Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Note: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and The Mandalorian.

Following the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999, the Prequel Trilogy continued in 2002 with the release of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, furthering the story of Anakin Skywalker. While I did see this movie in the theater when it first premiered, I will admit to have sparsely seen it since then, in part due to the overall negative reputation the Prequels had at the time, though I will also admit further to not fully paying attention to the story since I was young when I first saw it. As part of our re-evaluation of the Prequel Trilogy, I rewatched Attack of the Clones through the original 2002 DVD release, which features the most minimal changes compared to the original theatrical cut of the movie. While my opinion on the movie has overall improved since my initial viewing, my feelings on it are still a bit mixed.

To quote the opening crawl: “There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several thousand solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic. This separatist movement, under the leadership of the mysterious Count Dooku, has made it difficult for the limited number of Jedi Knights to maintain peace and order in the galaxy. Senator Amidala, the former Queen of Naboo, is returning to the Galactic Senate to vote on the critical issue of creating an ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC to assist the overwhelmed Jedi....”

While on the planet Coruscant to vote on whether the Jedi need an army to combat the increasing Sepratist Movement led by Count Dooku, Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is nearly assassinated by a mysterious threat. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and his Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who arrived to protect Padmé, chase down the assassin, however the suspect is killed by a poison dart before they can figure out who was truly behind the attack. For safety reasons, Anakin is assigned to act as Padmé’s bodyguard while Obi-Wan sets off to investigate the assassination attempt.

Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor, left) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen,
right) chase down Padmé’s attacker.

From here, the bulk of the movie is split between two separate subplots that come back together at the end. While the overall writing of the film is of dubious quality, Obi-Wan’s subplot in which he practices his detective skills is surprisingly compelling to watch, as it leads to lot of interesting plot developments the further he goes down the rabbit hole. This plot thread also formally introduces the clone army seen in numerous accounts of the Clone Wars as well as their progenitor, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), and the first on-screen appearance of Count Dooku. Though I’m not one to invest too much in Expanded Universe material, whether its Canon or Legends, watching this movie after the developments in Season 2 of The Mandalorian on Disney+ made the character of Jango Fett and his unaltered clone Boba Fett a lot more interesting for me.

By contrast, Anakin’s subplot, which involves him sorting out his feelings for Padmé, gets the short end. While this is important to his character development and there is a clear emotional core to this story, the execution leaves something to be desired and makes it feel a bit ham-fisted when juxtaposed with Obi-Wan’s subplot. Not helping this is some awkwardly-written dialogue that doesn’t sound completely natural and leads to similarly awkward delivery. That said, while we try not to get political, some of the political talk in this part of the story seemed relevant even today, such as the idea of a Senator seeking only to please those who fund them and the general concept of a government being corrupted from the inside. Additionally, some of the awkward dialogue throughout the movie has found itself the subject of a number of internet memes, such as Anakin’s line “I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.”

Compared to its predecessor The Phantom Menace, there is a greater presence of computer effects in this film. The effects themselves are improved over the previous entry and some of them have aged better than others, however it still remains completely obvious when it appears. Notably, despite what some alternate cuts of The Phantom Menace may have you believe, this marks the first time in the film series that Yoda is rendered via computers rather than as a puppet, though in this case it works for the purpose of Yoda’s fight scene against Count Dooku in the climax.

On that note, said climax goes on for a very long time. While there is a lot more action this time around, a good chunk of it is localized entirely within the last 30+ minutes of the movie, causing it to feel longer than it actually is. This also contributes to some pacing issues in the story, as a lot of stuff happens, yet not too much of actual significance happens in the long run aside from setting up Anakin’s character arc and the events of the Clone Wars, the latter of which first received an offhand mention in the original Star Wars movie.

Also worth mentioning is that R2-D2 displays the previously-unseen ability to fly during the third act, which is only used for a short period. Though the effect was well-executed, why R2-D2 never displayed this ability in the Original Trilogy or even The Phantom Menace is anyone's guess.

The acting is a bit hit and miss, much of which can be attributed to the quality of the script, though there are some standouts. Of note, the late Sir Christopher Lee has a commanding presence as Count Dooku, managing to sell his character as a Jedi who defected to the Dark Side, a concept that shakes the Jedi Order and sets a precedent for the events of Revenge of the Sith. Lee also manages to make Dooku feel like a legitimate threat, such as his more intimidating face-to-face with Obi-Wan and his lightsaber duel at the end, showing that he could get a good performance out of even a subpar script. Equally good is Frank Oz returning to the role of Yoda, providing one of the few saving graces of the story alongside Lee, in addition to Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu.

Christopher Lee nails it as Count Dooku (center).
Left: Jango Fett (Temeura Morisson)

Ewan McGregor himself is pretty decent as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, playing off of Hayden Christensen well when the two were onscreen together and having some lines that got a good chuckle out of me. As for Hayden Christensen, his performance as Anakin is more so-so, though I don’t know how much of it is him having worse material to work with than McGregor. That said, one thing I will give Christensen credit for is being able to channel Anakin’s impatience and immaturity, as this contributes to his character arc.

One other actor I’d highlight is Temuera Morrison in the role of Jango Fett. While he doesn’t get much screen time, even with all of his clones, his voice and performance can leave an impression on the viewer, even if not to the same extent as his clone Boba Fett for some. Rather appropriately, he would later play Boba Fett himself in Season 2 of The Mandalorian and is set to play the character once more in the upcoming Disney+ series The Book of Boba Fett.

One consistent highlight across the main Star Wars series is the banging score by John Williams, and this film is no exception. While there aren’t any standout tracks like “Duel of the Fates” was for The Phantom Menace, it nonetheless retains that iconic sound intrinsically linked to the franchise, providing some sort of entertainment value even when the story comes up short.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was somewhat better than I remembered it being, though it’s still not as good as the Original Trilogy. The movie does present some good ideas, however many of them were nowhere near as well-executed as they could have been, save for Obi-Wan’s mystery-focused subplot, and these shortcomings make it still something of a hard sell for a newer Star Wars fan. That said, should one decide to watch this film to complete their Star Wars experience, preferably after seeing the Original Trilogy, I would recommend tracking down a cut that gets as close to the original theatrical version as possible.

Despite this, for those who invest in the Expanded Universe, one other reason to recommend this film anyway is that it serves as a prerequisite for material covering the Clone Wars, since, as previously stated, it sets up the conflict in the first place. If you want to see an actual account of the Clone Wars themselves before heading into Revenge of the Sith, I would strongly suggest the (shorter) 2003 Clone Wars series by Genndy Tartakovsky, which is now available on Disney+, for its animation and writing quality, though whether you choose to watch the (longer) 2008 The Clone Wars series by Dave Filoni comes down to personal preference.

No comments:

Post a Comment