Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
After the disappointment that was THE PHANTOM MENACE, George Lucas had a chance to redeem himself with the second part of his prequel trilogy, ATTACK OF THE CLONES. There was hope in the fanboy community that Clones would prove to be a drastic improvement since Jake Lloyd was now replaced by Hayen Christensen and Jar Jar Binks was reduced to a supporting role. Since two of the biggest problems with Menace were now gone or greatly reduced, things were looking up for the Star Wars franchise. But it was not meant to be as little things like dialogue, plot development and character arcs continued to be the downfall for director George Lucas.
Much like EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was the bridge between Hope and Jedi, Clones is the bridge between Menace and REVENGE OF THE SITH (note: this is where the similarities end). The goal is to set up the love story between Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). The love between them is essentially the catalyst that sends Anakin to the Dark Side and the audience had to feel the connection and root for it to succeed. The success of the love story was hit and miss. The scene in the arena was a nice touch, but once things were getting emotional and had a potential to be interesting, the arena erupts into a giant, un-choreographed lightsaber battle. But the uncomfortable moments between Anakin and Padme came whenever they had to talk to each other. They had nothing to say and when they did speak, it was uneasy and unnatural. The severe lack of romantic dialogue or chemistry between Christensen and Portman proved to be one of the roadblocks to getting the audience to truly care about either of them.
Along with the love story, Anakin’s inability to control his emotions, especially when it came to his mother, also led to his undoing. One of the more powerful (or should I say, potentially powerful) scenes came when Anakin went to Tatooine to avenge his mother’s death. This was a golden opportunity for Lucas to show the true evil buried in Anakin, but instead we have a close-up of an angry Anakin and then hear the screams as he presumably massacres those responsible. There was also rumor that in the background, you could hear Qui-Gon Jin yelling, but I could never verify that. Adding Qui-Gon in would have been a nice touch, but it was yet another opportunity that Lucas never took. But the biggest frustration came from being introduced to so many great Jedi characters, and then seeing them get killed off one by one. Who were they? What are their stories? Introducing a cool looking character, only to have them disappear after 30 minutes does nothing for the film.
Finally, fans were treated to the beginnings of the infamous Clone Wars, which were referred to in the original trilogy and then referenced many times in the series of books that followed the films. Fans were excited to see exactly what the Clone Wars were and how they got started. But once again, the events leading up to the Clone Wars and then the Clone Wars themselves were muddled at best. Even the action scenes between the Jedi (who don’t fight wars, by the way) were haphazard and messy. While doing press for the film, Samuel L. Jackson once said that he and the other actors kept asking for direction and that George Lucas responded by telling them to just swing their lightsabers and he’d add effects in later. That kind of lazy filmmaking is what plagued the entire film.
Clones is a much better film than Menace, but the bar had been set pretty low and the sheer act of removing Lloyd and Jar Jar was enough to improve the film. We were still left with many problems and the lack of story development on any level was so evident that Clones is the most forgettable (note: not the worst) of all of the Star Wars films.
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