Brad’s April Escape - Episode 5
April 8 - Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
Throughout this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is a defense of a film that few people like or respect, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Attack of the Clones - An Introduction
I know what you're thinking.
No, I REALLY know what you're thinking.
"Worst film in the series. Maybe in the history of the world universe."
I love Attack of the Clones. Adore it. And this blog post will break down some of the best Star Wars moments in any of the films, and why they have such long-term reprecussions, no matter how much fans deride it or TPTB at Disney try to memory-hole this film out of existence.
This film features Padme as its driving force. Anakin going through the expected and natural growing pains. Obi-Wan coming into his own as a Jedi. Count Dooku offering a refined but deadly villain.
This film, more than any other in Star Wars, portrays characters inside that world. How they would interact, communicate and move within that world, as if there was no audience. I picked up on that dynamic upon the first viewing, and is something I continue to deeply respect about it.
10 Things I Like - Attack of the Clones
1. All previous four Star Wars films featured the opening crawl, followed by a camera pan downward through space and to a ship or planet. Not AOTC. Here, the camera pans up, to Padme's yacht as it flies into Coruscant. The quick move of the ship gives the impression that things are upside down, perfectly setting the tone for a film that does what you don't expect and is full of people and actions that you don't expect. Your expectations need to get tossed out the window and go where the story takes you. In this way, I see a lot of parallels between AOTC and The Last Jedi.
2. "Dreams pass in time."
The is ultimate Obi-Wan Kenobi. Compassionate. Wise. A leader.
Now don't misunderstand. Obi-Wan is pretty tough on Anakin throughout this film. They've lived as teacher-student for 10 years to this point, and Obi-Wan, under the surface, is constantly questioning himself about his teaching abilities. But you also get the idea that Obi-Wan covers a lot of the same territory with Anakin over and over again. This would test anyone's patience.
But at his core, Obi-Wan is the ultimate Jedi. He can balance all the characteristics, and you can trust is always coming from a good place. In this scene, he completely defines what I envisioned from the Alec Guiness version of the character from so many years prior. After playing more of a sidekick role in TPM, Obi-Wan is front and center throughout AOTC, and Ewan McGregor finally gets the chance to shine in the role he was born for.
3. The final scene in the Outlander Club. Once again, Obi-Wan at his best. Anakin might be boastful and chest-y here, on the lookout for the assassin. But all Obi-Wan does is get a drink and wait for the prey to come to him. He then acts swiftly and efficiently. Just like the Obi-Wan we have envisioned for decades would act.
By the way, take note of the real set and characters in masks and costumes in this scene. And notice how often that happens in this film. A far cry from the perception of fans back then, and certain filmmakers of today.
4. This is the scene that won me over as a fan of Anakin's character.
Yes, I know most of you belly laugh at the fireplace scene on Naboo between Anakin and Padme. But here's how I saw the scene, both on first viewing and today.
This is not a scene intended to be put on display for an audience. This is an "invisible camera" staged in the corner of this room watching two characters not at all familiar with how to express their feelings expressing their feelings.
Watching Anakin in this scene, I immediately identified with him, how he was trying to express himself, and the emotions he was wrestling with. I absolutely was that 19-year-old guy trying like heck to express his feelings to a girl who showed little more than indifference to those feelings.
I heard a lot about the dialogue in this scene. But again, I ask, what 19-year-old guy, raised more or less in a church setting for the past 10 years, is going to deliver the smooth, seductive lines that will draw out the kind of reaction from his crush he wishes? Anakin stumbles. Anakin puts his heart on his sleeve. Anakin can't help himself. Just like so many 19-year-old guys, who just can't get over...That. One. Girl. Anakin became human, relatable and supportable in this scene for me.
The funny thing is, a scene not staged and filmed with the audience in mind connected more deeply with this audience member than any other scene to this point.
5. Let's talk about Padme/Natalie Portman.
As mentioned above, she is the driving force of this film. All the actions the characters on both sides of the aisle take are done with her in mind. She controls the actions of Anakin, Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, the Trade Federation, and to a lesser extend, the Jedi Council.
But beyond that, she personifies the direction of the entire Prequel Trilogy. When we meet her in TPM, she is almost buried in her makeup and costumes, disguising who she truly is. TPM as a film disguises the true direction of the PT, the kid-friendly tone betraying the tragedy that is the PT itself.
By AOTC, the layers are being peeled back. We see Padme much more for the intelligent, beautiful and bold character she truly is. But she is slowly losing grip on that control she exhibited so much in TPM. The way she dresses. A key line in this fireplace scene is "I will not give in to this." She is talking to herself, that self wishing to break out of the small space she's allowed herself to be squeezed into for most of her life. Later in the film, she fully gives in, expressing her love for Anakin, in violation of his oath, of her discipline and letting loose forces that will have profound implications on the Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith. As she loses control, so the ties that bind the Republic also lose their integrity. Parallel actions happening all over the place here. In TPM she was guided by duty. Over the course of AOTC, and throughout ROTS, she is guided by love and her heart. An amazing evolution. As Padme falls apart, so falls apart the Republic. More on that final stage when I get to ROTS.
And a word here for Portman, who hasn't exactly embraced her role of Padme in the years since the PT was released. The identity of Luke and Leia's mother was one of the dominant what-if thoughts I had in the years between the OT and PT. She was a complete mystery, and the Expanded Universe novels of the 1990s were expressly forbidden from mentioning the twins' mother in any real way. Now, looking back, I am so glad it was Natalie Portman chosen for the role. She carries herself with so much smarts and grace, and has grown into a woman fearless of expressing her mind and her views.
