Attack of the Clones is, at least in my opinion, the worst Star Wars film ever made. Hands down. That is not to say it’s not mildly entertaining, but it demands a great deal of good will from its viewer to keep him from sneering at the movie constantly, especially if said viewer is a fan.
Christ, where do I even begin.
It’s important to note that Episode II is a transition movie. If that’s not clear enough, what I mean is that it’s a movie that exists to connect both the childish, yet potentially endearing Episode I, and the much darker and edgier Episode III. Episode II is somewhere inbetween these two moods, trying to make the transition smoother, disastrously so. It’s catastrophic in many levels, but mostly because of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker. We’ll get there soon.
Episode II starts as a movie about politics. Now, I like fictional world politics as much as the next person. I honestly do. Especially in a space opera setting. But in Star Wars the politics are dull and barely explained. Padmé Amidala’s two terms as democratically elected Queen of Naboo (wait, what?) are now over, and she continues her career as a politician by becoming a senator. The story begins by trying to make it interesting that people are trying to kill Amidala, on what appears to be politically motivated crimes. We don’t get much context, except that she opposes some other senators. Palpatine, being the super trustworthy guy everyone always knew he was, assigns the Jedi Order to protect her, and finds that Obi-Wan is a suitable bodyguard for Padmé, considering their friendship way back in Episode I. Of course, Obi-Wan must take his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, with him. And hilarity ensues.
Now, you’re probably familiar with whom Anakin is to become, and you probably know whose father he is, so this movie must establish one very important thing; an origin to the affection between future Lord Vader and an unwitting woman, so that we can learn whose womb was it that those guys from the original trilogy came from. Therefore, in addition to being about lackluster politics, this is a movie about love.
Now, I have to agree with Padmé. You can preach all you want about how you have a massive crush on Hayden Christensen’s mini braid, but that piercing sex offender gaze made me uncomfortable. Throughout the first act, Anakin goes from flirting with the poor woman to actively doing stuff very similar to sexual harassment. I mean, seriously, look at this lecherous, leering asshole.
Darth Vader has always been regarded as one of the greatest villains of cinema, but I never figured that he was also one of the sleaziest.
I wish this was the only problem with Anakin. Maybe it’s not Mr. Christensen’s acting, but the poor writing (though I suspect that, considering his absence in major movies this decade, his acting was definitely a factor). Young Skywalker is a very gifted Jedi, being immaculately conceived by midi-chlorians and all (I can’t stop laughing), and he is painfully aware of his skills, which he shows through an overpowering arrogance. Now, arrogance when done right can be charming, and perhaps that was the intention; to make Darth Vader a badass even as a teenager, a daredevil, someone who just barely succeeds, but does it with style. Anakin, however, comes across as impudent, annoying, and exceedingly stupid. It seems Anakin can’t go two scenes without doing something that would displease the Jedi council, and entirely aware of it too. ‘Cause that’s just how he rolls. James Dean from a galaxy far far away.
Second act comes. Anakin grows more and more adolescent and fascist. More politics happen. Then there are some cool action scenes that seem to save the film. Obi-Wan is written as barely having a personality, aside from comments that try to make it evident that he is growing older and grumpier, even though he can’t be much more than 30. Regardless, he is arguably the saving grace in the main cast, at the very least as far as really cool fights go. He pilots fighter ships, he fights with a lightsaber; the man sees some action. It’s almost depressing to see an actor of Ewan McGregor’s caliber being reduced to action hero and grumpy mentor to an angsty teenager.
Jar Jar also appears. Fan favourite Jar Jar. I feel this is worth mentioning because in an extremely important scene he proposes (as stand-in senator for Amidala) to convey supreme power to Chancellor Palpatine. Yes, that Chancellor Palpatine, and I have to wonder why they couldn’t task this burden to an unnamed senator. Don’t people hate the poor gungan enough? It’s as if George Lucas is just fucking with his public to see how far they can go, at this point.
And then, in the third act, we are introduced to the big bad: Count Dooku, played by the late Sir Christopher Lee. You’d think that bringing this legend of acting might infer that this character is the highlight of the cast. Might have been. Dooku is a character full of potential. He’s obviously evil, but with just the right amount of idealism to seem more shades of grey than the cruel, pure black villains the series are accostumed to. But apparently all he does is some exposition, then pave the way for the epic arena fight scene that kind of defines this movie as a Star Wars film (perhaps one of the only things that defines this as a Star Wars film), some more exposition, a lightsaber duel (a really cool one, wrapping up the whole two things that make this a Star Wars film), and then he’s gone, apparently having started a war. The movie is over, without fully explaining why things escalated, and who exactly Count Dooku represents that the Republic is at war with.
I’m serious when I say this can be an entertaining movie. The fight scenes can be fun and you can laugh at what ridiculous situations the actors are subjected to. But it’s mostly incredibly dull. It’s a film that throws you into an extended torrent of politics you need to understand beforehand to appreciate, and that lead to Clone Wars, a pretty cool spin-off that most people never got to see and that might as well have been properly included as crucial to the continuity since it’s much better than this. As a standalone film, the story is a confusing, rushed mess even at two hours long. As a Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones makes it obvious that the series is not infallible. Horribly, gapingly, obviously not infallible.