Attack of the Clones came along at a very transitional time in my life. I’ve gone over the emotional connection I have with one traumatic scene before. I also had a great time seeing it at a midnight showing with my cousins.
As a result it’s often gotten treated with kid gloves when it comes to criticism through the years. But now it’s time for the Clones to be dissected. Honestly, fairly and without kid gloves.
Here’s Where the Fun Begins
Much like its predecessor, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones is an imperfect film. Thanks to a change in the editing booth, though, it’s a step closer to perfect than The Phantom Menace. It’s apparent that bringing Lucasfilm sound editing mainstay and part-time director Ben Burtt into the booth gave Lucas the opportunity to speak in the shorthand he needed. It’s obvious that Burtt understood the nature of these films a little better (go figure, he’s been with Lucasfilm since the beginning) and the result is a tighter pace that “feels” more like the originals’ tenor.
This doesn’t diminish Episode I, but merely acknowledges that Episode II is when things start to feel more relaxed and maybe even a little more inspired. A bit more slapdash action, quicker transitions between spectacle and a little more polish on the effects.
Quick plot synopsis: A fallen Jedi starts some trouble, Padmé gets targeted for assassination while trying to stop the war and a clone army has been created for the Republic without (good) Jedi knowledge. Anakin falls in love, Obi-Wan gets sleuthy and the war starts, which makes Yoda sad.
Unsurprisingly, it was better received.
Clone the Love, Love the Clones
And there’s a lot to love here for both fans and non-fans alike.
Instead of evoking a cold world ruled by disciplined warriors, this film feels more like a youthful adventure. Frankly, there’s more heart.
Interestingly enough, this film—the second in this trilogy—evokes Lucas’ own second work, American Graffiti. Anakin and Obi-Wan pursue a villain in what amounts to a spaceship version of John Milner’s hot rod. The design sensibilities on the capital planet are a bit more Art Deco. There’s even a 1950s-style diner with a big four-armed guy who may as well have been called Mel (his name was Dexter Jettster, and he remains one of the brightest points in the picture.)
This sets an interesting arc as you can see echoes of THX-1138 in The Phantom Menace and so if you progress along, either Lucas is using his previous films to be evocative of the growth of emotion, or after his long absence from the director’s chair we’re watching his literal artistic rebirth as he progresses from the overly intellectual to the blatantly emotional. I’d love to get inside his brain and see if he’d done it purposely or just repeated history.
And then of course, there’s Baby Boba and Daddy Fett.
After decades of absurd devotion to a semi-minor, though admittedly cool, character introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, we meet his father, Jango Fett. As played by Temeura Morrison, this Fett was mask on and mask off a total joy to watch. In a notable scene where he stares down Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s pure gunfighter swagger.
Jango serves as the genetic template for the Clone Army that’s a source of such consternation in the film. So Clones also gives fans precisely what they wished for years, which was an army of Fett. But instead of doing it in a completely lame way, Lucas gives the fanboys a partial “f*** you” by making Fett into the antecedent of the stormtroopers, who have been reduced in fan circles to the equivalent of the Keystone Cops.
Lucas completes his collection of Revered B-List British Actors of Yesteryear by adding Christopher Lee to the ensemble, who ironically played Dracula to Peter (Grand Moff Tarkin) Cushing’s Van Helsing.
All basso bravura, Lee brings a vigor to a brief role as the first indicator of a great Jedi’s ability to fall (hint-like Anakin will).
The backdrops also evoke the American paintings of the Frontier era, when hyper-realism portrayed an idealistic yet brooding sense of grandeur.
Lucas posits some interesting philosophical questions here, as well. Is murder ever understandable? Is the military a tool of the ruling class, so long as its members are more devoted to the military structure than to being citizens? Is it possible for a Jedi to fall in love as quickly as Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli?
Clone the Hate, Hate the Nerds
Of course, the film isn’t perfect. The love story is admittedly rushed and, going back to the editing beef I developed, about half of the speeder chase in the beginning of the film could have been cut in favor of at least one more scene showing Padmé and Anakin getting to know each other before their frolicking in the meadow.
There is precisely one line in the film that’s a complete train wreck, and unfortunately it takes away the power of one of its best scenes. When this film was released in IMAX®, they cut that line out and the scene played much better. Then it was back in on the DVD. Go figure.
The effects are tremendous on the whole, and the cinematography must have been a technical nightmare; however they did get a bit too ambitious for a few things and could have been well served to know when to develop the digital matte paintings with a bit more depth and detail.
It would have been nice, as well, to see a scene in there that I know was filmed that provided context for how drastically radical it was for Count Dooku to have left the Jedi Order. That back story is wildly relevant and would have at least kept Dooku fresh in our minds before the end of the film.
Sidious also gets short shrift; after dominating the first film, it would have been nice to see him in more than one scene at the end. Although, arguably, you do: but I mean with the cloak. I like him better with the gravelly voice and hood.
The Final Analysis
Still, Attack of the Clones remains one of my favorite films to pop into the DVD player and watch. There’s a tremendous sense of fun to it, and it takes itself far less seriously than The Phantom Menace. The choices are a bit more natural; of course, in context this fits because it’s another step closer to the actual story we grew up watching. We’ve moved from the Cold Golden Age to the Civil War and we’re on our way to the Wild West.
And typically, I hate “bridge” stories. They are by their very nature unresolved. They are not the beginning of the story where the important foundation is laid. They are not the thrilling end when secrets are revealed. They exist only to prep you for what comes next. I hated Matrix Reloaded. Back to the Future Parts II and III were tremendoulsy misguided. Star Trek III exists merely to exist (as frequent commenter Frylock Bodine has accurately illuminated).
But this one is different. It’s enjoyable enough that you don’t mind a lack of resolution because if this is the set up, you can’t wait for the punch line.