This article contains spoilers for Attack Of The Clones and the wider Star Wars series.
In hindsight, 2002s Attack Of The Clones had one of the hardest jobs of any chapter in the Skywalker Saga tasked with bridging the gap between young Anakins carefree podracer and the man who would become arguably the most feared baddie in movie history. On top of that, it was expected to spin a love story and a political thriller all at once. Simply put, the expectations were too great.
This second entry in the franchise once again written and directed by series creator George Lucas didnt break the same box-office records that The Phantom Menace did three years earlier. It wasnt even the top-grossing film of the year it was released, outperformed in the US by Peter Jacksons The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Tobey Maguires first outing as Spider-Man. Worldwide, it was trounced by fantasy franchise upstart Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets (Clones took $640 million, compared with Potters $870 million). Was the thirst for more Star Wars starting to make like Tatooine and dry up?
The trouble is that many of The Phantom Menaces issues ring true with its sequel, too. Jar Jar Binks role is smaller, but hes no less irritating, while the amount of CGI employed serves not only to make the entire film feel more sterile than a Kamino laboratory, but also hasnt aged particularly well. What does hold up is the movies soundtrack, once again composed by series legend John Williams in particular Across the Stars, which serves as the one bright point of a tragically mismanaged love story subplot, as well as the first use of The Imperial March in the series chronology.
Set 10 years on from The Phantom Menaces conclusion, Padm (Natalie Portman) hasnt aged a day and maintains an active role in galactic politics despite stepping down as the Queen of Naboo. After surviving an assassination attempt, shes re-introduced to a much older Anakin, this time played by everyones favourite whipping boy, Hayden Christensen. From there, Episode 2 does its best to juggle three separate subplots across its almost two-and-a-half hour runtime.
The first, Anakins transition to the Dark Side of the force, arguably takes a major backseat to his relationship with Padm. Our hero is brash, headstrong, and more than a little creepy (I dont think she liked me watching her, he claims while discussing Padms security detail in Coruscant), but its after a vivid nightmare and subsequent attempt to free his mother that he takes his first steps towards the Dark Side slaughtering Tusken Raiders en masse, including their children.
Unfortunately, the love angle doesnt offer too much chemistry. Natalie Portman is an excellent actress, but outside of a throwaway line or two, her relationship with Christensens Anakin never feels real, and therefore the stakes never feel high and thats without the horrendous writing and delivery of the now meme-famous sand conversation (you know the one).
More interesting is the political storm brewing in the Galactic Senate, as Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) begins making moves to grant himself emergency powers. Unfortunately, most of this is told through clunky exposition, as George Lucas again opts to tell the audience rather than show them.
Where the film does deliver is in finally showing us the power of the Jedi and the numbers that they operated in at their peak. In the final battle on Geonosis, dozens of Jedi can be seen swinging their lightsabers, and even poor framing aside, it feels good to finally see these legendary warriors working as a team. Sith Lord Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus), a new addition to the franchise, steals the show thanks to a scenery-chewing performance from the late, great, Christopher Lee. Hes more than enough for a Jedi or two, but more on that later.
We also find ourselves introduced to fan-favourite Boba Fett, albeit as a surly pre-teen with a pretty cool Mandalorian dad, Jango who serves as the basis for the titular clones. These turn out to be early incarnations of everyones favourite Imperial footsoldiers, the Stormtroopers. These white-clad warriors somehow have much better aim than their successors though, making short work of the bugs and droids on Geonosis.
Seeing them battle alongside Yoda and the other Jedi is one of the movies greatest moments,but sadly comes almost two hours in. In fact, Tusken slaughter aside, the only other real action sequence of note is the early Coruscant chase, which offers a much deeper look at the capital of the Republic. Its sad, then, that the only space action here is Obi-Wan tailing Jango within an asteroid belt although Episode 3 thankfully offers a hefty battle early on which does mitigate things somewhat.
Thats arguably Attack Of The Clones' biggest issue it has toomuch of a gap to bridge. In attempting to put forward three cohesive plotlines, it ends up offering three barely functioning ones and thats without mentioning the wooden dialogue, ill-advised CGI, and Hayden Christensens stunted delivery. Despite a handful of redeeming qualities (Christopher Lee being a very big one), Clones remains something of a low point for the Star Wars franchise.
Best lightsaber bit: The clash between Jedi Knights and Battle Droids in the arena on Geonosis is fun, but the clear standout is Obi-Wan and Anakin taking on Count Dooku. The elder Sith Lord is more than a match for both Jedi, and ends up lopping off Anakins hand and incapacitating Obi-Wan before Yoda turns up to save their hides and show off some nifty, yo-yo like combat moves. Not bad for a Jedi Master in his 800s.
Best non-lightsaber bit: The vertiginous flying car chase sequence through the 'streets' of Coruscant, seemingly miles above the ground, offers the movies first action scene and its a doozy as Obi-Wan and Anakin hunt down shapeshifting would-be assassin Zam Wesell.
Jedi wisdom: As much as we want to go with the fact that sand is coarse (thanks for that, Anakin), well go with a salient piece of wisdom from Obi-Wan: Trust your feelings then, you will be invincible If only Instagram existed in the galaxy far, far away, the Jedi would be cleaning up in the inspirational life-advice stakes.
Rules of the Force: Aside from the usual abilities to run, somersault and use the Force Push, we get the impression that Jedi are immune to hurting themselves from long falls. In the initial Coruscant chase, Anakin and Obi-Wan both fall huge distances before landing on different speeders. Either the vehicles are made of foam, or the Jedi have protective powers that prevent them from meeting a splattery end like a fly on a windshield. We also learn a little bit more about the corruptive pull of the Dark Side of the Force as Yoda explains of former Jedi (and his old Padawan) Dooku, lies, deceit, creating mistrust are his ways now" and get our first look at the Sith's ablility to project Force lightning.
Who has a bad feeling about this? Anakins the one with the dodgy premonition this time, and hes quite right to be wary its when he and his comrades are being prepared for execution by a trio of big beasties in the arena on Geonosis.
Galactic stop-offs: Theres plenty of sightseeing to be done, although in terms of new destinations the key ones are Kaminos cloning labs suspended above stormy seas, Geonosis network of caves and bug-tunnels (and huge gladiatorial arena, of course), and an asteroid belt somewhere between the two. Returning from The Phantom Menace are Coruscant (although we get to see a lot more of it here), Tatooine and Naboo.
Who wins?It's a draw. This feels like the most 50/50 ending of the saga, with arguments to be made for both sides (Yoda, for one, doesnt accept victory). Anakin is wounded, and has been corrupted into taking his first steps towards the Dark Side, but hes also married to Padm albeit in secret, away from the Jedi Council. Meanwhile, Dooku is shown to have the plans for a certain planet-destroying space station, and Palpatine has more power than any Supreme Chancellor before him. Its OK though, because the Clone Troopers will keep us safe, right?
You can read all of our Star Wars recaps here.
What did you think of Attack of the Clones? Are there any other aspects of it that you love, any that you didn't, or anything that weve missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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