Hello and welcome back to my re-review series for the wonderful Star Wars Skywalker Saga, and a few spin-off movies along the way. So far, I’ve reviewed Rogue One (3.5/5), A New Hope (4.5/5) , The Empire Strikes Back(5/5) and The Phantom Menace(2/5) which unfortunately means it’s time for… Attack of the God Damned Clones. I’ll be honest, going into this movie, I knew that I was going to have some strong opinions, but I tried my best to keep an open mind. There must be a reason it’s rated 13% higher than Phantom Menace on Rotten Tomatoes, right? Wrong, dead wrong, good lord, this movie is hot, and I mean burning to death on Mustafar level hot, trash.
Much like Menace, Clones has a lackluster opening mired in political intrigue. There’s a short scene telegraphing that Padme is in danger by blowing up a hand maiden no one really cared about (sorry Corde), and then we’re immediately brought to the political theater. There’s even a line in the immediate aftermath of the attack where Captain Panaka tells Padme: “This vote is too important, your highness.” Where the original trilogy always opened on some intriguing predicament for our heroes, the prequels instead tend to dive headfirst into exposition. If I had a say in it, I’d throw the assassination attempt in the opening crawl and start the movie with Obi Wan and Anakin’s chase through Coruscant looking for the assassin. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie and gives the audience an interesting look at a planet that is otherwise just a backdrop for political machinations.
Luckily, Lucas did start to take the hint with Clones and moves the politics into the background for the most part. Unfortunately, the new focus of the movie is somehow worse, a love story between Anakin and Padme. Setting aside the age difference, how they met, and the creepy, stalker vibes Anakin gives off… Never mind, can’t set it aside, this plotline completely wrecks the movie. Attack of the Clones has plenty of interesting directions to go, but the bulk of it is spent watching Anakin’s transformation from obsessed teen, to creepier, murder-happy obsessed teen. The worst part is, it works on Padme, and we’re forced to watch some of the most painful romantic interactions I’ve ever seen on screen.
Focusing on Anakin was a given based on how Menace was made, but unfortunately, the script does nothing to move him forward as a person. Instead, Lucas rests on the fact that we know he’s going to become Darth Vader to justify a landslide of increasingly bad decisions with literally no character motivation to drive them. Maybe it could have been helped if Hayden Christensen had a bit more experience at the time, but the dialogue isn’t doing him any favors either. It’s easy to put the blame on Mannequin Skywalker, but the fact of the matter is, Hamill wasn’t that great in his first movie either.
What made Hamill’s lackluster performance bearable in A New Hope was the support from an amazing cast of characters and a very clearly defined character vision. Anakin has a pre-set story from the beginning, but none of the actions that lead him there feel earned. Instead we have: I hate sand, my mom is dying, better go slaughter an entire village of Tusken Raiders. It doesn’t help that he’s not given anything to play off with other characters either, because in the prequel universe, everything revolves around Anakin. It’s hard for a character to show growth when literally every conversation is about them and nothing else.
When the Jedi council meets, they’re talking about the Sith, but also Anakin. Padme isn’t given more than five lines that aren’t about Anakin. In fact, the only person that does seem to care about something else is Anakin’s alleged teacher, Obi Wan who fucks off to the other side of the galaxy for most of the film. So, rather than an engaging teacher-student relationship where we can watch Anakin transform, he’s sent to a boring planet with the object of his lust. And I do mean object, because this movie straight takes a machete to Padme’s character, removing everything that made her interesting and hog-tying her plot to Anakin. It makes me viscerally angry. At the beginning of the movie, Padme is a bit of a badass, working as a politician, sure, but still a strong character. She’s refuting Anakin’s advances, which good, because the age difference is weird as hell and he’s a creep, but she’s also got some good one-liners.
Somehow, over the course of a thirty-minute flower-field romp with bulbous ass-cows on Naboo, she falls helplessly in love with her stalker and forsakes everything that gave her character purpose. The love story that Attack of the Clones is firmly about never really has time to breath, feels rushed, and isn’t believable in the slightest. As far as I can tell, Anakin wins over one of the smarter characters in the prequels using cheesy pickup lines and by leering at her even after she’s asked him to stop. It’s especially unfortunate given that Natalie Portman could have supported Hayden Christensen with her acting had she actually been given something to do.
