Attack Of The Clones (2002). Directed by George Lucas. With Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman.
It is the summer of 2002. I recall buying Empire film magazine ahead of seeing Attack of the Clones, hoping to read a glowing 5-star review to restore a sense of new hope in Star Wars. I flicked straight to it, barely believing my eyes. There it was. 5 beautiful stars. George has only gone and done it.
It turns out they were wrong. I left Empire magazine alone for a while after that. Fast-forward to May 5th 2020. I’d always felt ‘Clones’ was the weakest Star Wars film but I’d never watched it back-to-back with The Phantom Menace…until now. It turns out I was wrong too.
Where The Phantom Menace is mired in baffling political waffle, Clones is has more open intentions. Yes, the dependency on CG isn’t solved but Jar Jar Binks is relegated to the sub bench and the whole thing seems to have a slightly easier feel.
Ewan McGregor loosens up as Obi-Wan. He has more to do this time and seems to buy in. Faring not as well is Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. 10-years have passed since The Phantom Menace and in that time Anakin has ‘grown up’ to become a Jedi…a spoilt, quick-tempered, cocky, entitled, irritating, petulant Jedi. It’s hard to imagine the future Lord Darth Vader whining like a moody teenager but that is the path Lucas chooses and Christensen struggles to convincingly sell any of it.
John Williams creates another spellbinding Star Wars score, his love theme ‘Across The Stars‘ is both rousing and enchanting, fully delivering where the drama cannot. There are long excruciating scenes between Christensen and Natalie Portman, yet the power of the music almost drags their forced romance over the line.
It’s never clear why Padme loves Anakin or what she sees in him. His ideals are out of step with hers, he carries deep emotional trauma and doesn’t seem to respect the Jedi code. He indicates idly of creating a dictatorship and in one ear-scraping fire-side scene professes his undying romantic obsession with about as much charm and finesse as a Bantha stampede. Later he goes on to confess slaughtering women and children in a revenge-fuelled outburst of hatred, after which he falls into a heap, sobbing while she comforts him. He’s a real catch.
The most striking thing about Padme is her elaborate dress sense. She looks suitably radiant. Scene-to-scene, multiple hair and wardrobe changes occur capturing a strong sense of style and extravagance. It’s a shame that similar detail is not applied to fleshing out her character as her emotional responses seem to fall further out of step the longer the film labours on.
As the romance creaks along, McGregor’s Obi-Wan goes on a solo adventure that introduces us to the titular ‘clones’. Along the way he encounters Jango Fett & Son (young Boba) which leads to some fun action set-pieces. Lucas seems to have learned to let adventure do the talking as the political machinations are better balanced, though CG Yoda remains a dull know-it-all and as Mace Windu, Samuel L Jackson is unable to exert his trademark charisma.
As the machiavellian Senator Palpatine, Ian McDiarmid begins a subtle demonstration of the smug self-satisfaction of the eventual Emperor. Further upping the villainy is Count Dooko (Christopher Lee) whose late inclusion contributes some welcome heft.
Alas, Lucas loses his discipline in a droid factory sequence that preludes a dizzying final act. The movie turns into a platform game complete with blundering comic relief involving C-3P0 and physics-defying daftness. It also looks awful. There are moments where everything in the frame is computer generated, causing an unnatural divorce of our senses.
The final act suffers badly for the same reason. Lucas plumps for ‘epic’ but his attempt to raise the bar suffers from overwhelming the screen with special effects. As countless lighsabers swing, blaster bolts flash and all manner of creatures run riot, the movie essentially becomes a rampaging cartoon. It is watchable but bloodless – like gawping at a 25-minute firework display where stuff happens.
There is a final showdown that goes for a huge crowd-pleasing moment where perhaps a little more subtlety would have paid off. As the middle trilogy film it inevitably proposes dramatic questions yet there is little evidence to suggest they will be satisfyingly answered.