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May the live blog be with you Part II: Attack of the Clones

May the live blog be with you Part II: Attack of the Clones

On May 4th, I set out to watch as many ‘Star Wars’ movies as possible, in honor of ‘May the 4th,’ the franchise’s unofficial holiday.

I decided to chronicle those experiences in a running diary, the first part of which is contained here.  Now, without further adieu, here’s my running diary of “Attack of the Clones.”

1:24 PM PST-- I have begun watching Episode II, which I remember as the worst of the saga.

May the force be with you.

1:26-- So the opening crawl basically describes a Civil War, but we can’t quite call it a Civil War because that name is reserved for the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire?

Why, it’s almost as if this franchise relied upon the same themes and storytelling structure before J.J. Abrams came along!

1:28-- Padme’s body double/bodyguard is killed, and the Jedi Council discusses the assassination attempt on the now-Senator with Chancellor Palpatine, who wonders if ex-Jedi Count Dooku and the Separatists are behind it. The Jedi vouch for Dooku, because even though he abandoned the principles of their Order and everything they stand for, he’s still a good person or something. Are they banking on him writing a recommendation letter or something? Regardless, Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned to protect the Senator.

Oh, and Yoda’s CGI now. I wonder if that has any significance.

1:32--Ten years have past between Episodes I and II, so Anakin is much older now, but is still an apprentice to Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Ewan McGregor, who is just about the only person in this film (and the prequels) who can sell Lucas’ dialogue and not have it be awkward.

The same, however, cannot be said of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala, who plant the seeds for what is arguably the most uncomfortable on-screen relationship of all time. Those seeds are watered by an unbelievable lack of chemistry.

What I’m saying is, this subplot has not aged well.

1:34--Blue Boba Fett is admonishing another bounty hunter about failing to kill Amidala. As we will soon learn, Blue Boba Fett is far cooler than Actual Boba Fett.

1:35--“I don’t think she liked me watching her,” Anakin says earnestly as I question how a human being thought such a line could be endearing.

1:36--The non-Blue Boba Fett bounty hunter (Zam Wessell) unleashes some bugs on Padme, but Anakin storms in to save the day. So begins a chase sequence set on the city planet of Coruscant that is so good, we *nearly* forget how uncomfortable the first 10 minutes of the film are. Lucas’ command of spectacle remains dead-on in this scene, which makes the film’s botched smaller moments stand out even more.

1:47--Obi-Wan and Anakin track the bounty hunter to a shady club on Coruscant, and Obi-Wan cuts her arm off. Why is that his go-to move to avoid suspicion in a bar? Is every cantina patron in the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy so cynical that the loss of a limb prompts no reaction other than the ASCII shrug?

1:48--Their interview with the suspect is cut short by Blue Boba Fett, who assassinates his colleague from a distance. It sure sounds like she says “with a shiny...Slave I…” as her last words, but I think I’ve given too much credence to the hearing my seven-year-old ears produced at the time.

1:53--Anakin spends the majority of his second conversation with the woman he’s had a crush on since he was 9 by complaining about Obi-Wan. Because nothing says romance like whining about your parental figures!

He also creepily leers at her, and offers a creepier smile when Padme tells him to stop staring at her creepily. WHY IS THIS SO CREEPY.

1:56--Anakin heads with Padme to Naboo, because apparently the planet that was invaded by a trade organization within the last decade is somehow safer than a planet where she had two assassination attempts.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan heads to Coruscant’s dumpiest diner to meet his old friend Dex, who informs him of the origins of the poison dart Blue Boba Fett used to kill his partner in crime. The CGI in the scene is somewhat off-putting, but so begins the film’s much more compelling subplot. It’s McGregor’s work in this subplot that, in my eyes, lend a lot of credence to the rumors that he will star in an upcoming ‘Star Wars’ spinoff. Sign me up for more Detective Obi-Wan!

2:04--Anakin and Padme meet the new Queen of Naboo, who warns of the Republic’s backsliding away from democracy. These are the headiest themes that the prequels portray, but for all of the talk of ineffectiveness in the Senate and erosion of trust, we really don’t see it on-screen until a brief moment in Episode III. It’s perhaps the best example of Lucas failing to show instead of tell, as he relies on exposition an awful lot. That world-building was certainly there in the Original Trilogy, but it felt much more organic to the proceedings than what we see in the prequels.

2:06--No thanks to the Jedi’s librarian (editor's note: who I was baffled to find is not Aunt May from the Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" trilogy) and with the help of the order’s youngest minds, Obi-Wan travels to Kamino, where Dex told him the poison dart originated from. Obi-Wan meets the Kaminoans, who have unreasonably long necks, who tell him a Jedi named Sifo-Dyas ordered the creation of a Clone Army, which just happens to be ready for inspection!

