The Breakdown: Is Attack of the Clones really as bad as we remember?
Part 2 - Attack of the Clones
Continuing on with Part 2 of our critical breakdown of the Star Wars Prequels, this week I had the unfortunate pleasure of rolling up my sleeves, taking one for the team and watching SW Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Like our previous article (in which I dissected The Phantom Menace) the aim here was to answer a nagging question that has been bouncing around inside my head ever since Jar Jar Binks popped up on our screens in 1999 – Are the prequels really as bad as we remember, or is our preconceived hatred of anything George Lucas related tainting our vision and making us hate movies that are in fact quite enjoyable?
Before we delve into Episode II I wanted to address that question in a little more detail.
I’ve long held a belief that a lot of pop culture fans are being a smidge too harsh on George Lucas; for a while there in the mid to late 2000’s it was all the rage to moan for hours on end about the poor quality of the prequel movies. The phrase, “George Lucas raped my childhood” became so common on internet forum sites that if you invented a drinking game around spotting the phrase online you’d be blind drunk within 30 seconds of getting anywhere near the /b/ board of 4chan.
In the same way that ageing rap guys (ahem) tend to bemoan the achievements of any successful rapper younger than them, a bond began to form between people that had the courage to speak out against what they perceived as a drop of quality in the Star Wars franchise. Entire communities began to form around not only love of Star Wars, but also the hatred for Jar Jar Binks.
Hating George Lucas became fashionable. But when that hatred began to infest his other projects I kind of understood why George threw in the towel, put Star Wars in the ‘Too hard’ basket and flogged it off to Disney for a bajillion dollars.
We’ll get to Attack of the Clones, trust me, but I want to examine this Lucas hate just a teeny tiny bit more.
The cult of hating Lucas
Ok I totally agree. Jar Jar stinks. The prequels were a dip in quality from the previous trilogy, but still watchable, especially Episode III (that’s next week). But, “raped my childhood” is a bitter pill to swallow.
Let’s look at Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull – On the surface it had all the makings of really great adventure movie: Harrison Ford was back, Lucas was writing and Spielberg was directing. The Avengers had reassembled once more to prove why they’re the fiercest and most epoch making trio in the history of young adult adventure movies. There was a big budget, great cast (Yes, even chronic colostomy bag Shia Labeouf) and it was whipped together using the exact same formula that had made the previous three Indiana Jones movies a raging success.
Fast forward several years however and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is routinely summarized in one word.
If you were to round up all the Crystal Skull haters that vent on the internet or know-it-all’s that sit around at parties and huff and puff the phrase, “I mean, c’mon, ALIENS?” and put them together on an island you’d need enough space equivalent to the islands of Japan.
The “Aliens” argument has all the lack of forethought and witlessness of the BvS “Martha” hate campaign. Something that is quickly apparent when you cycle back through the events of the previous three Indiana Jones movies and examine them in the same critical detail as these SW prequel breakdowns.
Apparently “Aliens” jumped the shark. The first movie was about Nazis hunting for the LITERAL VOICE OF GOD that was contained in a box, so they could take over the world. The Temple of Doom featured a scene where Indy and co jumped out of a plane IN A RUBBER LIFERAFT.
Don’t even get me started on the third movie, a movie that features a 700 YEAR OLD CRUSADER KNIGHT GUARDING THE CUP THAT JESUS DRANK OUT OF AT THE ACTUAL LAST FUCKING SUPPER.
But tell me again how Lucas lost the plot with aliens.
This is why I think we genuinely need to ask ourselves the hard question – Are the prequels REALLY as bad as we remember? Or were the little jabs we took at Lucas during the 2000’s ironically doing nothing more than clouding our minds with the dark side of the force?
I don’t want to infer that our hatred of the prequels is unjustified, I just think in 2017 it’s important that we clear our mind’s of previous negativity and approach these movies with all the freshness of Puff Daddy attending an awards ceremony.
No time for love Dr Skywalker
So, 15 years later, is Attack of the Clones really as bad as we remember?
Ehhhhh. *Does hand wavy thing*
Weirdly, up until this week I’ve always remembered Attack of the Clones as being my least favourite of the prequel movies. In the light of critical analysis however I’m not so sure. In hindsight AOTC has within it some incredibly exciting plotline elements, however they’re narrative elements that are constantly being put to one side to make way for the ridiculous Padme and Anakin love story.
