With the release of the seventh Star Wars film this Friday, this week is more appropriate than ever to look back at the iconic film series that brought us here. From the memorable highs of The Empire Strikes Back to the laughable lows of Attack of the Clones, join us as we recap the Star Wars saga in preparation for The Force Awakens.
As Senator Amidala packs her things for the trip, Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker glares at her face with a longing and creepy expression.
“Stop looking at me like that,” orders a clearly troubled Amidala. “It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Yet, even with that repelling statement, our Jedi hero keeps eerily staring at her with a cunning smile until the scene transitions out.
It’s an odd scene; one that caused me and my friends to either cringe or drop our jaws. Spoiler alert: Both characters start making out 10 minutes later.
Welcome to Attack of the Clones — the worst film in the entire Star Wars saga.
Set 10 years after the events of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is now a young man but still a Jedi-in-training under the mentorship of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). Despite Anakin’s exceptional skills, he still acts immaturely for his age. As a result, it creates a troublesome mentor-student relationship between the two.
Just as tumultuous is the status of the Galactic Republic, now threatened to be split in two by lethal separatists. Political tensions turn for the worst when young Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) — formerly Queen Amidala from Episode I — is nearly assassinated due to her stance against the separatists. In light of this treachery, Kenobi and Skywalker are tasked with a double-edged mission: the former begins an investigation to discover those responsible for the assassination plot, while the latter plays bodyguard for Amidala as she returns to Naboo.
As both Jedi dig further down their respective rabbit holes, complications arise. Anakin and Padme, who befriended each other in the previous film, slowly become romantically entwined. It is a risky relationship considering their authoritative positions. Meanwhile, Kenobi’s investigations lead him to discover a massive clone army being secretly developed for the Galactic Republic to combat any opposition in their way. With both individual conflicts escalating, the power of the dark side within the Republic is slowly unveiled, as well as that which resides in Anakin himself.
In theory, a premise like this is a perfect set-up for a darker and more emotionally charged Star Wars entry. Instead, we are treated to a disastrous iteration of the “epic romance,” packed with another form of Sith evil — the dark side of computer generated effects.
Attack of the Clones takes all the problems that plagued Phantom Menace and dials them up to 11. The excruciatingly hammy dialogue of the previous film returns, but now accompanied with terrible storytelling. Even with the film’s subtitle and their large presence in the climax, the clone army is nothing but a plot device. Their presence is simply to drive the plot forward and give the film an excuse for excessive action pieces. The entire mystery behind why and how they were secretly produced is never even answered. The only substantial contribution the clone army delivers is backstory for a very minor character from the original Star Wars films.
The romance plot between Anakin and Padme is a bigger crime against storytelling. The relationship is filled with the most unintentionally creepy/hilarious romance moments ever written, which makes their affair all the more unconvincing as a result. This is also due to the odd logic behind their deep love given that they’ve only spent a very short time with each other. To make matters worse, neither Portman nor Christensen share great chemistry. For a Star Wars film, this should be the last thing to complain about. Episode II spends too much time building up this couple, only for it to fail gloriously.
The bland and contrived, early-2000s digital effects also return. However, this problem is exponentially bloated because of a glaring design decision. Whereas previous films made extensive use of real sets and props, Episode II is 90% computer generated and filmed with a green screen. As a result, the spectacle feels incredibly dated since, at the time, full-blown CGI worlds were not yet a mastered craft. Thus, almost everything feels too artificial and like a decade-old video-game. It does not help either that half of the action set pieces are unremarkable and unoriginal.
Attack of the Clones undoubtedly marks the lowest point of the Star Wars films, presenting the worst writing and spectacle the series has to offer.
There is one shining exception in this mess. Mid-way through the film, Anakin is forced to return to his home world of Tatooine after a premonition of his mother being in danger. He ends up being too late: his mother dies in his arms after a very short reunion from his decade-long absence. It is a touching and emotional moment succeeded by something dark and violent. In a fit of anger and sorrow, Anakin proceeds to massacre his mother’s killers — including every woman and child nearby. This is great foreshadowing of the more superior films (and villain) to come.