Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (2002) Retrospective Review

Time: 142 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains low level violence
Cast:
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi
Natalie Portman as Senator Padmé Amidala
Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker
Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Christopher Lee as Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus
Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
Temuera Morrison as Jango Fett
Frank Oz as the voice of Yoda
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Kenny Baker as R2-D2
Creator: George Lucas

Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) discover there is more than meets the eye behind an assassination attempt on Naboo Senator Padme Amidala’s (Natalie Portman) life. Meanwhile a Sith Lord orchestrates events between the forces of good and evil, all the while waiting to play the final move that will ensure him control of the galaxy.

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Despite much of the dislike for The Phantom Menace, many consider Attack of the Clones to be the worst Star Wars movie. I’ve always considered it to be the second worst, but decided to give it another go to see if that changed. After rewatching it… I came to the exact same conclusion, although like with my most recent viewing of The Phantom Menace, I liked it slightly more than the last time I saw it. It’s got some good things in there and could’ve been great, it’s just there there’s equally as many bad decisions that prevent it from reaching that level of greatness.

The writing is a mixed bag. I liked pretty much most of the plot and character decisions made, the execution however had much to be desired. The dialogue had the same problem as in The Phantom Menace, still sounding rather unnatural. However, most of the characters does feel slightly less stiff, even if it still comes across as forced at times. While it would take till Revenge of the Sith for the Star Wars series to start receiving M ratings and start being truly dark, The Phantom Menace is the only movie in the series that feels like it was actually made for kids, and not to say that it’s a bad thing inherently, but it seemed to be at the detriment of the movie on the whole. Attack of the Clones does take the plot a little more seriously, and outside of some cheesy moments (that the original trilogy had too), I liked the tone of the movie generally. The political angle definitely improved since The Phantom Menace, it’s very present but shown in small bursts and wasn’t as heavy handed. And again, it’s also interesting seeing the rise of Palpatine. The Phantom Menace in the beginning took a little while before you began to notice the awkwardness creep in, but Attack of the Clones immediately starts feeling quite off. It has a bit of a clunky start and doesn’t really pick up until the chase scene between Obi Wan and Anakin with the assassin, which in itself was a pretty thrilling and entertaining sequence.

From this point until the third act, the first two acts mainly consist of two main storylines, one for Obi Wan, and the other for Anakin and Padme. I’ll start with Obi Wan’s storyline, which is mostly good. After the assassination attempt on Padme, Kenobi investigates the assassin and discovers Kamino, Clones, and more. Not to say that there weren’t some odd moments, like when Kenobi couldn’t find anything about Kamino in the Jedi databases, he had to go to a class being run by Yoda to ask for help, and then a student had to point out the incredibly obvious that maybe someone erased that information. However, for this movie it’s pretty typical to have random and pointless moments like these, and I’m probably just nitpicking. Once Obi Wan actually gets to Kamino, it really picked up and I was generally interested in what was happening. I’m pretty sure that a lot of people didn’t like it, but I actually liked the introduction and formation of clones, who would eventually become Stormtroopers. Maybe linking them to being clones of Jango Fett was a weird and unneeded choice, but it’s one I just went along with. From there it takes him all the way to Geonosis, where his and Anakin and Padme’s storylines would join up in the third act.

The other main storyline is with Anakin and Padme, and the first half of that which takes place on Naboo was easily the weakest portion of the movie. I get that it’s supposed to be building up their relationship, and I’m more than fine with that. The problem is that the writing for them is absolutely terrible. It can range from being cheesy (like that scene in the field), or just ridiculously cringe worthy (when they confess their love to each other and talk about whether or not it should happen). Had the writing here been even just as average as much of the rest of the movie, I probably would’ve liked the movie slightly more, but that portion sticks out as being really bad. Once Anakin has a nightmare about his mother and the two of them head to Tatooine, their storyline noticeable improves, even if it still has some issues. It seemed like the natural way of progressing his story, especially with Anakin’s mother being particularly quite important to him in the previous movie. I will say that I always found it weird how easy it was for Padme to overlook Anakin’s outburst about him killing the sand people. Indeed the actual outburst doesn’t come across as impactful, as a result of a mix of Christensen’s performance and the writing makes him come across as whiny and throwing a tantrum more than anything. Anakin and Padme would then make their way to Geonosis to try to rescue Obi Wan, with a pretty good action scene at the factory, however Padme doesn’t really get to do anything except to get saved by R2-D2, and I have no idea why C-3PO was in there at all.

The third act is even more of a CGI fest than The Phantom Menace was, but I can’t deny I had fun with it. It starts off with a fight at an arena with Obi Wan, Anakin and Padme, and it already was a good setup. Then it introduces the Jedi, the droid army and the clones into the mix. So much of the movie doesn’t feel real and it really doesn’t allow you to get immersed in these scenes, but after a while you do get used to it, and I started to enjoy it. One thing that does irk me particularly however was that they really made way too many CGI clones, especially when it came to actual human actors having to interact with them, it was just way too distracting and just felt rather lazy. The fight with Obi Wan and Anakin against Count Dooku was pretty decent, as well as the one between Yoda and Dooku. I know some people didn’t like the idea of Yoda having a lightsabre and fighting and all that, but I personally liked it. I also liked how the movie led the way for the Clone Wars, I really wished that there was an episode that took place during the Clone Wars as the next episode would take place at the very end of it, but I guess that’s what a lot of the expansion novels and animated shows are for.