Like The Phantom Menace, this movie actually paces the hugely expansive narrative out quite well and I genuinely believe that Lucas did a pretty damn good job introducing us to the proto-stages of the Clone Wars. Like a really great Batman story, Obi-Wan uses his innate detective skills to unlock an ever deepening mystery. On the first viewing, audiences must have been engrossed by how tracing the footsteps of a would-be assassin lead to ever increasing important plot points, such as the discovery of the Clone Army, Jango Fett and the reveal of the CIS Droid production facility residing in secret on the planet Geonosis.
All of these elements only come into play because we watched our protagonists follow the trail of breadcrumbs from a completely unimportant slug handling assassin on Coruscant, through to a galaxy wide crisis beyond the outer rim.
It feels like Lucas learned his lesson from the first movie and decided not to pound us repeatedly with ridiculous exposition (See first article here). Episode II marked a new chapter in the prequels, because it felt like Lucas was actually showing the audience the narrative instead of telling them through dialogue.
This is clever writing, because in the end Obi-Wan’s investigation actually meant nothing to the overall narrative. The Jedi discovering the Clone Army on Kamino would have no effect on Palpatine’s ability to use them when he enacted his power play; the same could be said for tracking down the separatists on Geonosis. When it came to the CIS starting their breakaway from the Republic, Obi-Wan’s capture and rescue ultimately would not have moved the needle at all. So why is that clever writing? Because it was merely a vehicle that moved us through Lucas’ narrative – it was his way of showing us exposition instead of just blatantly hitting us over the head with it like the baby that screams “Not the momma!” in that ridiculous Dinosaurs TV show.
Another thing that genuinely excited me about AOTC was its reward for long time Star Wars fans. It gave us a level of fan service we hadn’t seen in a Star Wars movie to date.
Sure, Lucas and co tickled our balls with it a little in Return of the Jedi, but a few Stormtroopers shooting care bears with lasers in a forest doesn’t count as a large scale Star Wars land battle. When those Clone Dropships swooped in at the end of the movie and the whole story kicked into a higher gear I distinctly remember jumping out of my seat. Suddenly Star Wars felt grander. For the first time we were getting the large scale combat that was always hinted at but was never shown. We were able to think about Star Wars on a whole new level – suddenly our video games were no longer confined to dimly lit hallways like Dark Forces, they could expand and become open worlds like Battlegrounds or Empire at War.
The last positive I took out of the movie was my ever growing acceptance of Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. You can find my previous article on it here. To add more fuel to the fire of acceptance there are times in this movie where he absolutely nailed his character. Lucas was going for a moody, horny teenager that was desperate to bone Padme, the one true love of his life. On his journey to getting his dick wet Anakin would say stupid things, make awkward conversation and generally be grumpy whenever Padme wasn’t paying him enough attention. While his dialogue and screen presence was generally annoying, he hit the nail on the head perfectly. You couldn’t ask for a bigger arsehole.
So in all there are definitely things to admire about this movie, but there are also things to hate. Like Yin and Yang, for every positive there is an inseparable and contradictory opposite. So without further ado, let’s begin the breakdown.
Anakin’s raging boner
Yeah this was a problem throughout the movie for me. While Obi-Wan’s investigation into the cloning facility on Kamino was a way for the audience to step themselves through the beginning of the Clone War, Anakin and Padme’s love affair was our first introduction into Anakin’s downfall. By losing the love of his life, Anakin sought to destroy everyone that he perceived had slighted him and his blind rage for revenge took him from meek Jedi padawan to Darth Vader.
All of this is incredibly important in the overall Star Wars narrative. However, the actual love story itself as it plays out on screen is so ham-fistedly clunky that it grinds gears between scenes with all the consummate ease of a man with no arms careening down a highway in an 18-wheeler.
While watching the movie I wrote in my notes, “Anakin just seems like a horny dog that’s looking for a disembodied leg to attach himself to”. And it’s true. His dialogue regarding Padme carries with it a level of affection normally reserved for a man that breaks into women’s houses and sniffs their panties. At one point Anakin is watching Padme pack her clothes and the two are talking about Anakin’s affections for her. He looks at her, raises his eyebrow and says, “But I am growing. You said it yourself”. It feels like he’s a cocky year 8 kid that’s trying to fuck one of the girls in year 12.
