Monday, May 16, 2022

Attack Of The Clones... Every Bit As Bad As I Remember It

(Fixed the publishing date so that it actually says May 16th, which is when this was actually published. My bad.)

Twenty years ago, on this very day, the fifth Star Wars film and the second episode of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones, was released in theatres worldwide. As the second chapter of the prequels, it continued the story of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and his young padawan Anakin Skywalker, who are charged with the mission of protecting the young Senator and former Queen Amidala from assassins, all the while trying to uncover the mystery of a clone army created in Kamino. The movie raked in about $650 million in the box office, but the reaction has been decided mixed.

Over the years, I have made no secret about considering Attack Of The Clones to be the absolute worst Star Wars movie ever made. I have held this belief since the day it premiered when I first saw it in theatres with my older brother and a bunch of his buddies, and even with the release of the recent films - which I tend to forget exist, coincidentally enough - it neatly lines that proverbial bottom of the Star Wars bottle. Now, it's entirely possible that I may have been a bit harsh and maybe a fresh viewing through new eyes and on the eve of its twentieth year of existence, I may have gotten a new appreciation for this often misunderstood film.

So I pulled out the Blu-Ray disc that I had laying around, popped into my Blu-Ray player, resisted the urge to dive into the extras, and I watched Attack Of The Clones for the first time in years. And you know, I had the DVD release, I popped that into my DVD player, I kicked back and watch this film for the first time in years... and you know how some people would revisit something that they hadn't touched in years because they had a low opinion of it and then they would go "Well, this isn't as bad I remember it."

Well, if the title isn't much of a clue, then I give you my utmost assurance that no such thoughts came to mind after my viewing of Attack Of The Clones. It is, for all intents and purposes, every bit as bad as I remember it.

The Prequel Trilogy was - up until the recent Disney films, that is - the most polarizing series of films in Star Wars. A lot of people like to rail on those movies and I don't feel that the negativity is entirely warranted. The Phantom Menace had its share of problems; wooden dialogue, uninteresting storyline, a less than stellar child actor performance, and Jar Jar Binks, but it also had its highlights; the pod-race, the little moments between Qui-Gon Neeson and Little Annie, the lightsaber fight between the two Jedi and Darth Maul - which still holds up as a pretty stellar duel of fates (har, har)... Darth Maul as the silent Sith assassin was a cool concept... and I actually dug the title a bit. Who was this "phantom menace" it was alluding to? The Sith assassin or something more sinister? Not to mention that when they announced Episode I, there was quite a bit of anticipation and excitement over the first new Star Wars movie since Return of The Jedi in 1982, so it was going to be a while before that adrenaline died down.

Episode II wasn't so lucky.

It began when Lucasfilm had announced the title of the movie was going to be Attack Of The Clones, which sounded as schlocky of a title as you could possibly get, even by the standards of Star Wars. Past films has some good titles; The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, The Phantom Menace, all great, STRONG titles. Attack Of The Clones sounds like a cheesy Sci-Fi name that invited countless jokes and mockeries. The best being a lot of these old fan posters that would have a field day with the title; whether it'd Anakin and Obi-Wan surrounded by flocks of sheep, clones of certain people, or whatever the case may be. I wish I could find those fan posters because those were some really creative stuff.

(Update: They can be found here. Enjoy.)

It would also be the last bit of genuine joy that I would gain out of that film. Somewhat ironic considering the official Star Wars site had dubbed the reasoning for the title to be due it harkening "back to the sense of pure fun, imagination and excitement that characterized the classic movie serials and pulp space fantasy adventures that inspired the Star Wars saga."


The first teaser would hit and it was just Darth Vader's breathing over random clips. It tells you nothing substantial, but the few snippets that you were shown were enough to incite some questions. Who's that Boba looking guy? Why is 3PO chrome? Why is Obi-Wan floating in some force field thing? Hey, they brought back Watto! Thank fuck they stopped slapping make-up on poor Natalie Portman! What are all those kids? Hey, are those stormtroopers boarding that transport?