With that, we never hear about Sifo-Dyas in any of the films again, which begs the question: why did it have to be some random Jedi that created the clone army? It’s not really enough that Obi-Wan says that Sifo-Dyas is dead, without any future mention of him getting close to Sidious’ plot to undermine the Republic.

(Editor's note: Sifo-Dyas is totally Snoke)

2:08--Anakin tells Padme he doesn’t like sand and OH MY GOD OH MY GOD THIS SCENE IS SOMEHOW MORE UNCOMFORTABLE THAN I REMEMBER WHY IS HE SO CREEPY AND TOUCHING HER IN THE MOST AWKWARD WAY IMAGINABLE THIS IS SO WEIRD CAN WE GO BACK TO THE OBI-WAN SUBPLOT PLEASE

2:10--And we’re back with Obi-Wan! He learns that a bounty hunter named Jango Fett was the source of the clone army, and that he ordered the creation of an unaltered clone to be his son, Boba.

Of all of the prequels’ unnecessary explanations, this is one of the worst. Boba Fett, whose sole purpose was to look cool and function as a rival to Han Solo in the Original Trilogy, is now linked to the conflict that leads to the creation of the Empire? Why are there only a handful of people that matter in this galaxy? Plus, why couldn’t Jango have just been Boba? We never see his unmasked face in the Original Trilogy, and the time gap between Episodes II and V (about 25 years) makes it more than conceivable he’d still be kicking as the galaxy’s baddest bounty hunter! It’s all a bit too fan service-y.

2:14--Anakin and Padme have a fun day in the field, and aside from Anakin advocating for fascism, this is the closest the film gets to having their romance be believable. What comes before and after is...odd, to say the least.

2:15--Lots of tension between Jango, who we realize is Blue Boba Fett with a shot of his armor in the closet, and Obi-Wan. For all of my gripes about his introduction, he’s a pretty fun character.

2:18--Anakin and Padme awkwardly talk about how their love is forbidden, as if we are supposed to believe they are in love after what we’ve seen previously. He also complains about being “haunted by the kiss you gave me.” WE’VE GOT RECEIPTS, YOU KISSED HER YOU INTERGALACTIC CREEP!

As you can tell, I’m not enjoying this relationship.

2:25--Obi-Wan and Jango fight! In this one scene, Jango Fett does something cooler than anything Boba Fett did across two movies in the original trilogy.

FETTS, RANKED:

  1. Jango

  2. Boba

Don’t @ me.

2:29--Anakin has a vision that his mother is in danger, so he and Padme head to Tatooine. They run into Watto, his old owner, who is still a “sleem-o” as the ‘Star Wars’ youths say.

Having watched I and II back-to-back, it’s amazing how much better Watto looks than he did in Episode I. Even in the three years between films, the technology had really progressed.

2:32--Jango and Obi-Wan engage in an asteroid chase, and the Jedi throws the bounty hunter and his son off the scent by...hiding on an asteroid. It’s all a little too on the nose, as if Lucas is worried that we don’t understand it’s a nod to the chase scene in “The Empire Strikes Back.” I don’t mind him hiding out on the asteroid, if the implication is that Boba Fett learned from this and used that move to follow the Millennium Falcon later on. But we have no way of knowing that from the films, so it feels forced.

2:37--Anakin and Padme head to the Lars homestead, where they meet Owen and Beru, as well as Anakin’s step-dad: Cliegg, who lost a leg trying to save Shmi, Anakin’s mother, from the Tusken Raiders. It’s cool to see the iconic farm again, and is one of the few details from the Original Trilogy that needed to be explained, considering we only knew of one member of Anakin’s family after “The Phantom Menace.”

2:40--Obi-Wan sneaking around Geonosis, trying to learn more about the Separatists, is the best!

2:42--Anakin sneaking around Tatooine, looking to save his mother and ultimately murder Tusken Raiders, is not!

2:43--Of course, Anakin finds his mother tied up and nearing death in a Tusken Raider camp, which prompts him to commit frenzied, mass murder as revenge. I understand we need to see why Anakin descended into evil, but it’s quite problematic that the two most important women in his life over the course of the prequels largely exist as plot devices to propel him further into darkness. Shmi’s death feels cheapened as a result, especially considering the minimal effort put into establishing that Anakin struggles without his mother, which is only mentioned briefly early in the film.

2:48--Now Anakin blames his murderous outburst...on Obi-Wan? He’s all over the place ranting and raving to Padme, complaining about how he should be all-powerful and whatnot...and Padme largely accepts it? It’s a very strange scene, and only serves to muddy Anakin’s motivations and make us further question how the hell these two are in love.

2:54--Jar-Jar’s manipulated into proposing emergency powers for the Chancellor so he can create a Clone Army. Thank goodness Binks has a reduced role in this film, but I...kind of like this choice by Lucas? I read it as a meta-commentary on his own use of Jar-Jar in Episode I: no matter how well-meaning the foolishness was, it was foolishness that ended up screwing things up.

