Because everyone needs their own ranking of Star Wars films, I’m posting mine one film at a time in these last weeks leading up to The Force Awakens.
Today: Attack of the Clones.
What It Gets Right: No, I don’t think Attack of the Clones is all that bad. There are things I genuinely enjoy about it: Obi-Wan vs Jango Fett, the arena battle scene, and yes, the divisive Yoda vs Dooku battle at its climax. The film even starts out pretty good, with an assassination attempt against Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala. No, not the one on the platform with the exploding ship. The other one, with the creepy centipedes.
Obi-Wan’s flight through Coruscant gave us our best shot of the capital planet. While the Jedi Temple seems kinda boring with its huge halls and libraries, and the Senate is a big empty golfball (probably), the rest of Coruscant looks pretty kick ass. The concept of a planet-wide city is cool and to see its long draw distances and zooming, Fifth Element-style traffic, not to mention nightclubs and diners, gave us a look at something we didn’t see in the original trilogy, where the most populous areas we see are the Death Star and Cloud City. This film showed us that the metropolitan life was alive and well in the oft-times Western-seeming Star Wars universe.
Where It Went Wrong: Many will say the casting of Hayden Christensen ruined the character of Anakin Skywalker, but I say nay. Sure, Hayden wasn’t good in the role. But Natalie Portman was no good as Padme, either. The terrible dialogue between the two and the lack of any kind of chemistry marks this film as easily possessing the worst acting of the six films. George Lucas simply can’t write good dialogue and he can’t coach actors. Ewan McGregor is good here because he out-acts the direction he’s given. It’s clear this is the case because normally good actors (Portman and also Samuel L. Jackson) are thrown away in this film. McGregor is also asked to do very little other than chide Christensen in the role and be an action hero. There isn’t a great speaking moment in the film.
Beyond just the acting, the tale of Anakin and Padme is not a love story worth telling. Two characters, separated for a decade, fall in love simply because they are around each other and one happens to be madly passionate for the other. Amidala, who is typically reserved, conscientious, and duty-bound, marries this guy? This isn’t a case of a woman dating outside of station. Amidala straight up defies everything you learned about her up to this point in favor of Anakin, and for no discernable reason. Betray the duty of the Jedi for love? Amidala’s down for that even though her own duties are paramount to her and she didn’t even want to leave Coruscant to protect herself. I would love a moment in a Star Wars story soon where it is revealed that Palpatine somehow managed to brainwash Amidala to fall for Anakin just so he could seduce the young Jedi. That’s the only way Amidalakin (sorry) makes sense.
There are other story sins in Attack of the Clones. The clone army’s quick acceptance with very few questions asked. The dodgy pacing of the final scene. The mere use of an arena for the paltry enjoyment of a few tens of thousands of Geonosians when Obi-Wan, Anakin, and especially Amidala would’ve made for better prisoners. Sifo-Dyas and the questions his existence brings up and which are never answered in the films.
Attack of the Clones is also the least Star Wars-y of the Star Wars films. As JJ Abrams pointed out when he began work on The Force Awakens, Star Wars relies on a good deal of practical effects for its visual magic. Attack of the Clones almost completely went away from these in favor of CGI. Sadly, a lot of the CGI hasn’t held up. There’s even dodgy green screen work which, for a film with the budget Attack of the Clones had, is inexcusable. Even more, Attack of the Clones is the only Star Wars film without an at least decent-sized space battle. Even Empire Strikes Back had the escape of Hoth and multiple TIEs chasing down the Millennium Falcon. Not a lot, but much better than AotC.
In Summary: All in all, I’m not in the minority here when I criticize the film. Many people loathe the prequels. But I don’t hate Attack of the Clones. Sure, there wasn’t a memorable villain, but Christopher Lee was a nice addition. And sure, Jango Fett is just a repainted Boba Fett, but at least we got to see a real fight out of him. To me, the film memorably didn’t meet my expectations, which weren’t super high. But in re-viewing the film since, it’s passable Star Wars fare that helped advance the series.
Our Score: B-
Rotten Tomatoes: 65% | IMDB: 6.7 | Metacritic: 54