Episode II might've had a silly name, but it followed up with one of the single best teaser trailers in recent memory; telling you very little and showing you just enough to get you excited and anticipating the next big title. And it was also enough to tell you that, hey, if you didn't like The Phantom Menace, then no worries because this movie was nothing like it. Ah man, this is giving me goosebumps just watching this teaser again. Now I'm looking forward to this movie again...

Eventually, the movie was released. I remember going there opening night with my older brother and some buddies. There was a long-ass line-up in this multi-plex theatre downtown waiting to be let in. There were costumes, there were plastic swords. It's not something that I could easily put up with today, but twenty years ago, man, that was a sight to behold and it was exciting. Our spirits were up heading into this second Star Wars prequel film.

Then we watched the movie... and when we got out of that theatre, let's just say that we were less excited coming out of it than we were going in. I think after the movie was over, we went to a little pizza joint that was still opened after midnight and we got a quick snack talking about how bad this movie was before we moved on to other things. It was a weird feeling for me at the time because I've only seen a handful of movies in the theatres up to that point and save for a couple from which I fell asleep on, I always enjoyed the movies first time in before the eventual repeat viewings on home video tempered those feelings... but Attack Of The Clones was the first time that I didn't have a genuinely good time with the movie. The few times that I was showing some cheer, it wasn't because I was enjoying the film, but rather because I was laughing at it... and I wasn't the only person on that camp.

Like I said, people like to rag on the prequels for being such horrible films, sometimes to such degrees of overkill that it becomes its own brand of unintended comedy. My feeling is that a lot of that stems from the fact that in between a so-so Episode 1 and a pretty flawed yet decent Episode 3 sits the vapid cesspool of awfulness that is Attack Of The Clones because whenever I would talk about the awful, wooden acting, tripe dialogue, or some of the more inane plotpoints of the prequels, I'm mostly talking about Clones.

It's part of the reason why I wouldn't consider the Disney trilogy in the discussion. Regardless of whether you consider those films to be proper Star Wars or not - because that's a sticking point for some people, I guess - the key issue with that trilogy of films is that the movies as a whole are all flash, no substance with nothing to say.

Attack Of The Clones is so unabashedly awful that it TAINTS the other two movies. Phantom and Revenge might not be as bad as some people claim, but they are terrible by mere association with this bad middle chapter. And unlike the other films where you could point the blame at a bunch of names, this was a George Lucas film from start to finish. This was from the "hand of God" as it were. This was what he intended in the telling of the downfall of Anakin Skywalker and birth of Darth Vader. That was his thing.

I guess we should talk about the movie... though I'm not going to do that deep a dive into it because there's no point to it.

Attack Of The Clones jumps the timeline a bit. By this point, Anakin Skywalker is a young Jedi apprentice under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the former Queen Amidala is now a senator on Coruscant, and the Republic has been dealing with separatists... because that is a thing. Anyway, someone wants to kill Amidala because she's in opposition to create a Republic army to fight these separatists. So the Jedi send Anakin to guard Amidala and this leads to a bunch of sappy, poorly-conceived romantic bits where the two start to fall love but they can't because it's against the Jedi code that Anakin has sworn to follow while Amidala is a senator who... wait, how does being a senator keep her from gettin' some lovin'? How does that work?

So a lot of this film's problems stems from the romantic bits between Amidala and Anakin; two people who are supposed to fall in love with each other - you know, because it's in the script - but lack any semblance of emotional connection or charisma that you'd expect two young people who truly love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together. There is no chemistry to be had between these two and this whole forbidden love thing because he's a Jedi and she's a senator, the latter of which should mean nothing because senators can get some lovin'. Maybe she swore an oath of celibacy's and forgot to shave her head bald.

