Kevin M. Griffiths
You’d think it would be quite difficult for me, having grown up wanting to be a Jedi (or a Sith), to admit any Star Wars movie not titled The Phantom Menace is horrible, but the critic in me can’t see much reason to consider Attack of the Clones to be a good movie. What makes me so conflicted about that is how enjoyable the second entry in George Lucas’s “Fun with Lightsabers” trilogy remains.
Attack of the Clones is a better movie than The Phantom Menace. How could it not be? However, it’s better in the way that having pneumonia is better than having cancer. Both are bad movies, but at least Episode II doesn’t need superhuman strength, endurance, and courage to get through. By that notion, Episode I would be more suited to this list were it not that awkward member of the extended family everyone wants to forget exists.
I know I’m mixing metaphors, but I have to describe my feelings towards the second of the “Fun with Lightsabers” trilogy because it exists within all of the Star Wars prequels.
On the surface, most everything about Attack of the Clones comes off as over-blown and self-indulgent. While the action quotient is raised from the previous outing, more often than not the action scenes drag on far longer than the story needs them to, because the ILM boys must’ve been told to show all of the tricks they’d learned since 1999, regardless of plot-relevancy.
Look at the speeder chase through Coruscant and notice how every inch of the frame is so busy you can’t really tell who Obi-Wan and Anakin are chasing or where their target is, as your eyes are completely overloaded with imagery. The battle scene on Geonosis, while having a bit more narrative thrust, also suffers from this frame-wide CGI vomit.
Even while courting the recipe for cinematic trash, those visuals still do provide eye-candy. Attack of the Clones would make for a great CGI movie it not for those pesky actors, the ridiculous dialogue, and their stilted, wooden performances. I do have to give credit to the actors, though: they took something hugely inferior and tried to make it actually watchable.
The climatic battles sequences, while each about three minutes too long, do hold your attention and show enough lightsaber action to sate the harshest of cynics. The kind of tricks they pulls off, be it lightning-fast and eye-pleasing choreography by the cast and stunt team, or the moment in the Dooku-Anakin showdown where only lightsabers illuminate their eyes, truly serve to put the fun in “Fun with Lightsabers.” Even the Yoda showdown, which should never have actually happened, had me jumping up in the theatre, cheering. To this day, against my own better judgement, that sequence can still make the goosebumps raise on my arms.
Another sequence that brings me chills and completely validates everything this movie offers occurs in the homestead of the Tusken Raiders. Anakin finds his mom on her dying breaths, watches her expire in front of him, and goes on a rampage. Hayden Christensen does a fantastic job of showing the anger burning in Anakin’s brain, his rage boiling over, the Dark Side staking its first claim on his soul. For Star Wars fans, Darth Vader is the epitome of a villain, and in that moment, he is present and it is glorious.
Finally, there are the real stars of the show: “Porcu-Cat,” “Rhinosaurus,” and “Spider Mantis,” the beasts in the gladiator scene. Naturally, those aren’t their real names, but they do give the most complete performances in the movie. I recall when $2 Tuesdays where still a thing, my friends and I would see Attack of the Clones each Tuesday, in that hopes that one of those times, these poor creatures would get their due. We’d hoot and holler when they appeared, and go back to talking amongst ourselves after their defeat.
It may seem like I’m being really harsh on this one, but Attack of the Clones remains a really fun way to kill two and a half hours. It holds my personal record, with nine theatre viewings. The visuals keep your eyes enagaged, and small moments like Anakin using the Force to call women’s attention his way or the sight of Yoda pulling out his lightsaber keep it that way. The start of Anakin’s descent is so well done, it’s not hard to want to see where it goes.
If you want to see what it could’ve been, though, watch the “Attack of the Phantom” fan edit that boils everything down to story, excises 45 minutes, omits the whole romance with Padme, and shows the world that Attack of the Clones could’ve actually been good if bloated egos did not need to be satisfied.