Star Wars Retrospective: Attack of the Clones

star wars attack of the clones review logo episode ii george lucas prequel trilogy

I was watching an interview with Steven Moffat yesterday, where he was talking about the Time War, and why he thought it’d never be shown on camera – the version you see on screen could never live up to the version you’ve had in your head for all these years. Obviously, there’s a certain irony to that, but what was interesting to me was that he used the Clone Wars as an example.

You sit there thinking ‘wow, the Clone Wars, that sounds awesome’, and then you see it, and it’s all just bloody meetings!”

That was interesting to me though, anyway, because it highlighted the differences in how I’m watching the Prequels, and how a lot of other people would have seen them. I mean, I wasn’t born until a little before The Phantom Menace came out, and I definitely wouldn’t have started watching Star Wars until after Attack of the Clones had come out. I never had any grounding in these movies, or expectations that the prequels could let down.

In some ways, that’s akin to a point I’d touched on in my Phantom Menace retrospective, which I posted yesterday. But it’s particularly notable here, actually, and I think more worthy of comment, because it’s with this movie that the prequels really start to draw upon the iconography of the original trilogy. You have the Clone Wars, you have Owen and Beru Lars, you have Jango and Boba Fett, and so on and so forth. Moreso than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones really is dependent upon the original trilogy.

And… well, in theory, that’s not actually such a bad thing. Drawing on something familiar, and presenting it in a different way, can be a great way to present an effective and compelling narrative – and it’s always exciting to get more information about the mysterious backstory from the originals.

Actually, to be honest, I think even in practice, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flawed though the film was, the flaws didn’t come from the references to the lore of the original trilogy.

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Well, I say that, but that’s not strictly true. Because the biggest flaw with this film was Anakin Skywalker. This is not a new observation, nor a particularly original one. It’s a complaint I was very aware of going into the film, and actually assumed I wouldn’t really have a problem with – you know the internet, full of hyperbole. After all, I hadn’t found Jake Lloyd as Anakin to be particularly unbearable.

But Hayden Christensen as Anakin is The Literal Worst.

It’s difficult to say how much of it is down to his acting (a terribly wooden performance) and how much of it is down the writing (exceptionally bad dialogue, amongst other things), but it all comes together to create a character who is simply excruciating to watch. Anakin is a whiney, mopey teenager, who’s irritating at best and extremely aggravating at worst. Mostly, he’s boring – it’s very difficult to give a damn about anything he does on screen, because he is such a difficult character to actually like.

Weirdly, the other characters seem to act that way as well (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a moment). Obi-Wan and Anakin have a contentious relationship, to say the least; Obi-Wan doesn’t seem to actually like him, most of the time, and it’s clear enough that the rest of the council take a dim view of Anakin. Which makes sense, really, because he’s so irritating.

What’s worse, though, is that Anakin is exceptionally creepy towards Padme! That actually genuinely unnerves me. Their interactions together were just so deeply uncomfortable, and extremely poorly written. There’s just no natural progression to it whatsoever; we spend about half the movie watching Anakin be creepy and Padme feeling uncomfortable, and then it’s like a switch was flipped, and suddenly she’s okay with him being a creep. The whole thing is just distinctly uncomfortable in every way.

And that’s such a huge mistake! Anakin should be our hero here – we should really, really like him as a character. Frankly, he should be everyone’s favourite character… but he’s just so dislikable! It’s exceptionally poor.

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That’s just one problem, mind you. It’s far from the only one.

Like The Phantom Menace, this film is way too long. This is actually longer than The Phantom Menace though, and it’s even more painful to sit through it. I defended the CGI in The Phantom Menace, but that’s much harder to do with Attack of the Clones; it’s much more prominent in this movie, and somehow seems to have aged more poorly as well. As much as I still think we should credit George Lucas for pioneering this style of CGI in movies, Attack of the Clones really does show that it is genuinely overdone in some instances. It must have been a nightmare for the actors at times, actually, and it’s often very offputting – I’m pretty sure that there are several rooms in the movie that don’t even exist physically, let alone all the different characters who weren’t really there.

The villains are poor too – mostly Count Dooku, but the Separatists as a whole are weak. It’s because they’ve come essentially from nowhere, and then proceed to play a fairly limited role in proceedings; Christopher Lee is a great actor and all, but he has very little screentime, and there’s not exactly much character to Count Dooku at all. The whole plot is weak as well, actually – things just sort of happen, all the time. It’s not really a strict progression of cause to effect, more a string of unrelated incidents occurring – there’s no plot impetus or anything – which eventually results in a final confrontation.

And actually, speaking of the plot, there’s a huge gaping plot hole which actually annoys me in terms of how lazy it is.

When Obi-Wan goes to Kamino, he finds out that the Clone Army has been commissioned by a Jedi Master by the name of Sifo Dyas. This Jedi, it’s implied, is the fellow who erased Kamino from the Jedi Archives Data Bank. But none of this is ever addressed! Obi-Wan basically just rolls with it on Kamino, so do the Jedi Council when they find out, and then the Clones have become the army of the Republic – without anyone ever questioning their mysterious origins!

Sifo Dyas, of course, is a character we’ve never seen before. He died ten years ago – around the time of the Battle of Naboo. Are we supposed to think it’s Qui-Gonn Jinn? Possibly. Although maybe it’s actually Count Dooku, because he’s an ex-Jedi as well, and he’s definitely evil.

I googled it, and it turns out, Sifo Dyas is a typo. Originally, it was Sido Dyas, as in a corruption of “Sidious”, and the Sith Lord would have created the Army. Mace Windu would have explained there was never a Sido Dyas, and so on and so forth. Except at one point George Lucas accidentally wrote Sifo Dyas, preferred that name, and just sort of rolled with it. And clearly did a remarkably lazy job of rewriting the script! That’s the sort of thing that really annoys me, because it is honestly, genuinely, just laziness. (And George Lucas obviously did work really hard on these movies, I wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise… but there are definite areas of sloppiness.)

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I wanted to like this one, really. I was expecting to like it – not love it, true, but at the very least, I figured I’d enjoy it. After all, I thought The Phantom Menace was alright, and Attack of the Clones does have a significantly better reputation than its predecessor… so why wouldn’t I enjoy it?

Because it’s just an awful film. I’m sorry, but it is. Yes, there are good elements – Ewan McGregor remains a wonderful Obi-Wan, and it’s rather cool to see all the lightsabre battles at the end (with Mace Windu’s purple lightsabre ooh ahh) – but as a whole, the film is just sort of awful.

And that’s a genuine shame, it really really is.

This film gets a 4/10 – it actually really isn’t as good as The Phantom Menace, to be honest. Though, as with Phantom, had it been an hour shorter, I may have been willing to bump up the score by one point.

Related:

Star Wars Retrospective

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