There is one silver lining to all this. The trip to Tatooine, where we meet Watto years later - his demeanor changing when he realizes the Jedi standing before him was the former youngling slave. The first time meeting with the Lars and Anakin's searching for his mother... and eventually finding her at a Tusken Raider camp, only for her to die in his arms, which begins Anakin's slow descent into darkness as he slays the entire encampment in cold blood for doing something that was in their nature. This followed by Yoda in meditation, hearing Qui-Gon's voice calling out for Anakin. There are fleeting moments in Clones that are genuinely well done and gives me (false) hope that things might turn around sooner or later... coincidentally, all of this has nothing to do with this forced Padme/Anakin relationship that feels about as phony as the CGI walrus running that 1950s cafe on Coruscant.

Of course, you then proceed to toss all that goodwill out the window with that scene with Anakin and Padme, where Anakin spews this poorly written dialogue displaying... anger? Remorse? Pride? Apathy? I wish I could say... and I don't know whether this is due to Hayden's acting or Lucas' writing (or both), but whatever emotion is trying to be conveyed here is ultimately lost in translation and we end up with some of the hokiest acting committed to 21st century cinema. I can't help but laugh at this supposed emotional scene that fails to convey whatever it is trying to convey. I'm sorry if I can't... well...

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is sent on the trail of a missing Jedi, which brings him to a cloning facility. This is where we get to meet our Mandalorian-esque bounty hunter named Jango Fett, who turns out to be the template for this clone army that's being developed under everyone's noses. When Obi-Wan confers with the council and confirms that no Jedi authorized the creation of a clone army, he goes after Jango, who have a fun little duel in the rain before Jango and Boba escape to the planet Geonosis.

If you turn your brain off, I actually don't mind the chase in the asteroid field between Slave 1 and Obi-Wan; the visual of Obi-Wan just barely outrunning a whole bunch of explosive laser blasts. The sound design in the seismic charges going off and shattering all the surrounding asteroids (something they brought back for the Mandalorian). As someone who is into the space battles, this is pretty neat. It does open itself up to some questions; such as how old man Jango is such a terrible shot that all those laser blasts being fired off the half-minute of continuous fire and only a couple hit their mark before he deploys the homing missiles. 

Meanwhile, at the senate, Jar Jar Binks - representing the absent Padme - votes to award supreme powers to Palpatine, thus giving him total authorization to do whatever the fuck he wants. Yes, the rabbit thing you hated in The Phantom Menace is responsible for planting the seeds that would give birth to the Galactic Empire... which, in turn, would lead to years worth of theories from the moronic portion of the internet fanbase who believed that Jar Jar was some kind of secret Sith lord... and then people decided that Jar Jar would be JJ Abrams' new pet name when he started making Star Trek (later Star Wars) movies. God knows why.

All these different plot points culminate to the Geonosis planet, where Obi-Wan is captured by droids and interrogated by Count Dooku, played by the late Christopher Lee and quite frankly, one of the few actors in this film who manages to eek out an impressive showing with tripe dialogue. Even Ewan McGregor's take as Obi-Wan Kenobi shows flashes of brilliance here, as well as a charisma that was decidedly lacking in his first outing and would only develop further in the third film... and it goes without saying that veterans Ian McDiarmid and Frank Oz bring their usual A-games to their iconic roles as Palpatine and Yoda, respectively. See, I can say good things about Attack Of The Clones and I can enjoy certain aspects of the film, however fleeting they may be. But those fleeting moments are few and far between; not enough to drive this film from the depths it occupies.

Anakin and Padme try to rescue Obi-Wan, but are then captured themselves. During the moment of captivity, the "love" birds confess their love for each other and kiss... and I'm still not buying this relationship as anything romantic. I get more out of the playful banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan, which actually hints at something resembling friendly banter, as demonstrated by this brief exchange as they're getting chained up in the coliseum.

OBI-WAN: "I was beginning to think you hadn't got my message."

ANAKIN: "I sent your signal to the council. Then we decided to come and rescue you."

