Revisiting Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Continuing our journey through the Star Wars movies, Attack of the Clones takes place a decade after its predecessor, The Phantom Menace. Anakin Skywalker is now training to be a Jedi, serving as Obi-Wan Kenobi's padawan.
As before, I'm assuming knowledge of the film and beyond points of discussion will be dispensing with a summary.
So, what is the movie about? We learn the Republic is dealing with a separatist movement, led by Count Dooku, a former Jedi Knight and once the late Qui-Gon Jinn's teacher. Given what we saw in The Phantom Menace it is not a huge surprise that systems are anxious to leave the Republic. With assassination plots against Padme Amidala, now senator from Naboo, Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned to protect her. And Anakin is madly in love with her.
Let's look at the various plot threads. We'll begin with the separatist movement and the Clone Wars. Palpatine, still chancellor, clearly wants the separatist crisis. It militarizes the Republic, results in many Jedi dying, and gives him individually more power. And it really doesn't matter which side wins the war which emerges - in reality he is in charge of both sides. The shape of what he's up to is fairly clear in this movie and bears fruit in Revenge of the Sith. We see early in the film that the Republic has no real military beyond that of its individual members. In that it is like the very early United State or like the United Nations. There's a movement to create an Army of the Republic (it sounds so patriotic when written like that). But it is a controversial movement - senators like Padme Amidala and Bail Organa are against doing so. (Also, continuing an annoyance from the previous film, Senator Organa's name is never spoken in the entire movie.) As luck would have it, Obi-Wan stumbles across a clone army built at the behest of a dead Jedi Master. Just when the Republic needs it.
Related to this main threat is the plot to kill Padme. She survives an assassination attempt at the start of the film, though her double is not so lucky. That's what leads to Palpatine suggesting Obi-Wan be her protector - someone she knows. It seems clear he really wants her and Anakin together. We know Anakin is destined to become Darth Vader so Palpatine is going to exploit any chinks in Anakin's Jedi armor. Given that we see Anakin and Palpatine are on very friendly terms, it seems likely that Palpatine has heard many teenage proclamations of how beautiful Padme is.
However, it really isn't much of a surprise that Anakin would seek out friendship with Palpatine. Palpatine tells him everything he so desperately wants to here. How he is clearly destined to be the greatest and most powerful Jedi. This is in contrast with Anakin's relationship with Obi-Wan. And with everyone else actually. People have a tendency to belittle Anakin - from Obi-Wan's constant criticisms to Padme dismissing him as "just a Padawan" when they are on Naboo.
A major criticism of the film is the relationship between Padme and Anakin. Anakin is clearly in love with her - though in truth, it seems he is in love with the idea of being in love with her. That's not too surprising - Anakin is about 19 years old and has no experience with relationships - not that he is supposed to, given Jedi are supposed to avoid attachments. However, it seems the Jedi have done a poor job preparing him for that life - he has been obsessing about Padme and is worried about what became of his mother, especially since beginning to have nightmares about her (which are prophetic and come true). What is puzzling is what Padme sees in Anakin - most women I know would be at best a bit put off by his clear obsession. However, Padme is master of the mixed message - declaring they cannot be together while rolling around in the grass with him and wearing clothing that is definitely on the suggestive side. (And no, she's not "asking for it" - the interest is clearly mutual, though she is a little less obvious about it.)
The two of them wind up going from Cosuscant to Naboo to Tatooine, with the last destination in response to his prophetic dreams. On Tatooine Anakin meets his mother Shmi's husband (and his step-father), Cliegg Lars as well as Cliegg's son Owen and Owen's girlfriend Beru. Anakin chases after the sandpeople who have taken his mother. He finds her, but just in time for her to die after seeing him. Which triggers a homicidal rage, leading him to slaughter the sandpeople tribe, combatants and non-combatants alike. Given Palpatine's skill at manipulation, it seems unlikely that anything that happened here was an accident. He wants Anakin nudged to the Dark Side.
