Lucasfilm, Ltd./20the Century Fox
Directed by George Lucas
Produced by Rick McCallum
Screenplay by George Lucas/Jonathan Hales
Story by George Lucas
Cinematography by David Tattersall
Edited by Ben Burtt
Really, George? Count Dooku?
You give Christopher Lee a major role in the STAR WARS prequel as a Sith Lord of towering power and presence. With skills in The Force to easily rival that of Master Yoda (Frank Oz) and Master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) but you decide to go with Count Dooku instead of his Sith Lord name of Darth Tyranus which is when I think of Christopher Lee as a BadAss Sith Lord is the name I would certainly think of as fitting that power and presence?
Count Dooku. Sigh. And nobody on the production had the backbone to take him to the side and say; “Hey, George…no disrespect, yo…but you might wanna give that name some thought, man.”
Okay. It is what it is so we should learn to live with it and move on. I do give George Lucas major props for having roles for both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in the STAR WARS movies. Both men being Icons of Science Fiction and Horror films for decades I myself thought it only fitting they be a part of a film series with such cultural impact as those two men have made such an impact on the culture and inspired many of of the people who worked on the STAR WARS movies both in front of and in back on the camera.
But the Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus name thing is yet again an example that in The Prequel Trilogy George Lucas seemed hell bent on sabotaging himself and his story because for everything that he gets spectacularly right in ATTACK OF THE CLONES he turns around and does something spectacularly wrong.
The best parts of the movie without a doubt are the parts I call “Obi-Wan Kenobi, Space Detective.” Following a number of assassination attempts on the life of ex-Queen/now Senator Padme of Naboo (Natalie Portman) Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is assigned to find out who is behind the assassination attempts while his headstrong and hot-tempered Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) bodyguards Padme. We follow Obi-Wan as he contacts various aliens of dubious legal/moral background, researches The Jedi Temple Archives and pieces together clues in the best Philip Marlowe fashion. The clues lead him to the ocean planet of Kamino and the Mandalorian bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). There Obi-Wan finds an army of clones is being manufactured for The Republic, using Jango as the genetic template.
In the meantime, there’s a considerable amount of political infighting going on back on Coruscant as Chancellor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) power and influence continues to grow. And in what is the movie’s most boring plotline, Anakin Skywalker and Senator Padme fall in love.
When we stick to “Obi-Wan Kenobi, Space Detective” and the political stuff on Coruscant, ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a damn good STAR WARS movie. This is the movie that made me wish The Prequel Trilogy had been about The Adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he’s a more proactive, interesting and vital character than Anakin Skywalker who starts out the movie as a whiny brat and never rises much above that level of characterization. Ewan McGregor easily steals the movie, Errol Flynning all over the place with a mannered abandon. He constantly counsels Anakin against acting rashly but he’s not above acting on impulse himself as we see many times in this movie. He’s just better at recovering from his mistakes, is all. And Obi-Wan gets one of the best fight scenes in The Prequel Trilogy where he and Jango Fett go at it. I like it because we get to see somebody with a different fighting style go up against a Jedi Knight and this fight scene doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer thrills.
And I’ve always thought that the scene in A NEW HOPE where the Alec Guinness Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Han Solo (Harrison Ford) that “Don’t Shit Me” look after Han brags about making The Kessel Run led George Lucas to plant a seed in this movie. There’s a kickass scene where Obi-Wan, despite his numerous protestations that he hates to fly, successfully navigates an asteroid field, something that only one other pilot we’ve seen in the STAR WARS movie do; Han Solo himself. We’ve never seen Obi-Wan talk much about his piloting skills but apparently, he’s just as good as the Skywalkers or Han Solo. He just doesn’t see the need to brag about about it like they do.
I also loved the scene where Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme have to fight for their lives against hideously savage creatures in The Arena of Death. This is a tradition that goes back as far as The Master of Adventure Himself; Edgar Rice Burroughs. He didn’t consider his job as a storyteller done if he didn’t put John Carter or Tarzan in an Arena of Death on a regular basis. And even after we get The Arena of Death, George ups the ante by putting a S.W.A.T. Team of Jedi Knights led by Mace Windu into The Arena of Death as well.
And then we get the real heavyweight bout: between Darth Tyranus and Master Yoda. The scene where Tyranus throws Force Lightning at Master Yoda who catches that shit and puts it in his back pocket before opening up a can of Jedi WhoopAss on him brought the audience I saw this with in the theater to their feet with cheers and high-fives all around.
But those scenes where Anakin and Padme are romancing each other…ugh. And I don’t blame Hayden Christensen. George Lucas should never have put the considerable weight of playing such a pivotal character on the shoulders of an inexperienced actor. How inexperienced is he? He’s so inexperienced he throws Natalie Portman off her game and by the time of ATTACK OF THE CLONES she was a seasoned pro. But in watching this movie again prior to writing this review I could see a definite difference in the tone of her scenes with Christensen as opposed to the scene with the rest of the cast. Not to let Portman off the hook. By the time she starred in the MCU “Thor” movies she apparently learned how to act with green screen and CGI and special effects but in this movie, she still walks around as if wondering exactly what it is she’s supposed to be doing. She looks to me to be uncomfortable and stiff in a lot of the action scenes. And that’s okay. These movies aren’t the forte of a lot of actors. And if you ask me what was the main problem with The Prequel Trilogy in general I would put it down to miscasting and clumsy writing.
But ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a STAR WARS movie and I love it, flawed though it may be. There’s a lot to like in it. And don’t let me dissuade you from seeing it if you haven’t already. And if you have then what are you reading this for? Go watch it again.