20 January 2016

Re-Awakening the Force #2 | Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones directed by George Lucas

I love Attack of the Clones. By far the most underrated movie in the Star Wars saga to date, Episode II does everything that I wanted the prequels to do and more besides. It shows us Obi-Wan and Anakin fighting side by side as master and apprentice, with all the expected camaraderie and seniority squabbles thereto. It brings together the Skywalker twins’ parents in a duly overwrought, hearts-over-heads love story that all but seals Anakin’s fate. It completes the story of Palpatine’s rise to galactic dictator as the legendary Clone Wars begin in spectacular fashion. We even get to see Yoda fight.

Furthermore, the film’s plot is one of the saga’s most ambitious, with Obi-Wan and Anakin’s investigation into an attempt on Padmé’s life leading the former to the heart of a mystery a decade in the making, and the latter into a passionate but turbulent relationship that will test his commitment to the Jedi Order, and ultimately serve as the catalyst for his Episode III heel turn. Both tantalising threads converge as Darth Sidious’s master plan finally comes to fruition and the galaxy erupts in an all-pervading war that, one day, his Galactic Empire will rise from the ashes of.

“The thought of not being with you... I can’t breathe.”

Clones is most often criticised for George Lucas and Jonathan Hayles’ depiction of the Anakin / Padmé romance, not to mention Hayden Christensen’s performance as the troubled teen Romeo. I like both, for the most part. The screenwriters’ romantic dialogue is oddly formal, even bizarrely verbose at times, but this lends it the heightened feel of a play - something that I feel suits the nature of the story being told. As for Christensen, he comes off as moody and churlish, even Vader-monotonous at times - but that’s Anakin, particularly at this point in his life. He’s a loved-up teenager with attachment issues who feels like he’s being held back by his mentors - he’s supposed to be miserable.
“Well I should be! I will be the most powerful Jedi ever!
I will even learn to stop people from dying...”

Anakin’s return to Tatooine and search for his mother is also very well handled, again setting the stage perfectly for Episode III. The moment in which he cradles the dead body of his mother, his eyes wide and face contorted in horror and rage as John Williams’ score builds to a crescendo, is one of the prequel trilogy’s most defining; the aftermath discussion with Padmé in the Homestead is one of its best. In the latter, Christensen really shows us what he can do as Anakin’s tear-stained rage and remorse boil over into a chilling monologue that walks a terrifying tightrope between despair and determination. Years later, he would say to his son, “There is no conflict…” - but here there clearly is, and it’s arguably a much more fascinating area to explore.

Obi-Wan’s thread of the narrative is more traditional in the outer-space swashbuckling sense, but it’s also unusual in that in casts him in the role of detective. It’s great fun to see him turn to greasy-spoon friends and frosty Jedi librarians as he tries to piece together a puzzle that will lead him to an apparently Jedi-ordered clone army, conveniently ready-made to meet the rising threat of the Separatists. Such labyrinthine plotting is a marked contrast to the more straightforward films of the ’70s and ’80s, and really helps to sell the scope of the Sith’s master plan. Where it falls down, to a certain extent, is in the movie’s - and indeed the prequel trilogy’s - resolution, which isn’t explicit enough for many viewers. Was the army-ordering Syfo-Dyas an agent of the Sith, or Count Dooku in disguise? And how much does Dooku know of Darth Sidious’s true intentions? I don’t mind having to turn to spin-off media to elucidate, but the films should be able to stand alone, and they only manage to just barely.

The movie’s climax is unreservedly spectacular - it’s thrilling to see a group of Jedi going to war for the first time, even if it means that we only see several small lightsaber duels instead of one almighty one. Amongst them, of course, is Yoda’s first on-screen show of swordsmanship; something teased by Obi-Wan at the start of the movie and delivered in style by the saga’s first CG Yoda. The larger clones versus droids backdrop is impressive too, particularly with Christopher Lee’s underrated Count Dooku and his Flash Gordon-inspired cadre of Confederacy leaders presiding over the battle from high above. My only niggles are that both Anakin and Jango Fett are defeated a little too easily for my tastes, though in the case of the latter it does at least give us a haunting moment in which the young Boba picks up his father’s decapitated head, mirroring Anakin’s earlier scene with his mother and to the same end.

It’s become fashionable to lambaste all the prequels despite II and III’s evident quality, but I’ve never been one for fashion. By turns thrilling and haunting, Attack of the Clones is an overlooked gem in the Star Wars saga - one that, in time, I hope starts to get the recognition that it deserves.

Under its newly-shortened title Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the home video edition of this movie (featuring an extended scene in the Homestead between Anakin and Padmé) is available to download from iTunes in 1080p HD for £13.99. A Blu-ray is also available, with today’s cheapest retailer being Zavvi, who are selling the steelbook for £16.99. The theatrical version of the movie has never been commercially released - not even on DVD.