While all this was going on, Obi-Wan was tracking down Padme's attacker. At Kamino he meets the bounty hunter Jango Fett and his young clone son Boba Fett. And Jango is the template for a clone army being built for the Republic, though the man who ordered its construction is a now-deceased Jedi Master. With Jango connected to the assassination plot, Obi-Wan tries to bring him in. This leads to one of my favorite action sequences - two of them really. Obi-Wan tries to stop Jango and Boba from leaving on Slave 1, leading to a fight between Jango and Obi-Wan. This is the first time we see a non-Force using human stand up to a fully trained Jedi. It is a nasty brawl, with the two combatants even matches for each other. Jango and Boba get away but Obi-Wan places a tracer on the ship, allowing him to follow them to the Geonosis system. There the fight continues in space, Obi-Wan in his fighter against Jango Fett in Slave 1. Slave 1 is very heavily armed - among its arsenal are "seismic charges" which have a special effect that is fantastic to behold in the theater - a bright flash and silent shockwave shortly followed by a discordant shriek. Obi-Wan is forced to feign the destruction of his ship, allowing Slave 1 to land on Geonosis.
Obi-Wan sees Count Dooku meeting with separatist leaders and manages to get a message out to the Jeid but is captured by Count Dooku. Padme and Anakin try to rescue him but wind up getting caught and all three are to be executed in an arena on Geonosis. They hold off the beasts scheduled to execute them and as things begin looking dark, the Jedi cavalry arrive, followed shortly thereafter by the Clone Army, led by Yoda. The Grand Army has indeed been authorized, with Palpatine having been granted emergency powers after a motion by Jar Jar Binks, sitting in the Senate in place of Padme (oops...)
Anakin and Obi-Wan make an attempt to stop Dooku from escaping, only to be defeated by him with relative ease, leaving a badly wounded Obi-Wan and Anakin missing much of his right arm. Yoda battles him to a standstill, with Dooku only getting away when Yoda is distracted by a need to save Anakin and Obi-Wan from debris pulled down by Dooku. The battle between Yoda and Dooku has its detractors. Most people are good with its start, with Yoda effortlessly repelling objects hurled at him and lightning fired at him. When it came to the lightsaber duel which followed, there were a number unhappy with Yoda's hyperkinetic attack. The showing I saw in the theater absolutely loved it and I still enjoy the aged and short Jedi Master showing just how powerful he is.
The movie ends with a Nazi-style assembly of Clone Troopers on Coruscant while on Naboo, Anakin and Padme are secretly married.
So, how was it? Much of what I wrote above represents my opinion. On the whole, I think Attack of the Clones is better paced than The Phantom Menace. There's still a far share of politics but it is well connected to the action.
Much of the film is centered around Anakin and his relationships - with Obi-Wan, with Padme, and with his mother. The latter too are relationships he is not supposed to have. Interestingly, I find his relationship with Obi-Wan seemed relatively smooth at the start of their first scene but rapidly diminished once Padme came into the picture. Overall, Anakin has a tough time of it - he feels massively unappreciated. He feels like he is being held back by those he has more raw power than. However, the ease at which Dooku defeats him nicely showcases the advantages of experience.
Is Anakin's angst appropriate? It does match my own memories of being 19. I was a lot more certain of things at 19 than I am at 44. I was wrong about a lot more stuff too, but hey, I had certainty. The relationship with Padme... That, I can say with all respect to the two actors, who have done a great job in other movies, was not pleasant to watch. It may have been intentional, but Anakin's love seems much too much on the creepy stalker side of the street. Again, he has no experience in such relationships, so it may be reasonable, but man it can be unpleasant to watch at times.
Palpatine, is a joy to watch. He is clearly building up his power but has arranged events to have the Senate begging him to take that power. It seems he was reading the Evil Overlord Handbook, though by Return of the Jedi he will seem to have forgotten much of it.
Greatest Moment(s): Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett, both on Kamino and over Geonosis. Yoda vs. Dooku. Christopher Lee's performance - such an awesome actor.
Cringeworthy Moment(s): "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."
Puzzling Moment(s): So Jango Fett was the template for the Republic's Clone Army. And he is part of the separatist plot as well? I suppose he might have been the bait to bring the Jedi to Geonosis and start the war.
Guilty Pleasure: As a heterosexual male, the more grown-up Padme, who manages to get strategically ripped clothing...