Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Great Underated Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones has for some reason been unfairly dismissed by casual and less casual Star Wars fans. It is often referred to as being “as bad as” The Phantom Menace, and by some it is considered worse. This analysis is unfair, and tends to be based more on disappointment hanging over from The Phantom Menace and vague memories of the film rather than the film itself.

Firstly, the film (or more accurately movie – it was the first flick in the history of cinema to be shot digitally) corrected many of the flaws that plagued The Phantom Menace. The dialogue is never exactly naturalistic in a Star Wars movie, but in The Phantom Menace the characters spoke to one another in an overly formal way – thankfully in Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan and Anakin have a more relaxed relationship than Obi-Wan did with his master. This allows banter to occur between the pair and some of their jokes are less forced than, “the negotiations were short”. This also highlights another improvement on the previous film, which is that the characters themselves are less formal. Obi-Wan and Anakin treat their Jedi antics much more casually (such as Obi-Wan’s fantastic reaction of jumping out of the window and grabbing the Assassin Droid), Padme thinks nothing of kicking ass in the Geonosis Arena and everyone uses the force to save picking things up. 

Of course the dialogue at times during the romance between Anakin and Padme is awful. The fireplace scene being the worst offender, followed by the scene overlooking the lake. However, the dialogue in the scene just before they are taken out in the Arena (one of the finest, most spectacular shots in the entire saga) is beautifully simple. When Lucas pared the dialogue down to make it simple, show their love and underscore it with John Williams at his best it worked. Any time that the romance scenes are criticised, there is that to counterbalance the negative. A couple of the other romantic scenes – such as the one in the field – are not brilliant, but certainly aren’t awful. The other unfair criticism about this aspect of the film, is when those who don’t remember Attack of the Clones refer to it as “the love story” or “the romantic one”. I have never seen any other film labelled a love story with that amount of action and dismemberment!

Now rather than dealing with any more criticisms, the positive case for the film – it is the most distilled, Star Warsy of all of the Star Wars movies. All of the elements that make Star Wars are there. The film is fast paced, with lots of action interspersed with exposition, as is expected from Star Wars. The characters, as noted previously, make quips in the face of adversity and have casual conversations in the middle of dangerous chases. There are lots of different, visually stunning locations. There are crazy aliens and amusing side characters throughout. The crescendo of a battle sequence at the end is absolutely frenetic. None of these particular parts may elevate to the status of the classic trilogy films, but the combination of them all makes it the purest example of what a Star Wars film is – The Phantom Menace lacked the insanely fast pace, Revenge of the Sith was too dark to be typical. 

As for specific elements that are a joy to watch, Ian McDiarmid gives a great turn as Chancellor Palpatine, squeezing every drop of dramatic irony out of his lines. The foreshadowing in general is great fun, with lines such as “You do know that Count Dooku was once a Jedi… he couldn’t assassinate anybody,” great fun as the odds of Christopher Lee playing a good guy are slightly greater than those of successfully navigating an asteroid field. Speaking of Dooku, he is a great contrast to the largely mute Maul, and the scene in which he attempts to seduce Obi-Wan showcases Lee’s talents as a master villain.

The huge, ever escalating final battle is the greatest in the saga. The Phantom Menace gave ILM the opportunity to learn how to do these battles on a large scale, with two armies lining up against one another, but in Attack of the Clones the battle is much more confused. Jedi are in amongst the Battle Droids and Geonosians, Gunships are flying over huge ground battles and then the greatly anticipated lightsaber duel sees Yoda whip his lightsaber out. This really looks incredible, and feels it with great shots such as the camera following a missile from a Hailfire Droid to destroy an AT-TE.

The closing shots of the film are also brilliant, setting up the inevitability of Revenge of the Sith with exactly the correct tone. Yoda’s warning to Obi-Wan and Mace Windu is perfectly intoned, and the shot that follows – of the Senators overlooking the Clone Army flying off to battle, with the Imperial March playing over the top, is another of the finest moments of the six films. Finally the beautifully simple wedding of Anakin and Padme shows what may be a brief moment of happiness for these doomed characters, but having that moment of peace in their troubled lives is absolutely right. 

There is much more that could be said about what makes Attack of the Clones a brilliant entry in the Star Wars Saga, and it’s unlikely that anyone who hates it will be convinced otherwise. But hopefully in the fullness of time it will be reappraised as a very different film to The Phantom Menace, rather than being lumped into the “those damn prequels” category. One thing that has never sat quite right though, is why does Padme think Dooku wants to assassinate her when the Republic having an army would be against his best interests…..?

“But what brave Senator would be willing to propose such a radical amendment....” – Chancellor Palpatine

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