Thursday, 6 October 2011
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 2002)
Attack of the Clones is renowned for being the worst Star Wars film. Combine the love-story between Anakin and Padme, with busy action-sequences that show a lack of clarity and ultimately too many special effects and you can see why people fall out about this film. It would always be difficult for Lucas to present the middle-episode to the two bookends of the prequels - The Phantom Menace introduces us to the world again whilst Revenge of the Sith is the destruction of the Republic and the Sith taking over the Senate. Attack of the Clones is firmly establishing what pieces of the chess-set are placed in the appropriate positions before Anakin truly turns to the Dark Side. The themes are consistent in this film - indeed they build upon the themes of duality in Episode 1 - but you can see that the problems lie in what films-of-the-time adjusted what may have been a very different story...
Influenced by Others
Wikipedia explains how, due to the mixed critical-reaction to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, Lucas was hesitant about writing the script for the sequel. In fact, the first and second draft by Lucas only emerged three months before filming, only to be followed by a rewrite by Jonathan Hales (who had worked previously with Lucas on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) leading to a completion of the working-script only one-week prior to production. Rather than establishing something new, I believe Lucas turned to cinema of the previous few years to inspire him. As an example, Attack of the Clones features a stunning sequence through Coruscant - the Blade Runner urban-planet - that, through the yellow-spaceship and chase-sequence, seems to vividly recall Besson's The Fifth Element. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray seems to exclusively focus on the production, rather than pre-production of the films so I could not gain any concrete source as to whether this was indeed the case.
Even the plot itself, regarding clones and "machines-creating-machines" (as C3PO would say) seems to attach itself to the zeitgeist of the moment. Dating back to 1999, the Wachowski's produced, wrote and directed The Matrix. The filming of both sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions must have been regular discourse amongst the Hollywood elite - and the script must have been easily accessible for someone like Lucas. So it is no surprise that when we reach the planet of Kamino, our ipod-aliens reveal the clones creation: Morpheus told Neo - "endless fields where human beings are no longer born. We are grown". We see this same process on the planet Kamino.
Then as a third example, following Anakin's capture on Geonosis, we suddenly change set from hidden-caves and red-planet imagery to a huge Colosseum of Sebulba-creatures - as if Lucas watched Gladiator and recalled how much we liked Sebulba in Phantom Menace, simply squeezing the two together. Not only does the sequence visually resonate with the Roman-Epic-genre, but also the very nature of their 'extermination' (using creatures to kill our heroes) recalls a deleted sequence in Gladiator whereby Christians were fed to Lion's.
If I think back to The Phantom Menace, I do not remember such obvious connections to blockbusters of the time. In fact, I think it was refreshing to see a new type of blockbuster - no natural disasters feature in The Phantom Menace (as the blockbusters Armageddon, Deep Impact, Dantes Peak and Volcano had proved in the few years prior to The Phantom Menace's release) whilst Attack of the Clones seems to be reliant on these obvious inspirations... unfortunately, the films it imitates are more successful in their themes and styles.
The Crucial Love-Story
The heart of this story is the relationship between Padme and Anakin. This one film, even from its poster, understands how their love is the one thing this film needs to communicate to the audience in preparation of Revenge of the Sith. Ironically, it begins as Padme tells Anakin - as if to stop his advances - "Well, you'll always be the boy from Tatooine", adding another pointless conflict as it becomes a will-they-won't-they situation. Why not shave the twenty-minutes over the two-hour mark and just start the story with the two characters clearly besotted with each other? This focuses the conflict primarily in hiding their love from others. Instead, we see Anakin (in a very creepy way) try and seduce Padme and over many drawn-out sequences, she gives the impression she is not interested (but it is clear she is) before the fateful kiss. This long, drawn-out love story is simply uneccessary when so many other (much more interesting) situations are happening all over the galaxy.
