Archives for posts with tag: Star Wars

Something spoilers this way comes. I’m assuming you’ve all seen the movie and aren’t reading this for trenchant commentary on something you’re unfamiliar with. I also know that there are far more important things to be writing about today. (June 24, 2022 is a date that will go down in history as the day that US democracy definitively died. I do hope we can resurrect it, but in the meantime, I’m writing about Star Wars.)

George Lucas’ Attack of the Clones (2002) is definitely an improvement on The Phantom Menace. The characters are better defined, the story is more coherent, and the arc of the story mostly makes sense. I remember being excited about the title because there’s the one scene in A New Hope where Luke says to Obi-Wan, ‘You fought in the Clone Wars?’ It’s a phrase that everyone who saw the movie before the prequels wondered about.

I was keenest to watch this one because it’s where we meet Boba Fett. I remembered, watching Book of Boba Fett that we meet him as a child, and that his father is associated with the Republic’s clone army. The entire army are growth-accelerated clones of Jango Fett and Boba Fett is his unaccelerated son. Boba Fett in the Disney+ series is played by the same actor who played Jango.

And who’s idea was it to name the planet that’s been erased from the Republic’s database of star systems Kamino? As in, it was unreal until Obi-Wan visited and the we had Real Kamino.

I’m sure I also have something to say about the person who gave Obi-Wan the lead on Kamino. A a too-small tank top-wearing short order cook in a railcar diner with a droid waitress like some kind of sci-fi version of American Graffiti. Oh. Wait. Lucas is still carrying that, isn’t he. Gracious.

There are two parallel plot lines running through Attack of the Clones. One is finding who is behind a plot to kill Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, still acting head and shoulders above the rest of the cast). The other is the developing love story between Anakin and Padme. The love story seems creepy and weird and invasive. Anakin’s love is, however, obviously reciprocated, despite the dangers to all concerned, which Padme recognizes and Anakin rejects. I had to look up what the differences in their ages are supposed to be. Anakin is nine in Episode I and Padme (an elected queen, note) is 14. The elapsed time between the two films is supposed to be about ten years, so love between a 24 and a 19 year old isn’t too far-fetched.

The plot lines converge on a planet where a droid army is being constructed. Obi-Wan has followed the Fetts there from Kamino and Padme and Anakin go there from Tatooine. If I understand correctly, both the droid army and the clone army are products of a long-range plan set in motion by Darth Sidious (aka Chancellor Palpatine, later The Emperor). The clones were commissioned ten years before, theoretically by a Jedi knight who is long dead.

The convergence on this planet produces two fantastic scenes where the heroes are in definite danger and the only reason we know they survive is because they’re the heroes. In the droid factory, Padme ends up in a giant stone bowl soon to be filled with molten metal. It’s proper Saturday serial action. And Anakin ends up on an assembly line with one arm drilled into a piece of sheet metal and barely able to avoid big cutting things. This is the kind of knuckle-biting tension missing from The Phantom Menace.

As they get out of that part alive, they end up captured and chained in a giant arena, to be torn apart by giant alien creatures in a properly Roman style execution. And that tension is back again. And while this sequence might be as long as the pod race in Episode I, it serves a purpose – we see the relationships between Jango, Count Dooku (another lousy Lucas name – he seems chock full of them), and the Trade Federation leaders, as they all watch for the senator and the Jedi knights to be torn apart.

All in all, this one was quite entertaining. Possibly the best of the three prequels. In much the same way that Empire Strikes Back stomps on episodes IV and VI, it’s a bridge that the filmmakers use to stretch out the characters and let the story breathe a little bit.

I want to also point out all of Natalie Portman’s excellent costumes, of which she sports about a dozen in the course of the film. I thought maybe there might have been an Oscar nomination in that category, but it looks like the film’s only nod that year was for effects, and it lost out to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (which, to be fair, had excellent effects as well).

Since best beloved and I started watching The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, I’ve been tempted to re-watch Star Wars Episodes I-III. I’ve seen episodes IV-VI so many times I’ve lost count (having been 10 when A New Hope was released, I’m of *that* generation). On the other hand, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith I’ve seen only once each. Until today.

