Welcome to the “Star Wars” countdown and may the Force be with you. Each week leading up to the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” The Pitt News will retroactively review the “Star Wars” movies chronologically. The countdown begins this week with “Episode II: Attack of the Clones.”
To say that “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” vastly disappointed isn’t a hot take.
I suspect even Yoda knew this when he said, “The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the clone war has,” which now seems like a fitting metaphor for the entire prequel trilogy.
A touchstone for those making a list of what went wrong in the entire prequel trilogy is that the film conjures hate even from fans like myself who can’t help but love anything and everything “Star Wars.”
Picking up 10 years after the death of Qui-Gon Jinn, little pod-racing Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd in Episode I) is now teenage Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and apprentice to Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). Former Jedi master Count Dooku, played by the late, great Christopher Lee, leads a separatist movement using droids to create clones for the Empire’s army.
The Clone Wars begin with more than a thousand planetary systems rebelling against the Galactic Republic, an interplanetary state meant to align all the planets into a free union. The Jedi knights work to maintain peace as the Republic’s Senate — a legislative council with one senator representing each allied planet — works to restore order.
The film shows the emergence of the Clone Wars, which “A New Hope” mentions vaguely, but is still a novel concept in the story’s timeline. Meanwhile, Anakin falls in love with royalty, former queen of Naboo and babysitter, Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). To get a sense of the movie’s dialogue — one of its largest faults — here’s an example:
Padme: “We used to come here for school retreat. We would swim to that island every day. I love the water. We used to lie out on the sand and let the sun dry us and try to guess the names of the birds singing.”
Anakin: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.”
I guess a beach is out of the question for the honeymoon. Like “The Phantom Menace,” director George Lucas wrote the script for “Attack of the Clones,” admitting later he was hesitant to return to writing after fans reacted to “Episode I.”
He enlisted Jonathan Hales, who up to that point had written only one screenplay — an adaptation of an Agatha Christie mystery — and who has not written another screenplay since. That was a problem.
Lucas is obviously a visionary. There is no denying his greatness in terms of imagination and innovation, but he apparently cannot write good dialogue. It’s a limitation that could easily be covered up if he would have just hired an experienced screenwriter, like Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
There are some salvageable parts of “Attack of the Clones” — mostly those that involve watching Anakin as he begins his descent to the dark side, spurred in part by Tusken Raiders torturing and killing his mother.
A younger, more athletic Yoda also plays a substantial role in the film and has a brief but memorable duel with Count Dooku. The CGI effects, despite all the whining you’ll hear from jaded old fans, remain spectacular and huge in the context of blockbusters. Films like James Cameron’s “Avatar” owe a lot to what George Lucas and his team pulled off in these movies.
If only the plot was as good as the visuals, “Episode II” might have escaped unscathed — but that was not the case.
Like each of the prequel films, “Attack of the Clones” had a May release. Unlike the other episodes, though, this one was competing with “Spiderman,” which proved to be superior in both writing and charm and was the highest-grossing film of the year.
“Attack of the Clones” is the only “Star Wars” movie to not earn that distinction. Although it was still a massive financial success, you can look at this box office coup as demonstrating Lucas’ slight fatigue in his own creation.
Indeed, much of the new trilogy’s hype seems to be a direct response to frustrations that began with “The Phantom Menace” and continued with “Attack of the Clones.” Eager fans hope J.J. Abram’s perceived faithfulness to the original trilogy will come through.
With the film’s December release, Abrams, as expected, has promoted the film extensively without revealing much in the way of plot. He has talked about utilizing practical effects — makeup, real explosions, stunts — as much as possible, rather than relying completely on CGI.
Abrams shot “The Force Awakens” on 35mm film, as the original trilogy was. Most fans won’t notice the difference, but Lucas shot his prequels on digital — another sign that the director turned his back on his originals and the fanbase.
Kasdan will hopefully continue his brilliance writing the next three films’ scripts, and, based on the success of the beloved “Empire” and “Jedi,” chances are he will.
These details about “The Force Awakens” seem to point directly to what fans lamented in Lucas’ trilogy of prequels beginning with “The Phantom Menace” in 1999. An overdependence on CGI, terrible dialogue, cookie-cut characters, annoying characters — talking to you, Jar Jar Binks — were all captured on Lucas’ beloved digital cameras. Many fans hoped “Attack of the Clones” would right the ship after “The Phantom Menace” tanked.
Although fans might tell you “The Phantom Menace” was the worst “Star Wars” movie, I reiterate that that mantle belongs to “Attack of the Clones” — here’s to hoping I won’t have to revise that statement come December.