Star Wars, Episode II: Send in the Clowns!

Yeah, that’s not the most original parody of this movie’s title, but it sums up my feelings pretty well. In my last review, I addressed the first movie in the Star Wars prequel lineup, the absurdly named The Phantom Menace. In sum, it was a movie with some signs of quality, but which suffered from a technocratic plot and a whole lot of childish content. Overall, sort of a C+. Okay, not great! In addition, I tried to tackle the two big questions that are constantly asked about the Star Wars franchise. Number one: why were the originals so enduring and influential in their time? And two: what the hell happened with the prequels? The originals were enduring classics that combined gun slinging, swashbuckling adventure with space opera and mythology. The prequels… well, they were entertaining in places. Annoying, insulting, generally inexplicable, but still entertaining.

And now, onto the second movie in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the even more absurdly named Attack of the Clones! As you can tell from the title of this posting, I did NOT like this movie; and in that, I am hardly alone. According to critics and fans alike, it was even worse than the first – a complete 180 of what happened with the first trilogy where the sequel outstripped the original. And the reasons were obvious: For the most part, Phantom Menace was an critical flop because it was simultaneously kiddy, technocratic and suffered from an obvious sense of duty. The second movie suffered from the same ailment, but added some new elements that brought it down even further. But I could not hope to address them all in one paragraph so let me break it down succinctly. As C3P0 would say (in the originals!) “Here we go again…”

Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones
As I’m sure I mentioned in the previous post, Lucas spoke of what this movie would be about long before it aired… to the disappointment of fans everywhere. Whereas most of us were hoping that the second movie would depart from the childish tone struck by the first, Lucas dashed all that by saying it would be a love story and aimed squarely at kids. And of course, it would explain how the “Clone Wars” happened. On top of that, he had to give the audience some preview of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. A tall order, to be sure, but Lucas managed to mangle it pretty good! Here’s what went wrong:

Forced Chemistry: Lucas is known for writing dialogue that nobody can say, but in this movie, he really outdid himself! Those “romantic” scenes between Christensen and Portman, they’re PAINFUL! Not only does nobody speak like that, Portman and Christensen manage to go through these scenes without exhibiting the slightest trace of romantic chemistry! In fact, we’re given every indication to suggest that what’s really going on is a case of creepy stalker syndrome! Remember that back and forth from early on in the movie, “Please don’t look at me like that,” says Portman. “Why not?” asks Christensen. “It makes me uncomfortable.” Sound like love? Nope! As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the part where Anakin says he’s been dreaming about her for ten years straight, and that just being around her again is “intoxicating”. Ick! Can you say “obsessive”? And last, there’s the part where she totally disses him in front of people on Naboo. “Anakin is just a padawan,” she says. He objects to this sluff off, but she totally puts him in his place. Clear enough? She don’t like ya, kid. Move on or face a restraining order! And yet, we’re supposed to believe these two somehow fall in love a few scenes later? The only reason we’re supposed to believe it is because we already know it happens! Otherwise, it is wholly unbelievable and totally cringe-worthy!

Forced Rivalry: Oh, and let’s not forget the totally forced animosity that exists between Anakin and Obi Wan. It’s obvious from the way Anakin back-talks him and complains about him behind his back that he’s got some animosity for the man. It’s already predictable due to the fact that we know in advance that Anakin will turn bad and betray him, but it doesn’t help that the dialogue and the delivery feel totally fake and wooden. And lets not forget how insistent Lucas was with the whole odd couple dynamic! In fact, the back and forth between Anakin and Obi Wan and their complaints about each other are so overdone that Obi Wan just comes off as a nagging shrew and Anakin as a total bitch! Yes, we know what’s going to happen and its necessary to preview how, but Jesus-Allah-Buddah, a little subtlety please!

Infodumping: Which brings me to my next point. Lucas, you can’t have your characters just announce their feelings! It’s unsubtle, insulting to the audience, and drives home the whole dutiful nature of these awful movies even more! From the very outset, we learn that Anakin is in love with Padme/Amidala. Why? Because he says so. We learn shortly thereafter that Anakin resents Obi Wan. Why? Because he says so. We learn that Anakin is arrogant on a count of his abilities? Why? Obi Wan says so! On and on this goes throughout the movie. Lucas seems to think that the best way to establish something is to have his characters announce it openly, as opposed to say establishing it slowly through bits of dialogue and acting! And of course, its all because he feels obliged to cover his bases and explain how everything happened. This is why I hate prequels, you know.

Hayden Christensen: To be fair, the boy was up against it dealing with Lucas’ awful script writing, but that didn’t prevent him from being the most whiny, annoying bitch I’ve ever seen on camera. Seriously, even Shia LaBeouf was less annoying by comparison, and that was with Michael Bay writing his lines! And this is the guy who’s supposed to turn into Darth Vader? I would think that a war hero who got tempted by evil and became the universe’s most notorious bad-ass would be… oh, I don’t know, like Gary Cooper. The strong silent type! Not some whiny little kid who does nothing but lament about unrequited love and bitch about how he’s not being treated like an adult by his master. Exposition ruined what should have been the perfect character!

Jump-around Plot: Ostensibly, this movie was supposed to be about the Clone Wars. But on top of that, Anakin and Padme are supposed to fall in love, and then there’s the added duty of previewing Anakin’s fall to the dark side. As a result, we get a whole first hour in which the main characters are just running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Anakin brings Padme to Naboo to protect her (her home planet? Really? An assassin wouldn’t think to look for her there?), and the scenery works its magic and they fall in love. But then, Anakin has to rush off to Tatooine, totally unrelated to the plot, to find his mother. Once there, he finds out she’s been taken by sand people and she dies as soon as he finds her. Anakin responds by wiping out the whole village of sand-people, and somehow, nobody seems to care. That little act of genocide is forgotten as they have to rush back into the fray to rescue Obi Wan because he’s been taken prisoner. The only one who appears to be sticking to the plan is Obi Wan, who was busy at work the whole time investigating the clone plot. On its own, that part wasn’t bad, but its so diluted by the other crap that you almost don’t notice it. In fact, were it not for all the other crap, we might have actually gotten into the war!

