Watching 'Star Wars' For the First Time: 'Attack of the Clones'
Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Before I start, please take a moment to sign this petition demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a 26 year old black woman who was murdered in her sleep by three police officers that broke into her home: https://www.change.org/p/andy-beshear-justice-for-breonna-taylor. Say her name.
I continue my Star Wars marathon with Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), a film which vastly improves upon its predecessor. While The Phantom Menace is remarkably childish (in its stakes, its humour and in the age of its protagonists), Attack of the Clones feels distinctly more adult. Indeed, everyone here is all grown up and the film encourages you to notice. The once cherubic Anakin is a man now - a man who enjoys aggressively pursuing women and flaunting his abs beneath linen shirts. Padmé undergoes a similar transformation, with one sequence towards the end of the film seeing her long-sleeved tee conveniently torn into an impractical crop-top. Attack of the Clones is, in essence, your typically angsty coming-of-age flick - albeit with far more spaceships than you'd find in Juno (2007) or Boyhood (2014).
The film opens on the planet Coruscant (which, for my own amusement, I will henceforth refer to as 'Croissant'). The planet plays host to some remarkably boring scenes in The Phantom Menace, but Attack of the Clones seeks redemption for Croissant; this time round we get a glimpse of its nightlife. Holographic adverts, neon signs and flying cars dot Croissant's horizon in a clear homage to Blade Runner (1982). Clones even features a car-chase sequence which seems to evoke the Ridley Scott film and the Decker/Zhora pursuit. While no where near as good as Blade Runner's, this sequence provides some genuine fun - I particularly enjoyed seeing Obi-Wan and Anakin use their robes as flying-squirrel suits, gliding from one flying car to the next like a pair of mystical beige bats.
While I'm talking about the Jedi I have to admit that Ewan McGregor steals the show. In The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan ultimately fades into the background, but the time-jump between Epsiode I and Episode II sees him mature into a very different character. Kenobi is no longer a meek and mildly Jedi-in-training; he now stands tall and proud as a Jedi Master - competent, charismatic and witty. Clones chooses to move away from the juvenile humour epitomized by Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace, and instead the film relies on Obi-Wan to provide comedic relief. His dialogue is sharp and biting, providing a more mature kind of humour for long-time fans. Kenobi actually provides my favourite line of dialogue in the film, when, turning impatiently to his arrogant padawan, he asks Anakin; "Why do I get the feeling you're going to be the death of me?" It's with this kind of playful foreshadowing that the Star Wars prequels can really excel.
While Hayden Christensen does a nice job in the role of Anakin, it's a shame that he isn't quite able to be an adequate sparring partner to McGregor's Obi-Wan. I'm not sure if it's down to a lack of gravitas or a bad script - though I imagine it's a bit of both - but our Skywalker protagonist is consistently unconvincing in the role. The original Star Wars trilogy depicts Vader as a fearsome and violent fiend, but the prequels would have you believe he's no more frightening than Ben Shapiro with a low-pony. The character is whiny, not intimidating, completely undercutting what could have been a cool depiction of his turn to the dark side. I don't think that the Jedi Council's stance on Anakin's darkness helps the situation - claiming that a young man's love for his mother is the root of all his evil is a bold take, even for 2002. That being said, I did like Shmi's death scene; it was well acted, well paced and set the groundwork nicely for Anakin's inevitable revenge.
One of the more interesting revelations in Attack of the Clones is that the Storm Troopers were meant to be 'good guys', and were preemptively commissioned by rogue members of the Senate in an attempt to ensure political stability. I always assumed they were just villains. Of course, the debate is (rightly) raised within the film as to whether militarization can ever help maintain peace, and I'm thankful that Episode II seems to explore the complex themes which Episode I avoided. The film also touches on the ethics of cloning, for example, in another homage to Blade Runner. While clones aren't the same as Scott's replicants, both films question the parameters in which we choose to value and define life - a question reinforced, here, through the introduction of Boba Fett (the exact clone of Jango Fett who calls his template 'Dad'). Of course, Attack of the Clones never comes close to reaching the sophisticated heights of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, but the film at least encourages its audience to engage politically with the text. This positions Clones in stark opposition to The Phantom Menace, which was too intoxicated by fart-jokes to engage with nuanced political philosophies.
Overall I had far more fun with Attack of the Clones than I did with The Phantom Menace. The film suffers most obviously in it's stilted central romance, but McGregor's charming performance ensures Episode II is worth the watch. I'll admit I find it frustrating that this entire trilogy revolves around a prophecy that audiences still aren't actually privy to (all we know so far is that a certain Jedi is 'destined to restore balance the Force') but I'm assuming that some actual clarity will be provided by Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. For now, though, I'm just glad the films have stopped pretending we don't know Senator Palpatine and Lord Sidious are the same person - you can't make successful mystery from the obvious.
TL;DR: I prefer my 'Star Wars' to be political and I have a crush on Ewan McGregor.
Written by James Green