Now, while the love story in Clones is by far my biggest issue with the film, it’s also not the only one. The B-plot belongs to General Kenobi’s adventure to Kamino and Geonosis. The Kamino plot in particular is very problematic and confusing. Even as an adult, I found myself heading over to Wookiepedia afterward to try and understand just who the hell Jedi Master Sifo Dias was and why they had ordered a clone army. Dooku gets into a bit on Geonosis, but honestly, it’s needlessly complicated. It would have been just as easy to create a plot where Dooku orders the clones when he’s still part of the Jedi Order and say that’s why he had a falling out. There’s another freebie for you Lucas.
Kamino also does a disservice to a fan favorite from the original films, Boba Fett. Clones establishes that Boba is in fact an exact replica of his father, Jango, a bounty hunter that has similar Mandalorian armor to what Boba Fett wears in Empire/Jedi, but with a different color scheme. The problem here is, we see Jango without his helmet for most of the movie, and that’s a big sticking point for Mandalorians; they’re never supposed to do that. Just watch the first episode of The Mandalorian and they’ll tell you, once you put that helmet on, it never comes off. This pokes a few holes in Boba’s later plot lines, and also, feels completely unnecessary. The clones didn’t need to be modeled after a fan favorite character, and much like Boba Fett later in the films, Jango is done dirty and killed quick with less than ten minutes of total screen time. At least this time we got a few good fights out of him.
Which finally leads me to the only truly enjoyable part of Obi Wan’s arc, and that’s Geonosis. Aside from the stupid I love you line between Anakin and Padme, the twenty minutes the film spends on Geonosis are its best. We get to see a droid creation facility, Padme spends most of her time trapped in a bucket, and we get some cool lightsaber battles. Before I get to that final climactic battle, I want to talk briefly about another side character that is just given some weird motivation in this film, R2D2.
I really enjoy the droid factory scene, it’s fun, it’s got some decent CGI and Padmanakin don’t have time to make doll eyes at each other. However, there’s a big problem for me in the way it starts. R2D2 and C-3P0 are supposed to be friends, but R2 straight pushes C-3P0 to what should have been his death. It’s a bizarre choice for C-3P0 to come along period, because, well, he’s not exactly the most mobile of characters, but even weirder to have R2 try to kill him. Even if it’s supposed to be tongue and cheek, that should have been a lethal fall, just saying. C-3P0 then gets his head swapped with a battle droid and somehow retains a weirdly inconsistent set of functions… In the final battle, both bodies are still shooting at the Jedi, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me. But, major gripe, R2 is a murdering sonofabitch, moving along.
Alright, the last bit of this review, because it’s getting long and I could go on for days about how much I truly, deeply dislike this film, is going to be about the battle on Geonosis. This battle kicks ass, gave way to a bunch of great video game levels, and is generally fun to watch. It’s the one time in the series where we get to see an army of lightsaber-wielding Jedis go into battle and fuck shit up. Sure, they’re losing until the clones show up, but it’s an awesome sequence to watch. Mace Windu gets to bust out his purple lightsaber and decapitates Jango in front of his son, it’s a fun time for all. Even the lead-in with Padme, Anakin, and Obi Wan fighting a trio of CGI monsters is great and feels like a callback to the Rancor in Jedi.
When the clones show up, the battle retains its cinematic quality, albeit interspersed with some terrible dialogue again, and keeps the tension up. It leads us to the climax of the film where Obi Wan, Anakin, and eventually Yoda fight Count Dooku, and hell, that lightsaber fight is incredible. I still got chills when Yoda ignited his lightsaber for the first time and watching him flip around that room like a deadly pinball is awesome. Also, Anakin loses an arm, so, full circle for the Skywalkers.
Overall, Attack of the Clones is a hot mess. It focuses on the wrong parts of the storyline and the wrong characters for the most part. The film is at its best when it’s shadowing Obi Wan and not getting too bogged down in the convoluted evil plot working in the background. The dialogue and character growth are by far the worst in the series, spearheaded by the Anakin-Padme plot which is almost unwatchable. I think in future re-watches, I might skip this one. Attack of the Clones is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of this franchise, and critics should be ashamed for rating it higher than Phantom Menace.