Talking about more-interesting events, we have Obi-Wan's storyline that becomes increasingly less-Star-Wars and more James-Bond in it's nature. Obi-Wan, as a detective, is hunting down the man who is responsible for the creation of an Army - a man who is a Jedi and attempted to kill Padme. This journey, not only seems at odds with the Sci-Fi nature of Star Wars but it crucially separates our two characters. Rather than seeing the clear divide between Anakin and Obi-Wan through passionate and personal arguments that rely on well-written scripts, instead we see Anakin relay his frustrations to Padme and Obi-Wan engage in undercover-agent tactics as he claims he is working for the Jedi that ordered the creation of the Army. Obi-Wan seems lonely and rather than establish the Anakin and Padme love from the outset, we are forced to sit through a pointless excercise in flirtatious behaviour, whilst it could be Anakin and Obi-Wan on a mission.
But it is the rebellious nature of Anakin that leads to providing the foundations of his 'dark-side'. The murder of his Mother by the sand-people place Anakin in a position whereby he needs to confront his demons - the power of a Jedi, the anger of revenge and the justice of capital punishment. We know people who decided to deliver their own justice - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But you can see that the excessive force that Anakin uses to gain justice - through killing Mothers and children - hints at a much deeper issue and a darker side that we have not witnessed before.
Indeed, we are never expected to truly adore Anakin - he is sullen, grouchy, selfish and arrogant. He holds very little respect for Obi-Wan but this does not make us despise him. This makes him a teenager. Furthermore, he has been told that he is powerful and the teachings of his Jedi Master to "trust and follow your feelings" is a dangerous path if your feelings are, as Yoda says, steeped in anger. "Anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering". We see how Anakin's anger begins at this point and his hatred for the sand-people inevitably leads to suffering.
It is Simply too Confusing
One thing that I believe crucially turns people off this film is the confusion that resides within it. The entire film, we question what Count Dooku's motives are. We are told by both Jedi and Palpatine that Dooku needs to be stopped as he is the leader of the separatist movement. At this point, we accept the Republic is good, despite the corrupt leadership of Palpatine. But we are confused further when Dooku speaks to Obi-Wan and explains how deep the Dark Side resides within the Senate - and how Qui-Gon Jin would agree as Dooku trained Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon trained Obi-Wan. This begs the question as to whose side Dooku is on - because he is arguing that the senate is corrupt. This lack of clarity and difficulty in what is good and what is bad, though a theme that leads nicely into Revenge of the Sith, distances us from the story as we don't know who we should trust. It does all make sense at the end - as the war begins - but it does not change the fact that for at least thirty-minutes, you are a little lost. Its easy to say Dooku is bad - but the fact that his separatist movement is due to a corrupt senate (which we know is true) blurs this narrative thread.
This is one of those films that could argue the case that you are suppsed to be confused as the conflict and anger clouds the judgement in a wide range of characters - Padme is equally conflicted and rebellious as she forces Anakin to save Obi-Wan, despite the dangers that the Jedi Council fear. There is confusion in Jar-Jar Binks as he attempts to help by supporting the non-democratic support of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine only to lead to his first decisive action to create a clone army. When seen in this light, I think we can all appreciate the purpose of this film as an exploration of making the wrong decision for the right reasons. Consider how much Anakin wants to save Padme when she falls out of the spaceship and yet Obi-Wan has to argue his case to justify the greater concern of Count Dooku escaping them. Difficult decisions and confusion as to what is right and wrong.
What is clear and decisive - unlike humans - are machines. They are programmed to complete tasks. You instruct, they follow. No emotions, no attachments. Machines are the perfect creation. This is what contrasts against the confusing challenge of emotions. As soon as people decide to elect Palpatine as Supreme Chancellor, he decides to create an Army - an army that will follow orders and complete tasks. Much like a machine. It is no suprise that we then cut to a chase sequence within a factory. Padme, Anakin, C3PO and R2D2 are all escaping the grasp and pressure of the controlled, regimented and 'perfected' nature of machines. As Palpatine begins to destroy the freedom of the galaxy - we see the systematic and definitive nature of mechanical power. Palpatine has systematically gained power and his partnership with Dooku proves how the Jedi played into his hands. The Clone War begins, as planned, and Palpatine knows that it is only a matter of time before his power extends. Only the Jedi Council stand in his way ... the Revenge of the Sith is imminent.