Director: George Lucas
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor
Release Date: 16th May 2002 (UK)
It’s hard being the middle child. It’s hard trying to live up to a name. Attack of the Clones in hindsight seems like an impossible task to mount as a storyteller. I’ve given my opinion on The Phantom Menace, I think it’s fantastic but the general audience reception gave the world a lukewarm attitude towards Star Wars as a franchise. To be blunt, Attack of the Clones is objectively the worst film of the six, it’s undeniable, in large spates it’s poorly written, the acting is questionable and sometimes lazy. Its story ideas are flawed in a lot of ways and its wholly digital form saw expectant audiences beginning to turn against digital filmmaking in the early days of the post film cinema era.
We open with an aggressively dark turn in the usually jolly Star Wars universe. A clouded and dreary Coruscant which arguably has more place within Star Wars comic and video game lore than within the main movie canon. A bunch of characters we do not know are essentially terrorist bombed by a bunch of other characters we also do not know and an uncharacteristically depressing choice of musical entries from John Williams lead us through a series of opening sequences that utter a strange maturity a movie universe that we as an audience really want to remain young. An unrecognisable Anakin and an undeniably cool Obi-Wan enter the film and greet Padmé (and Jar Jar), they exchange some painful dialogue and then BAM! Star Wars begins, a spectacular chase scene on coruscant, complete with a raging orchestral score boasting a finale complete with a cantina full of crazy aliens and a nostalgic mind trick to get us thinking, ‘maybe now?’
As the film progresses it veers off in two directions; one which we like but don’t necessarily need (Obi-Wan’s lone mission) and one which we need but definitely don’t like (Anakin and Padme). Obi-Wan’s journey takes us to some interesting places, the film is essentially an animation with live action elements and Kamino is technically a wonderfully rendered environment but an audience does find it difficult to connect with the Kamino species (or most aliens in the film) when the line between animation and live-action is so blurred.
The most cringeworthy sequences in the film take place on Naboo. It is an important facet of the story, something we need to see, but Han and Leia’s relationship was cool, sexy, a rouge and a princess. Anakin and Padmé is another theoretical match made for the silver screen. We have a rebellious Jedi, a duty bound politician, one came from nothing, one came from everything, a forbidden romance yet the relationship is flat. The scenes are too dark, the sequences are long and the score is too self indulgent and life-sucking. There are moments where they talk about political ideals and moments when Anakin uses the force to cut fruit, altogether it stops the film dead but regretfully adds so much to the plot.
Jango Fett is an interesting character. As with Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, he should’ve been around for the whole prequel trilogy. Imagine the trilogy started ten years later, imagine Jango never really spoke. Imagine he was Darth Maul’s right hand man, imagine he didn’t die straight away. Now you see a pattern emerging with characters in the prequel trilogy, they pop in and out but most annoyingly, there are too many of them. It’s hard as a fan to not think that maybe, just maybe Lucas got slightly foamy at the mouth when thinking of the precious money he would make from figurines, but was it really worth it at the expense of story?
Jango was cool though, and everyone likes cool. He was aptly performed (mostly), seemed like he had some pain in his eyes and was very badass. His skirmish with Kenobi and the dogfighting scene en-route to Geonosis are two of the highlights of the film. As a character, so much more could have been done with Jango if they’d done so much less… if you know what I mean. In a way, the handling of Darth Maul and Jango perfectly sums the prequels up. They almost tried to do too much, Lucas adopted a more is more approach which really only proved that more is actually less, most of the time.
Now the film does fall short in a lot of ways, but the entire final act starting with Anakin and Padmé heading back to Tatooine is masterful. I honestly think that from the return to Tatooine up to the final scene announcing the clone wars is some of Lucas’ best work. Really. the Tatooine stuff especially. It’s very strong, it’s emotional, its nostalgic, moving and visceral. I’m a firm believer in taking the positives particularly when looking at cinema. A film is a hard, hard thing to make, a great film is even harder. Attack of the Clones may be disappointing and it may not be a great film, let alone a half decent Star Wars film, objectively it is the worst of the six, but it is a good film, a film with so much that could’ve been. Remember, the second film in the original trilogy became known as the best of them all so I come back to what I said at the start. It’s hard being the middle child, especially when trying to live up to a name.