The middle film in a trilogy is often a turning point. The characters haven’t yet reached the final battle or conflict, but this is usually the moment where they start making significant choices that will impact their ultimate fate. Although Anakin Skywalker has not yet become Darth Vader, in “Attack of the Clones” we see him take his first steps towards the dark side.
“Attack of the Clones” was better reviewed than “The Phantom Menace,” though it still scores well below “Revenge of the Sith,” which is often regarded as the best of the prequel trilogy. Here are my thoughts on what works/doesn’t work in this film.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi. I know I already talked about Ewan McGregor in my review of “The Phantom Menace,” but I really do believe he deserves some praise, so I’m going to mention him again. 😉 He definitely stands out amongst the cast; although he’s not always helped by the wooden dialogue, he gives a sincere performance and still manages to come across as witty. He’s also a great Jedi, and I’d even dare to argue maybe the greatest Jedi. He senses things other, supposedly more powerful Jedi Masters seem to gloss over, like the fact that sending Anakin on a solo mission to protect Padmé is dangerous and that Chancellor Palpatine may not be as trustworthy as he seems. I’ve heard a rumor that Disney might be looking at a spin-off film for Obi-Wan, and I’m definitely on board with this idea. Ewan McGregor deserves a chance to really shine as this character in his own film.
- The clone army. In “Attack of the Clones,” we get to witness the birth of the Empire, a moment the Jedi Council is tragically unaware of, and we see the rise of the stormtroopers, who start out as clones of the bounty hunter Jango Fett. The creation of the clone army presents the Republic and the Jedi with a fascinating moral dilemma. I think most of us would agree that creating an army of clones stripped of freewill and designed to serve as cannon fodder is not ethical, but the Jedi and the Republic find themselves desperately in need of this army to fight the Trade Federation-backed Separatist movement. I wish the film had taken more time to delve into this ethical issue, but thankfully the Expanded Universe novels and the animated “Clone Wars” series cover this in more depth, and also show that the clones do have individual personalities.
- New (and old) villains. Although we always cheer for the heroes, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the villains in the Star Wars universe are pretty darn cool. The late Christopher Lee brings an air of sinister elegance to the film as the fallen Jedi Count Dooku, and we also get to see the origin of the famous bounty hunter Boba Fett, who we learn is actually a clone that Jango Fett is raising as his son. While I think the film could have done more with Jango and Boba Fett, it’s cool to watch these two in action. Ian McDiarmid also continues to prove fascinating as Chancellor Palpatine, subtly manipulating his way up through the ranks on his way to becoming the Emperor. He’s pretending to serve as the father figure Anakin never had but is really just pushing the young Jedi towards the dark side.
- The battle of Geonosis. This is the first time we get to see the clone army in action, and it’s also the first time we get to see a whole bunch of Jedi with lightsabers drawn, participating in a battle together. However you feel about the rest of the movie, this is a great action set piece, starting with Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padmé fighting for their lives in a gladiator-style arena, and ending with a lightsaber battle between Yoda and Count Dooku. Yoda may be small, but he proves he can more than hold his own in a fight.
What doesn’t work
- The acting. The original Star Wars films may have had a few faults, but they’re easily forgivable thanks to the fun and extremely likable cast. It’s hard to top Mark Hamill’s idealistic Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher’s spirited Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford’s lovably roguish Han Solo. So it’s a shame the prequel trilogy just can’t seem to recapture that magic with its own cast. Natalie Portman is an Oscar-winning actress, but sadly, her performance as Padmé is very flat. Sometimes I’ve wondered what these films would have been like if she and Keira Knightley had switched roles (Knightley actually plays one of Padmé’s handmaidens in Episode I). Could Knightley have brought some much-needed fire to the film? Or would the script have caused her to stumble too? The script also doesn’t help Hayden Christensen, who has a hard time carrying the film. I feel really bad for Christensen, whose career may have been hurt by these films. But it’s really hard to buy the idea of the Anakin in these films becoming the terrifying Sith lord Darth Vader. He comes across as more of an angsty, brooding teenager (even though he looks like he’s in his twenties), and too much of his dialogue is spent on complaining. Adam Driver plays a similar role as ex-Jedi Kylo Ren in “The Force Awakens,” but he does it much better. I think it would have been better if Anakin had been a teenager instead of a kid in Episode I; then, you can work through the teenage angst in the first film, and progress onto more mature issues as the trilogy moves towards the rise of Darth Vader. If memory serves me correctly, Christensen does a better job in “Revenge of the Sith,” which is a better film overall.
- The romance. I don’t want to keep picking on Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen, because I don’t want to be too negative. So I’ll just keep this short. The romance between Anakin and Padmé is a key part of this film, but Portman and Christensen don’t share much chemistry. The film can’t quite sell their doomed love story. However, it’s worth noting that the characters’ love theme (called “Across the Stars” and composed by John Williams) is achingly beautiful and is a wonderful piece of music, regardless.
- The CGI. Special effects, if used correctly, can be an incredible asset for film makers. However, George Lucas relies too much on CGI for this film, and it actually takes away from the film’s realism. “The Force Awakens” does a better job of blending real, physical set locations and CGI, and the result is a film that feels more grounded.
Up next is “Revenge of the Sith,” the final film in the prequel trilogy! What are your thoughts on “Attack of the Clones,” and what did you like/dislike about the film?