[I have gone on record numerous times in my Film Dispenser columns and podcasts saying that there are only three Star Wars films. My dislike (maybe even disdain) of the prequel trilogy is well-known among my film-blogging colleagues. So, it was surprising to say the least when I was asked to review each of the six Star Wars films leading up to the release of J.J. Abrams’ addition to this hallowed canon when The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18, 2015 and likely shatters every box office record ever established. My reviews will appear once a month, taking the films in episode order, meaning that my thoughts on Return of the Jedi will post a few weeks before the eagerly-anticipated seventh installment. Has time changed my opinion on these films? Are the prequels better than I originally gave them credit for? Will the original trilogy hold up to scrutiny 38 years after I first felt The Force? Follow along and find out.]
Miles Davis once said, it’s not the notes you play. It’s the notes you don’t play. And Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace suffered from playing way too many flat notes. From the annoyance of Jar Jar Binks to the amateurishness of Jake Lloyd’s performance to the snooze of a plotline involving trade federations and taxation, Phantom Menace was nothing short of a total bust. So, at a minimum, the removal of those elements from Star War: Episode II — Attack of the Clones translates into addition by subtraction. Clones still offers some unnecessary face time with Jar Jar, and Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Darth Vader as a petulant adolescent quickly grows tiresome. However, the addition of Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku, and the emergence of Kung Fu Yoda in a lightsaber fight for the ages help make up for those distractions.
As the action begins, the narrative has moved forward ten years. A series of assassination attempts on Princess (now Senator) Amidala send Obi-Wan Kenobi on a mission to find the villains behind “the hit”. Amidala is ushered away from her governmental duties and placed under the supervision of young Jedi Anakin Skywalker. Obi-Wan’s investigation injects some crime procedural elements into the prequel series while Anakin and Amidala provide a clumsy romance for the teens in the audience. Lucas aspires to some form of intergalactic Shakespeare, but his inexperienced young actors drown under the weight of his lofty, formal dialogue.
Attack of the Clones is more adult in tone than its predecessor. The playful, cartoonish moments from Phantom Menace have been replaced by a carefully orchestrated series of events that lead to the moral downfall of Anakin. The seeds for his corruption are planted with the abduction and murder of his mother. An off-screen My Lai massacre of the Tusken Raiders responsible for his mother’s death, and Christensen’s tearful recounting of killing men, women and children attempt to inject gravitas into the origin story of Darth Vader. Although the shift toward a darker drama is welcome, the storyline begs too many questions that don’t have plausible answers. Not the least of which is why would Princess Amidala marry someone who is so unhinged? But, she accepts his story of mass murder with sympathy and forgiveness on her face, so that their marriage can produce Luke and Leia for the next trilogy.
Unlike Phantom Menace, Clones offers several memorable action beats. Obi-Wan’s showdown with Jango Fett at his water planet lair gives audiences the blend of practical effects and CGI that the first prequel installment didn’t have. And the four-way lightsaber showdown during the film’s climax adds a Matrix vibe to the action with its blend of hand-to-hand combat and high-wire acrobatics. The epic finale still looks like a hyperactive videogame and offers little more than a repeat of the Gungans versus droids showdown at the end of Phantom Menace with the clones subbing in for Jar Jar’s crew. Jamming every square inch of the screen with computer-generated imagery amounts to little more than a flurry of visual clutter. The rates of weapon fire in Clones put the original trilogy to shame. Maybe there was some form of galactic gun control that took effect between the two trilogies.
Despite the fact that Clones is an upgrade from the prequel opener, it still feels like an “exercise” in making a Star Wars film, not a bona fide addition to a hallowed film canon. References to The Force? Check. Stately British actors? Check. Lightsabers and spacecraft galore? Check. A sense of wonder or big screen magic? Uh, no. The brief trailer for The Force Awakens raised the hairs on the back of my neck. The entirety of Attack of Clones barely raises an eyebrow.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.