Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
July 23, 2003
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Pernilla August, Temuera Morrison, Jack Thompson, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Daniel Logan,
A long time ago in a cinema far, far away Star Wars Episode II was released. It has now made the arduous journey to DVD, and the circle is complete.
It’s cool to knock success, it happens all the time. The media build up a person, raving about how great they are until such a time as everyone agrees at which point they knock them down again. George Lucas has suffered from that, after being shunned by his contemporise back in the seventies, told he wasn’t good enough to attend film school and that Star Wars wouldn’t work. When he showed a rough cut of Star Wars to a gathered group of director pals, Scorsese and Spielberg included, only Spielberg liked it. The others said it wouldn’t make any money, it would be a flop. Then it went on to become the highest grossing film in US box office history, and suddenly everyone loved Lucas.
Now the man is giving us the first three Star Wars films, the prequels, and it’s become cool to knock him down. They’re not as good as the original trilogy, he shouldn’t have directed them himself, the characters are boring were some of the criticisms he’s come in for. Everyone remembers the films being better in the old days, as fondly as they remember their own childhood. The old days however are gone, and despite every generation throughout history, without exception, harping on about how much better things were in their day the fact remains that they were not. Life wasn’t better in the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies; just people were younger, and the older they get the more they yearn to return to their youth. Star Wars was a major part of that youth, and approaching the new Star Wars films with an older cynical mind people will always compare them unfavourably to how they remember the originals.
The first Star Wars, now re-titled ‘A New Hope’ wasn’t the greatest film ever made, and it seriously drags for the first forty minutes until the appearance of Harrison Ford. Everyone seems to remember it though through the proverbial rose tinted spectacles.
The new films are even slated for their titles, but how more absurd does The Phantom Menace sound than The Empire Strikes Back? That only sounds good because we have twenty years of memories colouring our opinion of it.
What of Attack of the Clones then? Is it the best Star Wars movie ever made, is it the worst or is it just another chapter in the story of Star Wars? Our preconceptions aside, AOTC is one of the most consistently entertaining of the Star Wars movies. Featuring the descent into darkness of one of the greatest of all Jedi, a flawed hero, it occupies itself with the transition from democracy to dictatorship within the Republic.
The prequels have come in for some stick over their plodding narrative and dull political storyline. It’s because they are very different films to the original three. They are concerned with the formation of the Empire, how a seemingly Utopian society can be manipulated by a being of immense evil to become a dictatorship. The manner in which Palpatine is executing his plans is brilliantly thought out, and events that may have seemed chance encounters, or even accidents in Episode I are revealed as carefully planned strategies. These new films are more like Star Trek than Star Wars in their design, less gung ho and more thoughtful. It’s been a difficult adjustment for the fans to make from the simple good versus evil nature of the originals.
Also we’re given a tragic hero, one in the rue nature of Greek Mythology. We know he has great powers, and that he means to become a great Jedi but we also know what happens to him. Despite his best efforts to make the right choices he is being manipulated by Palpatine. His ego is being massaged and catered for in a series of brilliant scenes that forewarn of things to come. Palpatine’s manipulation of the young Skywalker was remorseless, and under the very noses of the Jedi. This leaves you feeling very sympathetic for Anakin as he quite literally didn’t have a chance, his fate was decided the moment Palpatine became aware of him.
The subtlety of AOTC wasn’t just confined to Palpatine, at various moments throughout the film Anakin would offer suggestions of his future destiny. On Tatooine Anakin’s shadow looks remarkably similar to the figure of the Dark Lord, reminiscent of the early Phantom Menace posters with Jake Lloyd.
The music also, once again crafted by the brilliant John Williams, goes a long way to offering suggestions as to Anakin’s future. Darth Vader’s march, used only once during Phantom Menace was used frequently during AOTC as Anakin became more and more unstable. His flirtations with the dark side, caused by the release of his emotions reveal that his destiny cannot be averted. If only the Jedi knew the extent to Anakin’s problems, maybe they could have helped him and thus saved the galaxy from the most feared evil it would ever know.
In a scene reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, Count Dooku tempts Ob-Wan to join him and help him destroy the Sith. As in Empire where Vader asks Luke to join him so that together they can rule the galaxy, you are left uncertain as to the motives of Dooku. Does he genuinely wish to ally himself with Kenobi in order to usurp Palpatine, or does he have other motives. As we know there can be only Sith, so enlisting Kenobi would mean the end to either Dooku or Palpatine. Difficult to see the dark side is.
Hayden Christensen also came in for some criticism for his performance, yet his was no better or worse than that of Mark Hamill in the first trilogy. He is portraying a Jedi Knight, a character that isn’t supposed to show emotion or vulnerability. For an actor that is a very difficult role to successfully fill. Alec Guinness managed it to great effect, but he was a brilliant actor with years of experience. For a young actor to attempt such a role and make such a fine job of it should be commended. Yes Harrison Ford came off better in Star Wars, but not taking away from Harrison his role was a far easy one to excel in. The role of a roguish gunslinger gives the actor far more opportunity to expand on his performance than the role a Jedi. That said, there are grounds for criticism that maybe the characters in the original trilogy were more interesting than those in the prequels; if not more interesting, certainly more familiar. Star Wars was basically a western in space anyway, so the story was very familiar even if the setting wasn’t. The story of a tragic hero however isn’t as familiar to the audience of today, as we generally don’t get to see films where the central character is flawed to the point of self destruction. Ancient Greek drama was rife with such characters, but today’s audience are more unaware to such tales. Therefore the cracks that appear in Anakin’s character don’t sit very comfortably with the viewer, viewers who don’t necessarily want to see their hero fall from grace in such spectacular fashion.
But fall from grace he is going to do, and become the greatest film villain of all time he will become. If only Yoda had sensed it. Yoda and the rest of the Jedi however have their ability to use the force considerably diminished by the presence of the Sith. It’s the scenes with Palpatine and Yoda together that really emphasise the power of the force. Yoda has so much insight that he can tell when Anakin is in danger on Tatooine, several thousand parsecs away, yet can’t detect that the figure sitting opposite him is in fact the Dark Lord of the Sith. Therefore the Sith’s power must be considerable, and that eventual moment in Episode III when Palpatine’s identity is revealed will become all the more poignant as Yoda looks back on how he has failed.
The one thing that Episode II does do very effectively is set up Episode III. Like Empire Strikes Back, AOTC has one of those cliff hanger endings that you know just can’t be good for all concerned. As Yoda himself said to Ob-Wan, it was no victory.
As with Phantom Menace, this DVD release come more packed full of features than an astromech droid. In fact one of the spoof features is a history of R2-D2 the actor! Go beneath the dome, as the title tells you, of the little actor who found fame in Star Wars after apparently turning down the lead in The Godfather.
There’s far too much to go into here, but features worth looking at first are the deleted scenes, the holy grail of any Star Wars fan. You’ll see how whole sections were cut out to speed the film along, and indeed dialogue sequences were relocated for the same reason. Through the technology that is the Sony Cine Alta 24P camera they were able to shoot a scene with Ob-Wan and Mace Windu in a hanger, and then decide to relocate it to the palace and include Yoda without having to re-shoot any footage. What a time we live in.
Rest assured this DVD won’t let you down, if you have even a passing interest in films it’s a must have. In thirty or so years time there will be one film series that stands head and shoulders above the others, forget the pretenders to the crown, the Force is strong with this one.