For those of you who wanted a better follow up to Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) with Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002), I am so sorry. It was a reasonable expectation. People loved the original Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) for good reason. Whether you want to talk about it in terms of the general malaise of the 1970s, which would attract people to such a title, or the incredible advances in special effects it featured, the first set the stage for the rest. As good as it was, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), is the superior film, and my personal favorite. So, why did Attack of the Clones not follow this same trend? Good question. I will, as I did with my review of The Phantom Menace, lay a good portion of the blame at George Lucas’ feet. He just could not seem to let go of this project, which is particularly puzzling as after A New Hope he let Irvin Kershner direct The Empire Strikes Back. Given the criticism Lucas received from The Phantom Menace, you might think he would step aside and let somebody else inject their vision. But, no. At least there is less Jar Jar Binks (Ahmad Best) in this one.
In discussing Attack of the Clones, I am going to switch back to my usual format because I do not want to repeat many of the criticisms found in Red Letter Media’s Plinkett review of the same film. It is some years since the events of the last movie, and Queen Amidala, now just Padmé (Natalie Portman), has been elected to the Galactic Senate. Somebody, it would appear, does not want her to take her seat in the chamber as she narrowly misses an assassination attempt. In response, the Jedi Council sends Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan learner Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to protect Senator Amidala. They are on hand to thwart another attack, and in pursuing the would-be attacker, they learn of a shadowy Mandalorian assassin behind the threat. Believing it safer for her to be off planet, Anakin is given the task of being her personal bodyguard as they travel to her home planet of Naboo. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan receives a clue as to where the Mandalorian might be operating from, and follows it. This turns out to be a rain-swept, generally watery planet called Kamino. He lands at a facility and discovers that they are assembling a clone army, and that the Mandalorian, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), is providing the genetic material for the project. Further, the army, according to the Kaminoans running the place, had been ordered by the Jedi (a fact that seemingly goes ignored, but I digress). Regardless, Obi-Wan confronts Jango and is able to slip a tracking device on his ship, Slave I, and knows its next destination, the desert planet of Geonosis. His trip there uncovers yet another army being assembled, this one of the droid variety. Further, a fallen Jedi known as Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), now going by Darth Tyranus, is assembling a league of disgruntled planets and systems into a group known as the Separatists in order to challenge the Republic. Before Obi-Wan can make his full report to the Jedi Council, he is captured by the Separatists. While Ob-Wan is gallivanting around the galaxy, Anakin and Padmé go on their luxurious Italian, er, I mean Nabooan get away. The laugh and play in the field, Anakin admits that he supports fascism, and they share romantic meals and evenings by the fire. In spite of the idyllic repose, Anakin is troubled by visions of his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August), in distress. He convinces Padmé that they must return to Tatooine to try and do something about these awful visions. When they arrive, they find that things are not exactly as Anakin had left them over ten years ago. Shmi had been sold to a moisture farmer named Cliegg Lars (Jack Thompson), who had later married her. This meant that Anakin now had a step-brother in Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), and her girlfriend and eventual wife Beru Whitesun (Bonnie Piesse) is there, too. What is even less to Anakin’s liking is that Shmi has been captured by Tusken Raiders. When he finds their village, he is too late to save his mother, who dies in his arms. This prompts him to murder every last Tusken, which I guess is his first steps towards becoming Darth Vader. Strangely, Padmé seems cool with this act when he shouts at the top of his lungs how much he hates the Tuskens and that he killed children. No matter, it is back to the capital planet Coruscant where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is granted emergency powers to deal with the new threat of the Separatists, and it is our old friend Jar Jar Binks, acting in Padmé’s stead, who is the lynchpin of this act. This means that a clone army is to be sent to Geonosis, but Anakin and Padmé head there beforehand, only to be captured themselves, joining Obi-Wan. With thousands of Geonosians looking on, they do battle with a number of beasts sent into an arena to devour them. Before it can reach its conclusion, though, the rest of the Jedi show up with the clone army, and a massive battle commences. While this rages, Anakin and Obi-Wan go after Darth Tyranus, who defeats both of them, only to be thwarted by Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz). Still, Darth Tyranus gets away, joining the Sith Master behind everything, Darth Sidious. We wrap up our whirlwind with Anakin, minus an arm thanks to Darth Tyranus, and Padmé getting married.
I could go on and on about the problems with Attack of the Clones. Has Anakin truly not been back to see his mother, or laid eyes on Padmé, in over ten years? Why do the Jedi gloss over the accusation that they are the ones responsible for creating a clone army? Look, it is as bad as The Phantom Menace, and some might even argue worse. What I am going to pick on today in Attack of the Clones is the relationship between Anakin and Padmé. In my review of The Phantom Menace, I mentioned that it is strange that they would set up such a large age disparity between the future parents of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Still, the potential problems in such a situation are not the sole purview of Catholic advice on dating and marriage. Anyone with functioning logic centers can see the danger, if not on a galactic scale as in the movies. It gets worse in Attack of the Clones. Again, you do not have to be Catholic to know that perhaps someone who unabashedly supports authoritarianism, particularly when you seem dedicated to the principles of democracy, is not the right person for you. I guess she is blinded by love, even though she states her aversion to this idea? At any rate, the biggest problem for this Catholic is that they get married in secret. Anakin is a Jedi, and they have codes in regards to such attachments. This is not too dissimilar to the way Catholic clergy ask their adherents to take a vow of celibacy. There is a reason for making this kind of commitment. A Catholic monk does so in order to devote themselves to the Kingdom of God. A Jedi does so in order to not have the potential distraction of having to choose between duty to the galaxy and their family. I understand the principle in a way that Anakin does not, and as such I do not have a ton of sympathy for him as a character.
It is because these characters, and this is especially true for Attack of the Clones, do not have much reason to like them that makes this movie perhaps the most flawed. Anakin is supposed to be a hero, but his selfish acts complicate our view of him. Obi-Wan is not the most patient guide either, so that is a strike against him for me in this film. I appreciate the Jedi because they remind me of Catholic monks, and because they have a clear sense of right and wrong. They are guided by the Force, whereas in reality we have God. It is hard to imagine God telling somebody to commit genocide, no matter what history might tell you.