Padme is my third favorite character of the saga, and one who I wish there was so much more content about among Star Wars publishing. Last year's novel Queen's Shadow was outstanding, and I can't wait for Queen's Peril, coming out in June.
6. My favorite musical entry in this film. John Williams reacts accordingly to the noir tone of much of the film, and this scene in particular, when Obi-Wan reports to Yoda and Mace Windu from Kamino, where he is attempting to unravel the mystery of the clones. The music is quiet and foreboding, ideal for this film. I tend to gravitate towards Williams's quieter Star Wars tracks, and this is among the best.
Strangely, this musical cue doesn't exist in any officially released soundtrack. Why AOTC, ROTS and the five Disney films don't have fully fleshed out soundtrack releases baffles me. Whatever that project would cost, Disney would make that money back 10-fold if a definitive box set of all 11 Star Wars film soundtracks were released.
7. Another wonderful musical cue from Williams, as Anakin and Padme arrive on Tatooine. It skillfully exhibits the technique of Dies Irae, Latin for "Day of Wrath" and a musical pattern used for centuries by composers.
Here is where I give a shout out to David W. Collins, host of "The Soundtrack Show" podcast. David is an expert at dissecting film scores, and I first learned of Dies Irae from listening to his breakdown of Star Wars films, both on The Soundtrack Show and on Star Wars Oxygen.
Dies Irae is a cascading series of notes that convey the emotion of dread, or something bad coming in the near future.
Anakin's search for his mother, you know, is doomed from the start, and we get closer and close to that doom here. The music, once again, perfectly encapsulates this feeling.
8. I understand why we only got a couple of shots of the Tusken slaughter scene. George Lucas wasn't going to go to that dark of a place in a Star Wars film, and I get it. And he wanted to save more obvious displays of Anakin's darkness for ROTS.
Having said that, and I acknowledge this is the fanboy in me talking, I always wished we could have seen more here. The AOTC novelization, by R.A. Salvatore, goes into quite a bit more detail about the carnage Anakin puts on the Tusken camp after Shmi dies. He writes about Anakin using the Force to throw a huge boulder onto a teepee full of Tuskens, crushing them all. It was the most stark, well-written and jaw-dropping part of that book.
But again, for me, this scene further cemented my support of Anakin and his character. Put me in those exact circumstances (GFFA with Force powers and no accountability) and see me do the same thing.
9. "Wars not make one great."
That is the line that was screaming in my head on first viewing when this shot came up. Yoda, on the Republic Gunship, overlooking the first Clone Wars battlefield on Geonosis.
This one shot caused me to make a strong link to a signature Yoda line from Empire Strikes Back. Why would he say that, I asked myself back then. This shot gave me the answer. A powerful link between two films three episodes apart in the greatest story ever told, from the character we love and trust.
10. Watch the facial expressions of Hayden and Natalie here. Hayden looks almost smug. Like "I won." It's another example of the selfish turn his character takes after the death of his mother. Recall the Shmi funeral scene, where every line of Anakin's centers on himself. "I promise I won't fail again." "I miss you." "I wasn't strong enough to save you, mom." It's all I-I-I .As the evolution of his character would properly dictate. He wanted Padme for himself, and with this wedding, he accomplished that goal. Even if it's not the Jedi way.
Contrast that with the pensive look on Natalie's face here. She's like "What did we just do?" She realizes she's losing control now too, and as part of a marriage, she won't have that full control or discipline over herself anymore. She's tied to Anakin, for better or for worse. It's another big step in the direction of not having control and that big of a loss of control by such an important person will have grave consequences for all involved.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Attack of the Clones
This lightsaber fight is rarely mentioned on any countdown of the best saber fights in the series, but this one is totally unique.
The screenshot above shows part of the fight where Anakin battles with two sabers. Not something we have seen before or since. It's one of the final signs (of many great ones in this film) of Anakin's growing power and ability. Much like TPM, AOTC does a fine job of slowly building Anakin up, bit by bit, not only in the growing darkness and emotions within him, but just as a straight-up skilled Jedi.
The next part of the fight is the most abstract, with little more than colors flashing between Anakin and Count Dooku. On my first viewing, I noticed the apparent purposeful red on Anakin and blue on Dooku, symbolizing their past and futures.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was a survivor of the message board wars of the early 2000s, primarily on TheForce.net. I was there the night the boards melted down when the rumor of N'Sync appearing in AOTC hit. And this film, shortly after its release, had a great deal of venom spat its way by fans who wondered why George Lucas made the Star Wars he wanted, and not the Star Wars they wanted.
I appreciated this movie upon first viewing, but have come to love it more and more in the 18 years since its release. Padme is the center of the plot of this film, and shows all the courage, smarts and boldness that her children showed a generation later. Anakin is that teenager struggling through those years, realizing he's no ordinary Jedi while being torn between powerful figures in his life (Padme, Obi-Wan, Palpatine). Anakin's path to becoming Darth Vader isn't supposed to be as easy as "oh hey I like that dark helmet and leather suit. Get my measurements!" It's anything but a straight line, and Attack of the Clones is anything but a straight-line movie. And thank goodness for that. It throws one curveball after another at our expectations, and does a perfect job at setting our characters up for the apocalyptic finale of my cherished Prequel Trilogy.
Coming next: Jurassic Park (1993)
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