Every Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones
In celebration of the release of Rogue One, Travail Journal is doing a breakdown of every Star Wars film in chronological order.
Episode II: The Star Wars film in which clones launched on attack on the integrity of the Star Wars film franchise. I recall people swearing they would never watch a Star Wars film in theaters again after viewing this reckless handling of the galaxy’s most beloved series. The film that was supposed to steer the prequel trilogy away from the dark path Episode I started down, instead, led the trilogy into eternal darkness.
The opening shot of the Nubian royal starship cruising through the clouds of Coruscant has a somewhat darkening affect. As soon as the ship lands there is action as an assassination attempt is made on Padme Amidala, who is now a galactic senator after serving her term as queen of Naboo. What a crappy job it is being Amidala’s decoy? Her job is to be a lightning rod for all the life attempts made on the senator and in general, to die in her place.
When Obi Wan and Anakin make their first appearance there is a glimmer of new hope for the trilogy as they quickly establish, through an elevator discussion, a developed mentor-padawan friendship full of banter and backstory. This is immediately destroyed when Hayden Christenson puts his trademark whining onscreen for the first time. How does Obi Wan not comment on Anakin’s creepy overly-attached obsession with Padme? I mean the holdover strength of this childhood crush is something that would dictate an everyday person check in for professional counseling, let alone a Jedi in training, seeking unparalleled internal peace.
As is in all three prequel films, one of the saving graces is some interesting new space creatures. The assassin slugs (Kouhun), which might be called giant centipede maggots, that are dropped in Senator Amidala’s room are more than sufficiently disturbing. On the other hand, their desire to seek out and bite humans for no reason is not aligned with anything scientifically known about nature. I know this is a movie about laser swords and wisdom filled little green men, but I prefer at least a little bit of “sci” in my sci-fi.
There are little flashes that make one want to like this movie so badly, no matter how impossible that is. The films are congruent in portraying Anakin’s love and aptitude for piloting. In the first chase scene Anakin makes a big ado about which speeder he’s piloting, laughing as Obi Wan quips over his outlandish flight stunts.
It’s a mystery why the assassin the Jedi chase down reveals her identity by temporarily shapeshifting as Anakin dangles precariously on the outside of her ship. Why? What reason does she have to do that, other than making it easier for the Jedi to track her down?
Obi Wan must have a thing for slicing people up in bars. He does this as an old man in Episode IV, and he does this to the changeling when she attempts to hide in a Coruscant bar. It’s interesting to finally see Coruscant at ground level. The scene reminds me of settings from better sci-fi films, like Blade Runner.
It’s also inexplicable why, as the Jedi interrogate the assassin that the bounty hunter Jango Fett assassinates the assassin (try that one three times fast) from a distance, but never targets the Jedi, which solve a lot more problems from his perspective.
When it’s decided that Padme should hide on Naboo for safety and Anakin should accompany her as a bodyguard, Anakin says “Don’t worry. We have R2 with us.” This should not be a joke. I’m sure there’s more than a few internet nerds who’ve already counted up the number of times R2-D2 saves Star Wars protagonists, and therefore the future of the galaxy. Film titles like The Phantom R2 Unit, Attack of the R2 Unit, Revenge of the R2 Unit, Rogue R2, R2’s Hope, The R2 Unit Strikes Back, Return of the R2 Unit, R2 Awakens, or The R2 Unit Awakens, don’t have the same ring as the actual Star Wars titles, but they’re surprisingly reasonable given what R2 accomplishes in each film. At a restaurant, R2 even rolls through the food line with a tray to get Padme and Anakin their food. He gets yelled at because the restaurant doesn’t serve droids. This also happens to the droids at the bar in Episode IV. Can anyone explain to me what this whole not serving droids theme is about? Where does it originate? Why do people get so mad about serving droids? Are the film-makers trying to say something about discrimination? If so, what is it?
Meanwhile the diner scene with Obi Want and his friend Dex is a good attempt at a new setting with similar gritty intrigue to the iconic bar scene in Episode IV, but interesting characters like Dex always come and go too fast with little purpose in the prequel films.
