Attack of the Clones Stumbles, Triumphs

It’s been a few weeks since the release of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (ok, more like two months). I’ve seen the movie twice, and am contemplating seeing it a third time. Now, with the climactic 45 minutes of the movie a pleasant but more distant memory, I can give an objective review of the film.

It’s a decent movie, far better than The Phantom Menace. It’s still short of the glory of the original trilogy but in large part it gives fans exactly what they were looking for.

The story has long been anticipated by fandom, even if its details were a little fuzzy. Hundreds of star systems are threatening to secede from the Galactic Republic, something that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine refuses to allow. Meanwhile, political forces are maneuvering to grant Palpatine the emergency powers he needs to raise a standing army and crush the separatists fledgling rebellion.

Padme Amidala, once elected queen of Naboo and now the planet’s representative in the Galactic Senate, has vowed to fight the raising of the army, fearing the tyrannical power associated with it. Her objections make her the target of assassins, prompting Palpatine to ask the Jedi to assign bodyguards two her in the form of two old acquaintances, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Eventually Anakin is ordered to more-closely protect Amidala, while Kenobi is charged with tracking down the bounty hunter who tried to kill her. In the process, the Jedi Master (I argue that Kenobi is a master at this point; some of my friends disagree) uncovers a massive clone army commissioned to serve the republic … and wearing all-too-familiar white body armor.

Naturally, as Kenobi plunges deeper into the mystery, Anakin and Padme find themselves awkwardly, hesitantly, falling in love. The two story lines come crashing together in an epic battle the likes of which Star Wars fans have been dreaming of for years.

I will not pretend that Attack of the Clones is a great movie, but I won’t slander it by saying its’ a bad one. It’s got all that we’ve come to expect from Lucas — gorgeous special effects, stunning vistas, nicely choreographed action sequences, and dialogue that belongs in a direct-to-video scifi knockoff rather than in the latest installment of one of the greatest speculative fiction sagas ever filmed.

Some knocked the movie’s plot, saying it didn’t make any sense. While I would agree with that assessment of the first movie (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the Trade Federation’s trade dispute was) the same can’t be said of Episode II. In this movie we see a Sith Lord expertly laying the groundwork for tyranny. Using Darth Tyrannus, Darth Sideous is able to orchestrate a rebellion against the Republic, which in turn necessitates awarding Supreme Chancellor Palpatine “temporary” emergency powers He promptly uses these powers to form a “Grand Army of the Republic”, which conveniently enough some cloners have been growing for the Republic for the last dozen years.

Once again we see that the best, fastest path to tyranny isn’t by conquering a country (or galactic republic) from outside — it’s getting the public to vote themselves into a dictatorship.

It’s a little scary that so many people criticized the story’s plot as being too complicated — if they can’t see the deadly elegance of Darth Sideous’s power play, how can they possibly expect to defend our republic against the excesses of the War on Terror?

No, the movie’s flaw isn’t the story, or even the largely stale dialogue. It’s the stillborn romance at its core. The believability of the entire film rests upon the intensity of the relationship between Padme (Natalie Portman) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen). Theirs is a coupling that will rock the galaxy with passion and pain, and I was expecting to see that reflected in the movie. If it had captured even a slight percentage of that power, this movie would have easily matched the caliber of the original Holy Trilogy.

But it didn’t.

Anakin comes across as a sniveling, bratty teenager. Forget power and emotion barely held in check by strength of will, as written by Lucas and portrayed by Christensen, the future Dark Lord of the Sith seems like nothing more than a teenager grounded for joy riding. What does Padme see in him? I’ve been asked that question many times by my non-geek friends and I can’t honestly say. There’s no rational reason for her to fall in love with him, and I suspect that the primary motivation isn’t passion (as I’d hoped) but pity. Poor Anakin was a slave. Poor Anakin lost his mother. Poor Anakin isn’t allowed to love by the Jedi Code.

The movie’s failing might not have been so acute if Spider-Man hadn’t been released mere weeks before hand. The dialogue in that movie may not have been stellar, but it’s actors made the relationship between Spidy (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) work. There was real passion there, real feeling. The upside down kiss, Peter’s confession of his feelings in Aunt May’s hospital room, Spiderman’s fight to save Mary Jane when she’s kidnapped by the Green Goblin — they were powerful scenes filled with a passion that Episode 2 doesn’t come close to matching.

All this having been said, the movie still has its moments. Ewan McGregor’s still a perfect Obi-Wan, and the scenes with him battling Jango Fett — both on the cloners home world and in space — were excellent. The final 45 minutes of the film, as has been said many times, rivals the best aspects of the original trilogy in terms of fun and action. We see many precursors to the original films during the movie’s climactic battle, including storm-trooper battle armor and star destroyers. And the fight seen between Darth Tyrannous and Yoda is not to be missed.

It’s enough to save the film, and to make it worth of repeated viewing. But its not enough to inspire the sort of fanatical devotion that the original films — particularly A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back — earned.

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