Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Star Wars - Attack of the Clones

When ranking the nine movies of the "Skywalker Saga" there is never a question of which film comes in last. 2002's follow up to Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace jumps forward a decade when a Separatist movement threatens the stability of the Republic. Standing against allowing the rising tensions to turn to war, now Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) returns to Coruscant. An attack on the Senator's life will bring her back into contact with Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and bring Anakin one step closer to his dark destiny.

Much of the film focuses on Anakin's two primarily relationships. Though he loves and respects Obi-Wan, Anakin is bristling over not yet earning the rank of Jedi Knight. The seed of Anakin's contempt for the Jedi Order buried in the first film continue to grow. His obsession for Padme is more simple, but there's a darker side to it as well. Aside from such a relationship being forbidden by the Jedi, there's also the manner Anakin peruses Padme, while assigned to protect her, through both guilt and seducing her into a relationship she knows is wrong.

The prequels are not known for the quality of their dialogue, but Anakin's courting of Padme produces the most egregious lines of the saga including the famous sand sequence. Padme's wardrobe, especially for someone on the run for much of the movie, is beyond ridiculous (include the low-cut black leather number she wears in private for Anakin while feigning disinterest in his romantic advances). The scene introducing the younger Owen (Joel Edgerton) and Beru (Bonnie Piesse) feels stilted and unnatural, but Portman does some of her best acting as Padme in her reaction to Anakin's destruction of the Tusken Raider camp.

The movie does have its moments in the introduction of Kamino and the Clone Army (which will be developed much more in Star Wars: The Clone Wars). I was less impressed with bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) who is revealed to be the template for the clones and one of Amidala's attackers. Fett is working for Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a former Jedi and the new apprentice of Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid). CGI is heavily needed in Lee's action scenes, and Dooku would be arguably more interesting if he was what he claimed to be - a Jedi concerned that the Republic has fallen under the sway of a Dark Lord of the Sith - rather than a stand-in Sith baddie. The climax of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padme being sacrificed to strange creatures on Geonosis is awkward at best (and Anakin and Padme's race through the factories of Geonosis pure video game nonsense without even an attempt at story).

As in the first film, Lucas feels pressed to make more connections with the original trilogy than necessary. The bugs of Geonosis, living in hollowed out caves deep in their homeworld, make no sense as the architects of the Death Star. Boba Fett's introduction offers a reason for his distrust of the Jedi, but it also strips away the remaining mystery of the character with questionable results. We don't get much of the relationship between Jango and Boba, but the final scene of young Boba holding his father's helmet is certainly memorable (even if I expect the severed head to fall out every single time I watch the movie).

Dooku's fight with Yoda, and the large number of Jedi fighting off the droid army, offer two of the film's larger action scenes. Neither ranks as well as similar sequences from either of the two other prequel movies, and the first is arguably included for the soul purpose of making a joke about Yoda's limp. More successful is the film continuing to build on the Anakin/Palaptine relationship and Palapatine continuing to play the puppet master behind the scenes by pairing Anakin with Padme and tricking poor Jar Jar (Ahmed Best) into granting the would-be-emperor even more power. Viewed from the villain's perspective, even the least of the nine films offers items of interest (even if it is the one Star Wars film I cannot recommend).

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