OBI-WAN (looks up as his chained wrists and quips): "Good job."

See, I like that little bit of banter. Too bad there isn't enough of it.

And then a bunch of Jedi show to swing their laser swords at a bunch of robots. At least, they give Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu something to do for once by having him cut off Jango Fett's head in that one bit. Beyond that, this whole thing is a blur of browns and beiges, especially once you've got a whole bunch of clone troopers showing up to blow up some droids. Ironically, the climatic battle of Geonosis is where I start to doze off because it's nothing but endless, copious amounts of dull, boring CG sequences that wouldn't look out of place in a video game made for Xbox. Hell, that whole sequence where Anakin and Padme are going through the factory bits and Padme has to avoid the crushers and the conveyors comes across as something pulled from an unreleased Star Wars video game. All that's missing is a heads-up display and a controller to manipulate the players on the board.

All of this leads to the third act where Anakin and Obi-Wan are fighting Count Dooku and they are getting their asses handed to them by the former Count Dracula, who manages to cut off Anakin's hand. Just as Dooku is about to kill the fallen Jedi, out crawls Master Yoda, who first engages Dooku in a test of Force wits, followed by Yoda deflecting Dooku's lightning, and eventually things escalate to a lightsaber battle between Dooku and the impish Yoda... and it is the most hilarious thing ever committed to cinema.

I remember watching this in theatres with the utmost clarity and Yoda grabbing was the height of comedic fodder. This theatre was laughing their collective asses off at this small frog-like creature bouncing around all over the place, animating around poor Christopher Lee flailing his arm about, pretending to fight a smallish imp one fifth his height. The big climatic battle ends up being a huge laughing stock, except we weren't laughing with the movie, but rather at it.

And so of course, because the internet is full of morons, people touted this Yoda moment as one of the most "badass" moments in Star Wars, when it was anything but that. Hell, the lightsaber duel between Dark Helmet and Lone Starr in Spaceballs comes across as more badass than Yoda's lightsaber headdesk.

The closing moments of the film give us a somewhat somber moment, as Dooku confers with Darth Sidious, while the Jedi contemplate their next move, with Yoda declaring that "begun, this Clone War has." All the while the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic oversees the deployment of his new clone army and then in the final moments, we see the two lovebirds with no chemistry get married and their fates are sealed for the next episode. At last, this horrible movie is over. Bring on the final chapter!

But first, we have a bunch of Clone Wars shit to milk; including a fun little series of animated shorts from the guy who gave us Dexter's Laboratory, a bunch of video games, and a CGI animated series that lasted six seasons for some reason. Honestly, I don't mind some of the Clone Wars stuff. If anything, it helps to mitigate some of the stench of the film that inspired it.

Attack Of The Clones is a bad movie. Every bit as bad as I remember it. And the really sad thing is that there are bits and pieces where the film showed signs of being really good, but it is largely overshadowed by the portions of the film that ended up taking the most time and sucking big time as a result. Now, as bad as this film is, I cannot say that I was (entirely) bored with this because for all of my critical quibbles and such, this is a movie that I can actively mock and make fun of the bad bits.

Yes, it is a bad movie. It is the bottom of the barrel worst Star Wars movie I've watched. But it's not one I hate. Because if I did, I wouldn't typed up my thoughts and memories. Hell, I don't even dislike it the film. I just like laughing at it the same way I would laugh at any bad movie. And that is ultimately what elevates the film ever so slightly above the forgettable entries that came out a decade or so later; I can have a bit of fun with its issues and derive my enjoyment from that. It's pretty much the only way I could enjoy a rubbish yet required piece of the Star Wars prequel story.

So I guess that makes it "so bad it's good?"

Let's not go that far.

Maybe next time, I should talk about a Star Wars thing that's actually good.

Maybe some day... but not today.

So happy birthday, Attack Of The Clones. You're still a largely terrible movie. But happy birthday, regardless.

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