Ewan McGregor reprises his role as the younger Obi Wan Kenobi. He showed potential in The Phantom Menace but he resembled Alec Guinness even more here and has improved even more since then. Even with some of the odd lines he’s given, he absolutely sells each of them perfectly. Pretty much no complaints with him here. Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in this movie is… a very mixed bag. There is so much here that doesn’t work. To be fair, he’s not got much to work with, from some of the terrible dialogue he’s given, to the writing in general, and to how he’s directed. People have said this many times before, but he really does come across as whiny, even when he’s supposed to be angry, and it’s hard to take these moments seriously. Not to mention the rest of the time the performance and line deliveries are rather bland. Some of the romantic moments between him and Padme come across as creepy more than anything else, and most of that comes from Christensen, from the line deliveries to some of the unnerving looks he gives her. It’s a shame that both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith keep separating him and Obi Wan, since that’s quite important. However, Revenge of the Sith would at least have shown a solid dynamic between the two, in Attack of the Clones however it wasn’t really all that convincing, outside of Kenobi being frustrated that he padawan wouldn’t do what he says and Skywalker whining about how he keeps holding him back. Then there’s that throwaway line that Anakin says about how Obi Wan is the closest thing to a father that he has, although you don’t really believe it. Christensen does get a few good acting moments, such as when he finds her mother before she dies, and then when he starts killing the Tuskin Raiders. Still, you get the idea that he could be better. Thankfully, both the writing for him and his acting certainly improved in Revenge of the Sith. Natalie Portman returns as Padme, for the most part I liked where they took her character, though I wish she got to do a little more. Much of her character is overshadowed by the romance between her and Christensen, which was handled rather badly. On paper, the idea of the romance sounds great and fitting, especially for Anakin (though this might just be from knowing what happens with them in Revenge of the Sith). The problem is that the writing for them and the dialogue between them is disastrously bad. I get that it’s been like 10 years since the two have seen each other and they’d be a little awkward, but you really don’t believe their romance at any point in the movie. It’s at best fine and at worst creepy and cringe-worthy. With that said, like their storyline, their dialogue and writing slightly improves after they leave Naboo, and becomes much more bearable.

On the antagonist side it’s about the same level as The Phantom Menace, but maybe slightly better. Ian McDiarmid of course delivers as Palpatine/The Emperor, and the movie shows his rise in power even more. This movie has Jango Fett (played by Temeura Morrison), related to Boba Fett, the fan favourite bounty hunter. To get it out of the way, Jango Fett is much better than Boba Fett, though to be honest it was never much of a competition. I never found Boba Fett to be that good in the original series, the only credible thing he did in those movies is track down Han Solo in Empire Strikes Back, otherwise he just looks cool, and ends up dead in the most embarrassing way. Here you get to actually see Jango do things, holding his own against Obi Wan, killing at least one Jedi in the final act, and being killed in battle by Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). I’m not really sure why they decided to have Boba being a clone of Jango instead of just his son but whatever. The prospect of Christopher Lee as a Star Wars villain in Count Dooku sounds extremely exciting to say the least. Lee really does own the scenes he’s in but unfortunately you really only get to see him in the last third of the movie. It’s also a shame knowing that he doesn’t last very long in the next movie. Like with Darth Maul and General Grievous, Dooku is a Star Wars villain who seemed to shine more in a lot of the spin offs and shows than in the live action movies, and at least had a lot more to do.

The direction by George Lucas like with The Phantom Menace is a little mixed. The movie generally relies more on CGI than The Phantom Menace did, and it was really distracting a lot of the time, from Dexter’s Diner all the way through to the third act. After a while you just sort of accept it for what it is. There’s even some really good action, from the chase of the assassin by Obi Wan and Anakin, to Obi Wan fighting Jango Fett, to much of the third act. Even with some distractingly fake and empty CGI at times, Lucas generally creates some creative scenarios and makes the sequences at least somewhat entertaining. With all the prequels, the new worlds were always great to see, and Attack of the Clones continued this the likes of Kamino and Geonosis, and it was even nice going back to familiar places like Coruscant, Naboo and Tatooine. The designs of everything, from the costumes, to the production design, the worlds, creatures, etc, were also handled quite well. The score by John Williams is great once again, introducing even more iconic Star Wars themes. Across the Stars in particular is fantastic, and deserved to be used for a much better on screen romance than Anakin and Padme’s.

Attack of the Clones is a very flawed movie. There are plenty of problems, with the overreliance of CGI, the writing, some of the directing decisions, there are so many things that were handled disappointingly and at times badly. At the same time it has some potential, I liked most of the ideas, generally the plot was pretty good, I was invested in some parts of the story, and some of the cast and characters work (mainly Ewan McGregor as Kenobi). So while it’s disappointing and I’m not likely to revisit it often, I don’t think it’s without some merit.

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