Or I’ve spent far too much time watching ‘Star Wars’ today. One of the two.

2:56--Count Dooku, played by Christopher Lee, reveals to a captured Obi-Wan that the Galactic Senate is under the control of a Sith Lord, and compels Obi-Wan to join him. Foreshadowing.

2:58--And yet, more foreshadowing! Palpatine graciously accepts more power, and tells the Senate that he loves democracy. He’s lying through his teeth, folks!

3:02--Padme and Anakin, having decided to rescue Obi-Wan from the clutches of the Separatists, sneak through the Droid Factory with R2-D2 and C-3PO. Even though it’s CGI-intensive, the scene works well, and Lucas’ touch remains deft in the film’s biggest moments….

3:07--...and heavy-handed in its smallest, as seen by Padme confessing her love for Anakin, largely under the assumption that the two of them will die. It’s quite literally unbelievable given everything we’ve seen on-screen.

3:10--Padme losing half of her shirt and Nute Gunray’s creepy self-satisfaction in her pain notwithstanding, the scene in the Geonosian gladiatorial arena is also very good! For all of the prequels’ warts, the action remains very entertaining. The problem is pretty much everything else.

3:14--“This party’s over.”

FINALLY, SAM JACKSON KICKING ASS WITH A LIGHTSABER. Giving him a purple one, while not Lucas’ original idea (it was Jackson’s), is an inspired choice.

3:16--Even in death, Jango Fett is cooler than Boba! He takes out one Jedi with a John Wayne-flourish, and ultimately dies at the hands of a badass Jedi. Unlike his son, who is bumped into by a blind smuggler, ricochets off of a vehicle, and falls into a pit to be digested for hundreds of years.

Also, what an unbelievably unnecessary and unsatisfying use of Boba Fett in the prequels! Clearly, his Dad inspires him to be a Bounty Hunter, but the last we see of him is holding Jango’s helmet. Sure, ‘The Clone Wars’ animated series fleshes out Fett’s thirst for revenge, but there’s no payoff until he appears in the Original Trilogy. Not even a mention of him in Episode III. It would have been better if he just looked cool in Episodes V and VI, and that was it.

3:21--Two hours in, and some Clones finally Attack. It allowed him to create a larger scale army, but making the Clones all-CGI, when the Uncanny Valley is as apparent as ever in Episode III, is very odd.

3:24--So the Geonosians designed the Death Star...which is never mentioned again on-screen! Like Boba, it’s been fleshed out in some Expanded Universe material, but it’s completely superfluous to the films that follow it. Many of the prequel trilogy’s answers are to questions that nobody was asking.

3:28--Obi-Wan and Anakin chase Count Dooku to an abandoned hangar, and struggle with the 80-year-old. Dooku’s got another visually interesting lightsaber variant, following the Darth Maul tradition of giving Sith Lords nonstandard lightsabers (continued with Kylo Ren, which makes his crossguard pretty consistent with the series’ precedents, I might add).

3:31--With Anakin and Obi-Wan incapacitated, CGI Yoda walks in, which can’t mean…

3:33--YODA LIGHTSABER FIGHT! One of the worst instances of revisionist reflections on the prequels is when people act like this wasn’t a genuinely awesome moment, and one of the few bits of fan service in the prequels that actually fits within the saga’s plot. Yoda’s the galaxy’s greatest Jedi, shouldn’t we see him in action at least once?

3:37--Darth Sidious’ first and only appearance in Episode II, as he and Dooku discuss the status of their plan for galactic conquest. Just as there was in Episode I, there is such little effort to conceal Sidious as Palpatine, yet it’s played like a twist in III. Again, this very well could be deliberate in order to portray the Jedi as particularly inept, but it feels sloppy.

3:38--Jimmy Smits wearing the Terrence Stamp Memorial Look of Resignation For Being A Glorified Extra after seeing the creation of the Clone Army. Even with a meatier role in III, he’s chronically underutilized in these films. He’s Leia’s adoptive father, after all. We should know more about him than the Fetts’ lineage.

3:39--The film ends with Anakin and Padme’s secret marriage, which ultimately leads to Anakin’s downfall.Yet, somehow, that’s not even the most unbelievable part of the film’s closing scene.

It’s that C-3PO is a witness to the wedding, and keeps their marriage secret. THIS is where I draw the line in suspending my disbelief in a franchise about mystical space wizards and space travel that makes sounds.

Lucas is clearly much more comfortable behind the camera in Episode II than he is in Episode I, and that confidence translates in the film’s massive action setpieces. Yet, the small moments still elude him, which makes the decision to dedicate such a substantial portion of “Attack of the Clones” to a romance subplot particularly confusing. Episode II builds off of Episode I’s less-than-compelling foundation, meaning the film can only do so much to overcome it. Even Episode III, which is easily the best film of the prequel trilogy, can’t quite shake the flaws that came before it.

Up next: Revenge of the Sith!

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