star wars 2: attack of the clones (2002)

director: george lucas

ewan mcgregor, natalie portman, hayden christensen, samuel l. jackson

I've always thought it strange that, when pushed even slightly, most of the Star Wars fans I know will admit that, yes, The Phantom Menace was an awful film and, yes, Return of the Jedi was a big sell-out and, yes, George Lucas is a pretty terrible director. (Most of them, strangely, also admit, even proudly, to never having seen American Grafitti, the one film that might suggest a stifled wellspring of talent in Lucas; I'd love to know just what happened to Lucas that persuaded him that films about real people weren't his bag. Was it some evil studio exec with intimations of the blockbuster future, or a sly nudge from a frightened Speilberg, who saw more humanity in Grafitti than he could hope to muster over a thirty-year career?)

Sitting through Attack of the Clones gives you a lot of time to ponder these questions. Lucas' return to directing has given audiences a chance to preview the cutting edge of digital technology, but it would be a mistake to imagine that the universe he's created is particularly forward-looking, or in the best tradition of real science fiction. The teeming vertical planet-city of Coruscant is really just Fritz Lang's Metropolis expanded in scale, while the great "clones vs. droids" battle scene that climaxes the film would be familiar to generals like Haig, Hindenberg, Robert E. Lee or Frederick the Great - vast armies marching into each other's fire while artillery punches holes in their ranks.

Since the original Star Wars (now called, at Lucas' insistence, A New Hope, but does anyone but the most slavish fan insist on re-writing history so sheepishly?) was basically - and admittedly - just a Republic serial re-imagined with up-to-date special effects, so the whole of the Star Wars universe constructed so painstakingly around it manages the remarkable feat of depicting a future without the cautionary benefit of the last half-century of history. Talk about escapism.

It must be a mighty task to build an epic story on the slight bones of the first Star Wars film, but Lucas has felt manfully compelled to do so, and if one felt mean-spirited, you could say that the effort has left him ill-disposed to write anything like credible dialogue or a storyline that doesn't creak and gape with every laboured twist in the story.

At the lowest points in Attack of the Clones - Anakin Starwalker's return to Tatooine, the setting for a truly winceworthy tantrum on the part of the frustrated young Jedi, or the stunningly passionless scenes between Hayden Christensen's Anakin and Natalie Portman's Senator Amidala - you wonder just what on earth Lucas was thinking. Surely it's plain by now that the whole of the threatening "dark side" of the force, as personified by the shadowy and unseen Darth Sidious, is focused around the apparently benevolent therefore obviously sinister Senator Palpatine, whose oily flattery of Anakin is clearly meant to seduce the young Jedi into joining the Darth club? It's hard to figure out just what's more remarkable - Lucas' seemingly complete idiot innocence of the utter dramatic nullity of his whole, expensive project, or the assumption that we, as an audience, should give a sliver of a damn.

One of the more comically perplexing moments in The Phantom Menace was the first meeting of the droids, R2-D2 and C-3P0, staged by Lucas as if it were the first glance that drew Rhett and Scarlet together; was it actually possible that Lucas thought the meeting of a bleeping ashcan and a querulous, effeminate android sidekick deserved such portentous treatment? I began, at this point, to wonder if Lucas was at all able to distinguish between the human players in his story and the animated props he'd once used to populate the background.

Perhaps quite accidentally, Lucas manages to make the relationship between Jango Fett, the bounty hunter, and his son Boba (later, which is to say once upon a time, a mere cameo role in The Empire Strikes Back that, somehow, took on unexpected fanboy importance) more compelling than any others in Attack of the Clones. There's a bond between the boy and his father (Daniel Logan and Temuera Morrison, if you care at all about the fate of actors in the Lucas universe) that would have been nice to see between Anakin and Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan, and it's somehow galling that it passes in a flash.

One of the richest men in Hollywood, it's possible to see Lucas as the victim of his own success. (A victim, however, that's it's difficult to feel sympathy for, especially if you total up the hours of one's own life consumed by the increasingly joyless Star Wars franchise; I count eleven over a quarter of a century, not including t.v. viewings or accidental encounters in video stores, and I'll take my refund in residual points or a rare Boba Fett action figure, thank you.) He has been, for twenty-five years, trapped by the obligation to expand on the slight foundation of his little space opera, and the voracious but easily-fulfilled demands of an audience that formed a passionate attachment to the story in that brief age before they developed real critical detachment.

With this in mind, it's probably pointless to attempt anything like cogent criticism of Lucas' work, which probably has about as much to do with movies as Hot Wheels have to do with cars, or Nike running shoes with running. The last word on a film like Attack of the Clones should probably go to its intended audience, the fanboy, one of whom had the following bit of wisdom to share with critics everywhere:


Point taken. This is the last you'll ever hear from me on the subject.