Luke Owen looks back at Attack of the Clones…
The year is 1999. The excitement and buzz surrounding the release of the first Star Wars movie since 1983 is at an all-time high. We’d recently just relived our love of the original trilogy via the 1997 Special Edition re-releases, and now here we are with a whole new trilogy on our hands. Finally, we would see the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, how Obi-Wan ended up on Tatooine and The Clone Wars. But upon leaving the cinema into the cold dark night, suddenly the excitement didn’t seem to palpable.
Fans around the world tried to convince themselves that Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace wasn’t as bad as first suspected. Many of us went back time and time again just to make sure (I saw it a good five or six times), but it was true: The Phantom Menace was a huge disappointment.
But surely things would get better with the release of the next movie, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones? Surely this would be the Star Wars film we’d been waiting for. And even if it wasn’t at the same level of greatness as The Empire Strikes Back, it couldn’t be as bottom-of-the-barrel bad as The Phantom Menace? Right?
Oh, how wrong we were. It was somehow even worse.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones is a terrible, terrible movie. It isn’t just everything bad about The Phantom Menace, it also removes the fleeting moments of good as well. It’s a two-hour snore fest with terrible action, groan-inducing dialogue and even worse performances. Scenes start with little-to-no point, and then refuse to end. It was supposed to show us the growth in relationship between Anakin and Padme, but all it did was show us what two pieces of IKEA furniture rubbing together looks like. It was supposed to sew the seeds of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, but just created unintentional hilarity. It was supposed to show us the start of The Clone Wars, but all it did was raise more questions than Midi-chlorians did. It fails on every single facet.
Poor old Hayden Christensen – bless him he’s trying – gives such a bland and lifeless performance in Attack of the Clones that audiences nearly took back every bad word they’ve ever said about Keanu Reeves and Nicolas Cage. He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst actor in the history of the Star Wars saga. The moment where he kills the Tusken Raiders who tortured his mother was meant to be the first step in his descent to the Dark Side, but is one of the more laughable moments in the whole franchise purely because of Christensen’s horrendous dialogue reads. What should have been the crowning achievement of George Lucas’ directing career – helped by an excellent John Williams score – is a complete joke.
But Christensen isn’t alone. We all know that Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee are capable of great performances, and yet every single one of them is stilted, jaded and un-enthused about everything happening around them. Was it because they were all filmed against a green screen and therefore had nothing to act against? Did Lucas not give them enough to work with? Or did they simply read the script and come to the realisation that this was a movie written by George Lucas at his utter worst. I mean, just look at these exchanges:
Anakin: Don’t be afraid.
Padme: I’m not afraid to die. I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life.
Anakin: What are you talking about?
Padme: I love you.
Anakin: You love me? I thought we had decided not to fall in love. That we’d be forced to live a lie and that it would destroy our lives.
Padme: I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. I truly… deeply… love you and before we die I want you to know.
Thought that was bad? How about this one:
Padme: We used to come here for school retreat. We would swim to that island every day. I love the water. We used to lie out on the sand and let the sun dry us and try to guess the names of the birds singing.
Anakin: I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.
Or what about this gem?
Anakin: From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m with you again… I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you- I can’t breath. I’m haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating… hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me… what can I do? I will do anything you ask… if you are suffering as much as I am, please, tell me.
I appreciate that I’ve picked bad exchanges between the same two characters, but they really do highlight just how terribly written Attack of the Clones is. And that’s not even going into Obi-Wan’s trip to Kamino to talk about the Clone Army, which features dreary discussions about business deals that will have you begging for Trade Federation arguments once more.
Love exciting lightsaber battles? Well you won’t get those in Attack of the Clones. Say what you will about The Phantom Menace, but the lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul was phenomenal. Whether it was because of the awesome choreography or the incredible Duel of the Fates score, that fight from beginning to end raises the quality bar of The Phantom Menace to untold levels. So how did Lucas follow that up? With a lazy, predictable and uninspiring re-tread of the previous movie, only without any of the excitement, thrills or spills. Even the score isn’t as good. And all of this is only made all the more laughable when Yoda joins in for the most ludicrous sight in the entire franchise.
So the dialogue is bad, the acting is bad and the lightsaber fights are bad – is the action up to muster? Sadly not. If the script is Lucas at his writing worst, than the CGI-heavy action is him at his ‘reliance on computer generated graphics’ worst. Through his additions in the original trilogy for the 1997 re-releases, something in Lucas made him forget how to make a film with practical effects, as he just relied on the “fix it in post” mentality. As such, nothing in Attack of the Clones looks or feels real. It’s all fake, there’s nothing tangible. And because of that, it’s hard to take it seriously as you just feel like you’re watching a cut scene from a bland PlayStation 2 game. It says a lot when the 2002 Attack of the Clones Yoda has aged worse than the 1980 Empire Strikes Back Yoda.
The Phantom Menace is not a perfect film, far from it. Jar Jar Binks is just about the worst character committed to the universe and Jake Lloyd’s performance is just as laughable as Hayden Christensen’s. And Revenge of the Sith is not without its issues either, although a lot of that is again down to Hayden Christensen’s “Mannequin Skywalker”. And even though people point at the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi as a franchise low-point, they are far and away better than anything in Attack of the Clones. Because everything in the Star Wars Saga – good and bad – is better than Attack of the Clones. It’s not just that the acting, action, script or lightsaber battles are bad, the whole movie is an utterly boring viewing experience.
So the next time someone you know tries and claim that The Phantom Menace is the worst movie in the Star Wars Saga, let us not forget just how bad Attack of the Clones is.
A version of this article was originally posted in December 2015.
Luke Owen – You can follow me on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.