The worst thing about it all is that Padme just seems to go along with it. She constantly rebukes his advances but makes no attempt at all to shut him down for good. Lucas made her the equivalent of a woman that just waits for her dog to finish humping her leg instead of spraying it with water and telling it to rack off.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be finished soon”.
In the end we find that Padme does have feelings for Anakin, but as an audience member I can’t help but ask myself where that love actually came from? It couldn’t have been the picnic they had together. Here’s some of the amazing dialogue:
“You really don’t like politicians do you?”
“I like two or three. But I’m not sure about one of them”.
Are you wet yet Padme?
It’s at this point Anakin decides to ride on top of a passing animal like a surfer catching a break into shore. When he slips, he rolls on the ground and pretends to play dead. As Padme runs across to him shrieking in absolute terror at the thought of her friend being gravely injured, he rolls over and begins laughing hysterically like The Joker murdering an innocent child.
Sploosh, ay Padme? SPLOOSH.
This leads instantly into a scene where the two of them are sitting facing each other in front of a fire, awkwardly looking around the room for something to say to one another. Once again Anakin pulls his dick out in an attempt to get her to notice him and once again she shoots him down. The whole time while watching this scene all I could think about was how boring free time in the Star Wars universe seems to be. That was their plan? What did she get dressed up for? So she could sit in a room and awkwardly stare at each other? Jeans and a tee would have been fine luv. At least play a board game or something. C’mon.
Young Boba Fett - the real villain of the prequel movies
Fuck this kid man. Fuck, this, kid. So many things bothered me about young Boba Fett, but none more so than his terrible acting and his inability to put any emphasis in his lines. At one point he screams, “Get him dad! Get him! FIRE!” and all I could think as he delivered that “FIRE” line was how he’s not projecting his voice. He sounds like someone singing song lyrics in his apartment and trying his best not to annoy the neighbours by singing too loud. Everything that came out of his mouth was flatter than an RC Cola.
He can’t even laugh properly. As they zip through the asteroid field around Geonosis hoping to lead Obi-Wan to his death, Jango feeds him the line, “We’ll have some surprises for them”. Presumably in the script Boba’s line here is “Ha ha ha”, however this kid seems to deliver the line with all the pomp and pomposity of a Hanna-Barbera villain giving a monologue to the Wacky Racers tweaking his moustache.
“HA. HA. HAAAAA” he says, leaving gaps between the ha’s big enough to fly a 747 through.
Coruscant road rules
I had to give this its own sub-heading. The rules of the sky on Coruscant seem so strange – to get anywhere you seem to just join a queue of speeders like everyone else, oh, except if you want to fly around everyone else and just do your own thing. That seems cool too. So what are the rules here? It seems just as legal to zip around towers shooting flames out of them as it does to fly on a non-existent highway with all the other cars too.
While we’re on the subject of speeders, why are all the designs so ridiculous? I understand that not everyone on the planet is human, but other planets must have passenger safety regulations, right? Most speeders don’t seem to have a roof or seatbelts and seem routinely prone to flipping over or spiralling out of control. Also, how can you just jump in one and turn it on. They must have keys or some sort of owner controlled ignition, right? How did Anakin just jump in one and piss off with it?
Ok we need to talk about the blue screen in this movie. While we can definitely say that in 2002 the industry had come leaps and bounds from the early days of special effects cinema, in the end Lucas’ decision to film the bulk of this movie on blue screen was in hindsight a pretty bad idea.
While the shimmering halo effects that plagued The Phantom Menace were largely eradicated, the biggest problem wasn’t the interaction between real world elements and digital protagonists, it was the overwhelming bulk of storyline that was set aside to be generated graphically. While older movies benefited greatly as a synthesis of between CGI and real world footage (Starship Troopers, The Mask, Jurassic Park), Lucas decided to rely heavily on entire scenes that featured only computer generated characters.
This may have been at least somewhat passable in 2002, in 2017 however it looks horribly hokey. The interaction between Yoda and his commanders during the battle of Geonosis look more like video game cut scenes than scripted footage from a multi-million dollar block busting extravaganza. In the long run this decision is something that is likely going to haunt Lucas for a long time and it’s something that modern SW filmmakers like J.J Abrams and Gareth Edwards seem unlikely to repeat. Episode VII and Rogue One stayed true to the roots of the original trilogy and the way they blended real actors with CGI elements worked a lot better than Lucas’ overall prequel vision.
