The UnPopular Opinion: Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Almost a year ago, I defended STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE as a good movie and a worthy chapter in the STAR WARS saga. Now, I am back to so the same for the middle chapter in the Prequel Trilogy, STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Your initial instinct may be to call me profane names or call for my termination from this website, but can you honestly say that STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a bad movie as compared to the other five films in the series to date?
STAR WARS was created as an ode to pulpy B-movies of a bygone era. George Lucas never intended for the films to be Best Picture contenders. This universe definitely has the capacity to yield an acclaimed motion picture, but these are meant to be movies, wondrous adventures for the eyes. STAR WARS was meant to be for kids. Now, if you go back and look at the entire six film series, even the darkest film, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, is still overall a rip-roaring adventure suitable for kids of all ages. ATTACK OF THE CLONES is at once a more accomplished film than THE PHANTOM MENACE and a more suitable addition to the original trilogy.
The first thing we need to lay to rest is the question of the special effects. The Prequel Trilogy shares little to no visual resemblance to the Original Trilogy thanks to the abandonment of physical effects in favor of green screen filming and CGI work. There is a stark and noticeable difference between George Lucas' first three movies and these new ones. This has plagued many fans and prevented them from embracing the prequels as warmly as they should. Created in two vastly different eras of filmmaking, STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES gave us some of the most breathtaking visuals available in 2002 but with the caveat that they are realizing a completely fictional universe. Hamstrung by the limits of 1970s/1980s technology, Lucas was forced to limit his vision which, at the time, was light years beyond what many could have imagined. Now, with no limit, Lucas allowed his true visualization to soar and the results broadened the STAR WARS universe exponentially.
But, if we look at STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES as just a movie and not in reference to the rest of the series, you would likely lambast the subpar acting of the entire cast. Specifically, you would critique the performance of Hayden Christensen. Now, having seen Christensen in other films since ATTACK OF THE CLONES, there is a noticeable difference in his approach and delivery. While he may not be Leonardo DiCaprio, Christensen is far from awful in his performances. Much like Jake Lloyd as THE PHANTOM MENACE, the role of Anakin here was deliberately created by George Lucas to appear the way he does on screen. There is an evolution of the character over the three films from innocent to smug teen to the fallen Jedi who becomes Darth Vader. Sure, some of the exchanges between Anakin and Padme are painful to watch, but just look at the scene where Anakin reaps vengeance on the Sandpeople for the death of his mother and tell me that is not a chillingly well performed scene.
I still can't take him seriously with that wispy little hair braid.
The rest of the cast are following Lucas' orders as well. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor, two of the best actors working today, deliver their characters with the depth of a matinee idol from a bygone era. While Portman shows less personality than she has in essentially every other movie she has made, McGregor channels the late Sir Alec Guinness and brings a level of respect to the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Christopher Lee is a great addition as Darth Tyrannus/Count Dooku even if he is under-utilized as the villain. There is less Jar-Jar Binks, which pleased the fans, and the inclusion of Boba Fett's father, Jango Fett, who now plays a much larger role in the STAR WARS saga.
George Lucas tried something different with STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES, making it a film unlike others in the franchise. Obi-Wan and Anakin investigate the attacks on Padme at the start of the film in the style of hard-boiled detective novels and film noir. The seedy underbelly of Coruscant is glimpsed and Obi-Wan travels the galaxy trying to solve the mystery. We have never seen a genre shift like this in any previous STAR WARS film and it definitely livens up the proceedings. The second half of the film gives us the largest scale battle sequence in any of the movies. Between the clone troopers and the arena battle on Geonosis, STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES offers a unique visual feast that had only been seen in comic books or video games and never on the big screen.
Natalie Portman introduced a new generation of geeks to their first boners.
When J.J. Abrams unveils EPISODE VII next year, what will fans think if it doesn't look exactly like a movie made in 1977? When STAR TREK rebooted the original series, it brought in a new generation of fans to a unique universe populated by all sorts of characters. The Prequel trilogy did that for a new generation of STAR WARS fans. STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES has every hallmark of a STAR WARS film along with advanced technology and a new array of characters to cherish on screen and in toy form. No one batted an eyelash when THE CLONE WARS became a hit on television, telling stories in this same prequel universe, advancing the tales George Lucas told on the big screen. The only difference is fans had an image of what they wanted to see and ATTACK OF THE CLONES didn't meet their imaginations. But, that doesn't mean it failed.
If the Prequels had been made back in 1977 and the original trilogy were released at the turn of the century, we likely would be having this exact same argument in reverse. The gulf of advancement in effects over thirty years is representative of why there is such a contrast between each trilogy. But, even if you look at the Special Editions, released prior to EPISODE I through III, they begin to feel closer in line with the Prequels and what Lucas originally envisioned. Therefore, as a STAR WARS fan, I embrace the cheese, the goofiness, the pulp nature of STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES and what it represents: another official entry in the STAR WARS cinematic saga, a story created by George Lucas to further the tale of the Skywalker family in a galaxy far, far away.
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