Admittedly, there is no shortage of interesting looking scenes in Episode II, regardless of how they fail to compound in to a decent film. The scene in which Yoda leads Jedi “younglings” through a mental exercise to help Obi Wan find the missing planet of Kamino, is superb. After Yoda teases Obi Wan about losing an entire planet, the room darkens and a beautiful three-dimensional projection of stars surrounds the characters as Yoda elicits a simple explanation from one of his students: The planet is “missing” because someone erased it from archive memory. All I know is when I was roughly the age of Yoda’s students from this scene, it would have been a dream come true to take that class with Yoda. This is the best moment in the entire film, and perhaps it’s unfortunate that it’s not the only moment in the entire film.
Back on Naboo, Anakin starts the long arduous process of putting the moves on Padme. The W.T.F. face he makes after she rejects a kiss from him is beyond classic. He looks like he just drank a cup of coffee with a turd in it. I can’t believe it hasn’t become an iconic meme:
The film then cuts back to Kamino which provides the backstory for Bobba Fett. For fans who love the bounty hunter character, this was perhaps the biggest reason for anxiously awaiting Episode II. None of those fans have been able to explain to me what they were expecting or hoping for, but all I’ve heard is that the whole thing was a major letdown. The duel between Obi Wan and Jango Fett on the landing pad made one thing clear. Jango has atrocious aim. This might explain the aim of the clones and any Storm Troopers that were clones. As Jango Fett escapes and Obi Wan Chases him across space, they end up in a piloting duel among the asteroids in a planet ring. Jango uses cool sonic charges that sound like an interestingly distorted guitar.
The film cuts back to Tatooine where Anakin and Padme have gone to find Anakin’s mother after he has a prophetic nightmare about her death. I mentioned this in the breakdown of Episode I, but force sense must not work for droids, because once again Anakin spends a significant amount of time around C-30 in this film, yet in the original trilogy, he’s unable to sense C-3PO’s presence multiple times. In the breakdown of Episode I, I describe a t-shirt made to promote the film that featured and imagine of the child Anakin leaving Tatooine while the shadow cast behind him is in the shape of Darth Vader. I’m not sure if this shirt had anything to do with using the same move in Episode II, but Anakin’s Vader-looking shadow is cast on a sandy Tatooine wall and shot in isolation with Padme’s.
It seems that no matter how terrible a Star Wars film is, somewhere the composers manage to make some brilliant musical moves. “Duel of the Fates” from Episode I is an example. In Episode II, the first time Anakin for lack of better terms, loses his crap and throws a tantrum, the imperial theme is layered lightly into the score. If there’s anything Christensen’s good at it’s throwing onscreen tantrums.
The Episode II casting of Christopher Lee as the villain Count Dooku paired with the Episode IV casting of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, leaves little doubt about Lucas fanboyship when it comes to Hammer Films’ Dracula which starred both. Unfortunately the standards for Dracula were much higher than the standards for Episode II. The moment Dooku makes his first appearance is the moment the Star Wars prequels descend into hopelessness permanently. From that moment forward Episode II explodes into a hodge-podge of randomness that would make even Episode I blush in shame.
The worst part of this has to be C-3PO’s impossibly cartoonish and slapstick head-swap with a battle droid. C-3PO’s head is knocked off and just happens to land in place of a battle droid head on an assembly line. Not only are the automated arms that assemble the droids able to re-align the head properly to a battle droid body, they are able to mechanically attach it and it works?! Ugh. No. No. NO. Facepalms all around. To make things worse C-3PO’s incessant one-liner joking about the situation goes far far beyond the charming prattle the robot makes in the original trilogy.
When Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan, end up captured together, Episode II has a James Bond moment, in which the villains do not simply kill the captives, but inexplicably decide to make them the spectacle in a gladiatorial battle that all these Geonosian bug aliens are somehow readily available to attend. I guess bug aliens don’t have much to do on the daily. Even the Vice Roy from Episode I is there screaming to just shoot the captives. When Star Wars Episode I is in your movie as the screaming voice of reason… All I can say is go home Episode II, you’re drunk.
Of course if any of this weren’t nonsensical enough, the entire scene is interrupted by a Jedi assault led by Yoda commanding clone troops. Yoda commanding an army goes against everything the character was created to be. Fans complained endlessly about his lightsaber duel with Count Dooku, which I actually found somewhat entertaining and inconsequential, but I’ve heard almost no complaints about Yoda playing war general. In my mind, that was the ultimate mistake and the final coffin-nail on the prequel trilogy. Maybe the “darkness” of the film is supposed to be meta in the way that it leaves viewers in despair over the film’s existence.