There are a few other issues I had with this movie, here are the most prominent:
- Padme still dresses like a robotic geisha
- While on the subject of Padme’s outfits, at one point her and Anakin head to Naboo in disguise, posing as “Refugees”. They turn up to the spaceport not only surrounded by Jedi and armed guards, but Padme is wearing a headdress that can only be described as ‘camp metal peacock’. As far as incognito goes, they’re not exactly doing a particularly good job. To prove this point, after they land they are whisked away to meet with the new Queen of Naboo all while wearing the exact same outfits. Not exactly refugee chic.
- After 10 years living the life as a bourgeois uppity politician, Jar Jar Binks still speaks like a bag of rubbish. You can take the boy out of Naboo.....
- They’ve really turned Jar Jar into everyone’s punching bag in this movie. Anakin is venting to Jar Jar about Padme. C’mon bro, Jar Jar doesn’t want to hear about your raging boner. At another point Jar Jar is speaking to Padme and she stops him, “I don’t wish to hold you up”. Even Armidala is sick of your shit dude.
- “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” I lol’d.
- “Jedi Business, go back to your drinks”. At what point did the Jedi become snarky cops? What is this, Training Day?
- Oh god. The diner scene. So, somewhere out there a droid designer said, “We need to make a droid that has the personality and voice of a cliché 1950’s diner hostess”. Why didn’t his co-worker stop them and say, “What the fuck is the 1950’s?”. WHAT ARE THEY REFERENCING WITH THAT VOICE? IT MAKES NO SENSE.
- While Padme and Anakin are having dinner, the help turns up carrying a plate with a single piece of fruit on it. Time for a new chef I think.
- At his mother’s funeral, Anakin says, “I miss you, so much”. Obviously not, you haven’t gone back to see her in 10 years.
- When R2-D2 pushed C-3PO off the platform in the robot factory, was that attempted murder? I mean, how did he know that C-3PO would be saved by a flying robot that was randomly flying by? It makes no sense that R2 would do that.
- Oh btw, R2-D2 can fly. Wait, what? R2 CAN FUCKING FLY. Do we ever see that again?
- Are they padding Natalie Portman’s pants in this movie? She has serious donk. Boom son.
- Christopher Lee is so great, but ffs he’s so stiff in this movie. For some reason Lucas decided to shoot the majority of his scenes as full body shots. For this reason, every time he uses his force lightning he looks absolutely ridiculous. He’s an octogenarian at this point, right?
- When Dooku and Anakin are fighting there’s literally a montage of them just swinging their lightsabers over their head. C’mon guys.
- During the execution scene on Geonosis, what was the point of rounding up all these monsters? The people being executed are tied up so they can’t fight back. Presumably that’s how it normally goes down right? So how is that a spectacle? That’s the equivalent of filling a football stadium full of people so they can watch a bear eat a person strapped to a table. Ok, fine, but that’s not exactly a grand spectacle that requires me to be there in person. Surely I can just watch that kind of thing on TV, right? And why such exotic animals? The handlers are dying just trying to corral them into the coliseum. Do the animals normally do a little dance after it’s over? I’m just trying to justify why people would come out to watch this. Surely it’s over in seconds.
- Why do the Geonosians have chariots? They have wings.
So what’s the verdict? Is this movie really a pile of excrement like we’ve always remembered or is it a glorious triumph to Lucas’ long term Star Wars vision?
Like a tiny girl teaching the world about the yin and yang of tacos, it’s actually little of both. It certainly isn’t Lucas’ best work and our introduction to the Clone Wars probably could have been handled better. I’m not convinced yet that it deserves to be treated with the respect normally given to hitchhiking gum found in the sole of your shoe, but in another 15 years it might be.
We may even reach a point when Episode IX comes around and the importance of Episodes I, II and III fade away into nothingness. I still feel these movies are important and my 2017 analysis of them hasn’t so far dissuaded me from believing that this is indeed the case. However I humbly recognise the inferior quality of these movies when compared against even the two (at this date) Disney Star Wars releases.
Yes, AOTC is still relevant for Star Wars fans, but honestly, I don’t think that’s going to last forever.
- Andrew Archer