focus on Obi-Wan, but then it cuts back to Anakin and Amidala and I lose all interest. The film actually has a good pace when the lovers are not on screen and the final hour flows by quite quickly, I was only ever antsy when the film shifted focus away from the politically charged investigations of Obi-Wan. While I continue to bang on about the romance it is important to note that it is mostly in the first hour. So the first hour has terrible pacing and the second hour and a half has great pacing, that is just baffling.
The special effects also seem to have taken a backseat with many bad chroma keyed backgrounds and composite shots. It is not a huge backseat though, and many of the vistas and panoramas are amazingly creative and beautiful. When in action sequences, the effects also hold their own, it’s really just when people are standing around and talking that these effects fall apart and unfortunately there is a lot of that in this film. This is largely because this is one of the first truly digital films and they don’t call it really is on the bleeding edge, which is to say it harms itself by being a little too far reaching.
This film makes a plea for greater government transparency and that such a thing will protect democracy, while secrets, military industrialism, and intrigue will destroy it, considering the modern political situation in North America, this is a pretty real and important theme. But then cut back to Naboo and a romance so tepid that I can’t even come up with a proper metaphor for it. As a spy thriller, half of this film works quite well, with an intense theme and a solid handful of Bond-esque escapades that is ruined by an unfortunately necessary romance setting up Anakin’s eventual fall. This trilogy is the tragedy that mirrors the uplifting original trilogy with mystery and darkness, but, like with Episode 1, the good is held in tight balance with the bad. For me, I enjoy the intrigue, the action, and the effects are incredibly interesting both from a historical perspective and just in terms of the aesthetic sense of this series. So once again my feeling is that this film is just alright, but at least, like it’s predecessor, it has peaks and valleys instead of one flat plane. 3/5