Genocide? No biggie!: Speaking of the massacre Anakin committed, I’m sure everyone noticed how little the other characters seemed to care about that. Yoda senses the massacre through the Force, but it never comes up again. Even worse, Padme seems totally unphased when he tells her that he slaughtered women and children. She even goes as far as to say “To be angry is to be human.” WHAAAAAT? The boy wipes out an entire village of people, women and children included, and the best you can say is “no biggie?” What kind of person are you?! Equally odd, when Anakin returns to the Jedi, no one so much as mentions it. Yoda knew something was up, but its like he either forgot or stopped caring. Little wonder why this kid turned evil, he’s got no boundaries!

More Re-Used Characters: Like I said about the first movie, Lucas seemed to think that he had to introduce ALL the characters from the first movie, even if he was hard-pressed to do so. In this movie, we get the back-story of Boba Fett, who as it turns out, is a clone! Yes, the bad-ass bounty hunter extraordinaire from the first trilogy is actually the clone of a bounty hunter named JANGO Fett. That seemed kinda forced, but the introduction of Owen and Beru, who are apparently Anakin’s step-brother and step-sister-in-law? That was just plain stupid! Did he expect the audience to go “ah-hah!” every time he did that? Honestly, I think people just rolled their eyes and sighed whenever it happened.

Final Fight Scene: One thing that always seems to redeem Lucas’ movies is the action scenes. That awesome fight scene from the first one was enough to justify admission, but this time around, Lucas screwed the pooch on that one too! The big scene at the end, which apparently was inspired by Roman-style executions in the Coliseum, was not too bad, but it was long and drawn out. And holy hell, the fight scene that ensues between Dooku, Anakin, Obi Wan, and then Yoda? It was totally unrealistic, and punctuated by some of the worst dialogue ever! First, he takes down Anakin by hurling him into a wall just so he can fight Obi Wan one on one. Then he manages to defeat Obi Wan without inflicting any real harm, mainly so he and Anakin can go at it mono a mono. After he takes off Anakin’s arm, fulfilling yet another plot element, him and Yoda go at it. “I can see we are not going to resolve this with our knowledge of the force, but our skills with a lightsaber.” Do I even need to say it? Nobody talks like that! Yeah, the fight scene is entertaining, sure, but otherwise nothing but theatrics and zero substance!

Clueless Jedi: In the first movie, the Jedi seemed just a little slow on the uptake. I mean I know I have the benefit of knowing exactly who the bad guy is, but between the first and second movie, a full ten years have passed! You’d think they’d have done some digging and learned a thing or two about who Darth Maul was and who he might have been taking his orders from. And this time around, they’re even more clueless. And it seems almost necessary in order to explain how Palpatine could have seized power without the Jedi getting wise to him. I admit, that was a tough thing to tackle. But Yoda’s explanation, how the “dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is,” etc etc, falls pretty flat. Apparently, the Jedi’s have a diminished capacity to use the Force now, and rather than tell anyone, they keep it hush hush because Yoda doesn’t want their enemies getting any ideas. Pretty contrived explanations, man! A simple line of dialogue, like how Palpatine has mastered a technique that allows him to mask his presence in the Force, that might’ve worked. It might even make sense in the context of how, at times, Yoda and the others get suspicious of him. He can mask his dark Force energies from detection, but once in awhile, something slips through. Oy! I feel so geeky!

And that about covers this bad-boy. Overall, it was pretty bad, pretty rushed, pretty forced, and suffered from a sense of duty even more than the first. It was not enough that it had to explain major plot elements, it also had to forecast a number of developments that the audience knew would happen later on. And that was its downfall. When it comes to prequels, the potential for excitement comes in the form of developing things that have been hinted at, but for which the audience is seriously short on the details. In this case, the Clone Wars. Only once did it come up in the first trilogy, when Luke spoke to Obi Wan about what his father did. And several passing mentions were made in other areas of the franchise, including comics, novels and video games. But always, the details were in
short supply because the master (George) never left any notes.

So really, that’s what this movie needed to do but failed to deliver on. Explain the war, get into it, and sure, throw in some stuff cataloging Palpatine’s rise to power. That’s it! Instead, we get a whole lot of set-up designed to explain how the war is GOING to happen, an awful romance story, a rushed and forced prelude of Anakin’s fall, and a quick scene showing how Palpatine used the war crisis to become a tyrant. This last part felt like a technocratic holdover from the first movie – Parliamentary procedure leading to the emergence of dictatorship, yadda yadda. But the point is, we missed out on all the real action when that’s all the fans really wanted in the first place! In fact, the final scene where Clone Troopers are boarding their vessels and going off to war is the closest we get to seeing the war at all in this movie. Sure, the big battle on Geonosis kinda counted as part of the war, but it was really more of a prelude, not the actual thing! And with a name like “Attack of the Clones”, you’d think we’d see more, you know, attacking! Instead, the war is something that happened between movies, to be covered later by another producer (Genndy Tartakovsky) and then commandeered by Lucas when he realized it was profitable. But more on that later! Up next, the salvageable finale to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith!

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Plot: 2/10
Direction: 7/10
Total: 5/10

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