Star Wars Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

You know, I accept that The Phantom Menace has a lot wrong with it, but at the end of the day, it’s still a movie that I enjoy watching very much: it’s nonsense, and I can see that, but I still like watching it. Attack of the Clones, though? There were points on our re-watching of it that I found myself thrashing around on the couch in abject pain, unable to so much as look at the screen because what was going on was just so bad, so artless, so fucking stupid. 

When we talk about Attack of the Clones, the bad must come first. And there’s so much of it: it’s almost incredible how much utter bullshit Lucas and company managed to cram into just over two hours of cinema. But before we get to that, we must address the elephant in the Jedi temple: Hayden Christensen.

How many actors do you think tried out for this role? I mean, Darth Vader is probably one of the most iconic cinematic creations of the twentieth century. I can’t imagine that a casting call for his younger version would have been met with indifference. It galls me, galls me, to think of the hundreds of young, unknown actors who tried out for this part, who probably thought about what they could bring to the role, who read the script and thought yeah, I can do this. And most of all when I remember that George Lucas chose the worst of the lot to bring this iconic character to life.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling more generous, I’ll put more blame on the script than Christensen for Anakin’s appalling showing in Attack of the Clones. And don’t get me wrong, it’s bad; do I need to reiterate the iconic sand monologue? I write romance in another one of my many writing lives, and make no mistake when I say that this is the most aggressively awful attempt at building romantic chemistry I’ve ever seen; Anakin is a creep, Padme is (for the most part, but we’ll get there) a swooning, dithering damsel, and the romantic chemistry between Natalie Portman and her alleged “man” is put to shame by that of the twins that they’ll go on to parent together.

But that would be to take away from the near-sublimety of how bad this performance is. I wonder at what point during shooting the crew exchanged glances and realized, Oh my God, he’s going to tank this entire fucking film. Was it during that opening with Obi-Wan, as he appears to be reading from cue-cards? Is it amidst the gruelling romance warzone where Hayden must convey flirtation, and manages constipation, instead? Perhaps when it clicked that he could hardly swing a lightsabre convincingly? I’m not sure, but I’m certain it must have happened, but by then, it was too late: Christensen had been set in stone as Anakin, and there was no getting out of the enormous hole he was going to crack through the middle of this film.

But to put all the blame on him would be to skip out on the spectacular bullshit that the rest of this film offers up as “storytelling”. Trying to figure out the actual throughline logic of the plot requires everyone involved and especially the Jedi to be unremitting idiots, so I’m not going to torment myself with reiterating it here. I just have so many questions about this movie, and the choices that were made that led to the giant, unwieldy beast we see in front of us now: why does Dooku, the alleged villain, turn up a half-hour before the end and then do next to nothing apart from basically out his secret boss and his identity? Why do the Jedi so willingly take on a Clone army of unknown origin without questioning its creation or existence? Where did R2-D2’s flying jets come from? I have so many fucking questions. It’s all so fucking stupid and it doesn’t even have the decency to be stupid in the way the podracing sequence is; self-serious and self-serving and self-indulgent, everything is gruellingly po-faced (apart from Ewan McGregor’s sarcastic and be-mulleted Obi-Wan, whose every line of dialogue could be clarified by adding “You little bitch” at the end of it).

And alright, let’s get on to Padme, while we’re on the subject of plot holes. I adore Padme in the first movie, as I said last week, and I really think the remainder of the franchise just shat over that version of the character; I will say that she’s marginally better in Attack of the Clones than I remembered, with a few moments of boldness and bravery that brought to mind our Bitch and Queen of choice from Episode I. But the fact that the movie requires Padme to get smashed by Anakin sees her character distorted beyond all recognition to fit into that mould: in what world would the Padme we know and have had a crush on since adolescence love not kick Anakin’s ass when she found out that he had slaughtered a tribe of Tuscan Raiders, including innocent children, for no good reason? “Oh, we all get angry sometimes!”, she soothes him after the fact. No fucking way! Queen Amidala protected innocents above all else; she wouldn’t be back-patting some block-of-wood Jedincel for murdering children because he was upset. From here on in, Amidala will only be relevant to Anakin’s story, when she could have had such a badass arc of her own. Farewell, sweet potential Amidala: you’re most of the reason I got into writing fanfiction.

I could write ten thousand more words on this movie, easily – everything wrong with it, those minor things right (some of the action is fine, I suppose), all the ways that it undercut the small amount of good work the Phantom Menace had set up. I could, but I want to cling on to the last of my sanity that’s left after dragging myself in miserable agony through the carnage of Attack of the Clones. Next up, we have The Clone Wars movie – a welcome respite from the chaos of the prequel trilogy. Join me next time for something a little less fucking terrible, and hopefully, we can leave this international disaster behind us.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it,  please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!

By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Business Insider)

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