Attack of the Clones: A 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Attack of the Clones, Lucasfilm (2002)

Starring Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala), Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Ian McDiarmid (Sheev Palpatine)

Directed by George Lucas

Written by George Lucas & Jonathan Hales

After the epic disappointment that The Phantom Menace was for many Star Wars fans, there was nowhere to go but up. Attack of the Clones wasn’t as big of a letdown as its predecessor, but it was another lackluster trip through a galaxy far, far away. There were some improvements made between the first go ‘round and this one — though not completely removed from the equation, Jar Jar Binks has a lot less screen time, and there’s a little more action — but I had a lot more hope that Attack of the Clones would begin to show us Anakin’s first steps towards falling to the dark side.

We got the scene when he commits genocide against the tribe of Tusken Raiders, and that’s a dark side move, but my issue with it is that Anakin whines about everything throughout the rest of the movie. The acting, the directing, and the writing couldn’t synergize to create a more imposing figure than what we got with “Emokin”. Thank goodness for Dave Filoni and The Clone Wars animated series, which added layers to the characters and the overall story, vastly improving many narratives from the Prequel Trilogy, including showing Anakin wrestle more with himself and who he believes he should be.

Anakin is only one problem I have with Attack of the Clones. There are some plot decisions that don’t make any sense (why did Jango Fett follow the chase instead of assassinating an unguarded Padmé?), but another big issue I have with this movie is that it somehow manages to look worse than The Phantom Menace despite having the advantage of improved CGI technology. I think the reason why this movie looks worse because George Lucas relied so heavily on CGI effects. For example, many characters, like Yoda, Jar Jar (again), and Dexter Jettster, were completely CGI. As good as CGI was then, it wasn’t good enough to replicate the warmth and life that the best puppets and costumes created in the Original Trilogy.

Many scenes in Attack of the Clones were shot in a studio, against green screens. Nothing new, even way back in 2002, but those scenes feel as sterile as any floor in Tipoca City. When we finally get a few scenes with Padmé and Anakin that are filmed on location (Naboo — Itlay and Tatooine — California), they feel much more alive than those scenes filmed in studio.

A problematic union. Attack of the Clones, Lucasfilm (2002).

However, Naboo is another one of the issues I have with Attack of the Clones. The movie falls apart when it dives into their romance because it feels forced…and kind of weird. Yeah, sure, Anakin and Padmé are young, beautiful people, but would she really just fall in love with him like that? The scenes on Naboo happen to be the best looking scenes in the movie, but they drag. If there was one place to add an action sequence in the movie, it should have been on Naboo. The deadly threat on Padmé’s life, the fear of being hunted, lost all of its teeth when she returned to the most obvious place she could hide, which also happens to be the same planet where Emperor Palpatine is from. Not a single threat on her life here? Surviving something like that together would have brought Anakin and Padmé closer to each other, like Frank Farmer and Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. I think that would have worked better than Anakin showing off his Force powers slicing fruit by candlelight, or feigning death by shaak, or rough dialogue about sand, and a lot of long, awkward staring into each other’s eyes. Barf.

One more complaint, and then I’ll promise to say some nice things about Attack of the Clones because there are some things I enjoy about it. The most egregious scene in this movie almost never happened, and shouldn’t have ever happened: the droid factory scene. Apparently it goes down like this: George Lucas watches a cut of Attack of the Clones months after initial filming wrapped, and he decides that the movie needs another action sequence. That sequence, in my opinion as I stated earlier, could have been in Naboo, for the benefit of the “love story” shoved down our gullets. Instead, Lucas wants it to happen on Geonosis, and it ends up being preposterous. That’s saying a lot in a movie series that is more or less centered around preposterous ideas, but this scene ruins a passable Star Wars episode, turning it into a goofy knock-off toddler version. Google it.

But Attack of the Clones isn’t all bad. There are some cool “Star Wars” moments and fun things to see in this episode.

Some of the ship and vehicle designs are clean, like the Naboo Royal Starship, the “hot rod” speeder that Anakin steals, the Geonosis Solar Sailer, and the Jedi Starfighter. I also like Jango Fett’s look and the curved hilt for Count Dooku’s lightsaber.

And, of course, we got to see Yoda finally swing a lightsaber. This scene brought the audience to a roar in the theater. The little green guy had some fancy moves, but he ends up losing the fight, which doesn’t sit right with me. I think Yoda should’ve won easily, with 800 years of Force-wielding experience on his side. Dooku is tricky, and Yoda kind of comes out looking like a chump.

When I saw Attack of the Clones on opening weekend, a dude in the audience stood up in the theater after Anakin cut down every Tusken man, woman, and child (because they held his mother captive and tortured her juuust enough to keep her alive until Ani showed up), and this dude shouted, “That’s when he becomes Darth Vader!” It was unnecessary, but he was right. This was a “no doubt” Sith-like move, reacting with such hate. I guess that act could be seen as the beginning of Anakin’s descent to the dark side. But…this movie is really about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s emergence. Ewan McGregor owns the role, and the younger version of the Jedi master comes into form here. It’s a tremendous performance that he nailed again in Revenge of the Sith, and I expect him to kill it in the Obi-Wan series set to debut in about a week.

My favorite scene with Obi-Wan takes place near the beginning of the movie when Anakin and Obi-Wan are chasing Zam Wesell through Coruscant. They follow the shapeshifting Clawdite into a bar, where Obi-Wan sends his padawan to continue the chase while he has a drink at the bar. As he waits for his drink, a dealer tries to sell Obi-Wan “death sticks”, and Obi flips a Jedi mind trick on him.

“Great” quality.

Ultimately, after years of watching these movies and wasting my time thinking about them for no reason other than I like to, I believe that Attack of the Clones deserves to hold a place in the middle tier of the three Skywalker trilogies. The Original Trilogy will be hard to beat for many fans, at least for another decade or so. Who knows how fan perception will shift as those of us in middle age and older “phase out”. I am not one of those fans that thinks the Prequel Trilogy sucks; it’s just underwhelming. Attack of the Clones is better than The Last Jedi, the most reviled episode in the saga, in that

The Sequel Trilogy looks better than the Prequels because they return to using more practical effects in scenes, and they have better pacing than the Prequels, but Attack of the Clones still ranks higher than two thirds of the Sequel Trilogy. It sticks to the nature of the characters as we came to know them in The Phantom Menace, and carries on the spirit of Star Wars. It doesn’t try to switch up well-established lore in the middle of the damn story.

Happy 20th anniversary, Attack of the Clones!

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