Yeah, I know I’m not going to complain about anything here that the fandom hasn’t been complaining about for 23 years. Adding my voice to the noise, I suppose.

Well, I watched The Phantom Menace (dir: George Lucas, 1999) over the last 24 hours. Is it better than I remember it? A little. Does that mean that in any objective analysis it gets more than two stars? No. It’s still lousy from many perspectives. Don’t get me wrong, so are most of episodes IV-IX, but differently.

The effects are great. The make-up is great. The fight and battle scenes: Also great. Ray Park’s Darth Maul: Fantastic. Sort of.

And this brings us to the main problem: The story. From the three-paragraph crawl at the beginning with its nonsense about the Trade Federation, to Queen Amidala and her double, to Anakin’s immaculate conception, to miti-chlorians to Jar Jar Binks. Lucas had about 13 years of notes he’d taken since Return of the Jedi and he threw every single one of them against the wall. I suppose some of it stuck.

Read the text crawls for the first three episodes. Boom, you’re right in the action, you know who’s important, and you know enough of what’s going on to be present as the rebel ship is boarded and we meet our important characters. As soon as The Phantom Menace starts, we get trade negotiations, blockade, a planet we’ve never heard of, and no idea who to root for. The problems, of course, only begin there.

It’s hard to feel for any of the characters. The actors, oh yes, we feel for them because they have to deal with Lucas’ awful dialog. Poor Liam Neeson. He so took the brunt of it that one had to wonder what Lucas had against him. Then we remember some of the dialog the inestimable Alec Guinness was saddled with.

I understand the reasoning behind having Queen Amidala require a double who plays as a member of her bodyguard (or something), but the story doesn’t give us any reason to believe it was necessary. Nor is there any surprise in it when the one character’s identity is revealed.

Then there’s the casual, and not so casual racism associated with several important characters. The two representatives of the Trade Federation have faux Japanese accents. Watto, the character with the huge hook notes who owns Anakin and his mother, is so obviously supposed to be a Jewish caricature that it’s painful to watch and listen to. And then there’s the awful Rastafarian parody embodied in Jar Jar Binks. Several years ago, I read an argument that was supposed to become an agent of the Empire in episodes II and III. There was such a backlash against Binks, that Lucas had to drop any idea of him having much of a role at all after Episode I.

When this movie came out, I queued up on opening day to see it at the Coronet in San Francisco, a single-screen theatre with a proper sound system. It’s also where I’d seen A New Hope 21 years before. I wasn’t ready to analyze most of this at the time, but one thing any fan of the franchise knew was that The Force was The Force. The joke about it being like duct tape, having dark and light sides and holding the universe together rang true because that’s all you needed to know about it. The Phantom Menace fell apart when Obi-Wan explains The Force with a blood sample and the nonsense term miti-chlorian. It sounded enough like mitochondria, a term we all learned in high school biology, to be possibly interesting. Explaining The Force away as something found in the blood makes all of our belief in what motivated the characters meaningless.

In addition, did Lucas really not realize how many fans had memorized the original movies? He honestly might not have done, but we know that Obi-Wan Kenobi says he doesn’t recall owning a droid in Episode IV. Fans arguing over on Substack suggest that Obi-Wan was lying when he told Luke this. In the same way he lies when he says Darth Vader killed his father? Possibly. But it’s another thing that shreds the continuity and credibility of the work. People shrug this kind of issue off when they say ‘they’re just kids’ movies,’ but kids also demand credibility and continuity, and it demeans them to deny it.

The main problem is that there’s a certain inevitability to the whole thing. That everything that happens, has to happen. There’s no tension, no Saturday morning serial thrill to it. Anakin has to be found and has to win, the fight with Darth Maul has to end the way it does, even though Maul has only one spoken line and we have no reason to consider him anything but a bad guy – there’s no motivation behind that on our part or on the character’s. The pod race, in which we see Anakin’s skills made manifest takes longer in this movie than the Death Star run in Episode IV and yet there’s only one possible outcome. The satellite battle at the end, in which Anakin participates by accident only has one possible outcome as well.

So, yes, I’m going to watch the other two, but I know I’m only in it for the effects and the fight scenes, not for the storytelling. Which is, in fact, the sad state of action/adventure films in general.