May 21, 2005

The Case for Attack of the Clones

Let me be the first, I think, to slap this bit of heresy down onto the table: Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, was only the second best movie in the new trilogy. Episode II, Attack of the Clones was much, much better in just about every way. Yes, yes, don't worry, I've already gathered kindling, lashed myself to this here stake and if you would just be so kind as to light that match... But first, read my reasoning below the break, spoilers and all.

The main difference for me was the action. Attack of the Clones wins on this front by a running mile. Sorry, but face it: light-saber duels are boring. Or rather, any excitement they bring can be cheapened much too easily. The original Star Wars movies were cool because for most of the movie you had one Jedi—either Obi-Wan or Luke Skywalker—fighting a horde of random enemies with his light-saber, in a variety of novel situations. Hordes of Stormtroopers, or big four-legged machines, or abominable snowmen, or trash compactors. And the Jedi kicked ass, which is what Jedis are understood to do. So when you finally get Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader squaring off—or Luke vs. Darth Vader—you think, "Sweet infant Jesus with a rattlesnake; Jedi versus Jedi?" It's a new form of battle; clash of the titans.

But in Revenge of the Sith, Jedi on Jedi battles become much too commonplace. In the first fifteen minutes of the movie we get a ho-hum sequence where Anakin easily bests the clownishly-named Count Dooku. And that's the first of five or six of these duels. By the time Obi-Wan and Annakin face off at the end, yes, it's a very good and frenetic battle—so frenetic that, in retrospect, it makes their sluggish rematch in Episode IV seem pretty pedestrian—but the climax differs only in degree, not kind, from what we've seen earlier in the movie.

Attack of the Clones varied it up much better. You had the chase after that assassin-lady, the battle in the lava pit, the Obi-Wan vs. Jango Fett duel, and the rather-cool gladiatorial scene, in all of which the sometimes saber-less Jedi had to use their odd powers and ingenuity to face off against unconventional foes. It's cool. So sorry, I'll take Episode II's gladiator scene—or, in Empire Strikes Back, the ice planet battle—against the thoroughly ridiculous "face-off" between Yoda and Darth Sidious (some lightning bolts tossed back in forth, a bit of swordplay, some tossing of Senate chairs... yawn!). At any rate, the shock of Yoda's saber-skills pretty much wore off after the climax in Episode II—which was also the first movie in which we saw Jedi maimed or killed, making it the better movie for pure "shock value."

Meanwhile, General Grievous was lame. The fight between Obi-Wan and General Grievous was lame. There was a split second where I thought, "Four lightsabers? This guy's going to wreak serious havoc!" But no, no, he's easily splattered. Grievous' "gimmick" was that he strung on his belt lightsabers of various Jedi he had slain—well, then we should've seen him slay some Jedi! Sheesh. Also, what kind of Army is vanquished when its general gets captured or killed? I'm not sure that would have even been the case with, say, Napoleon's French Army. Delegate some responsibility, buddy.

Next complaint. George Lucas, as we all know, can't do character, writing, or dialogue. Nevertheless, the third movie hinged on three very dramatic developments: Annakin's love for Padme, Annakin's turn to the dark side, Annakin's relationship with Obi-Wan. All were botched and unconvincing, leaving essentially nothing to hang the movie on. In defense of Natalie Portman's shoddy acting, though, had she played anything resembling an actual human being, we would expect Senator Padme to banish all those silly thoughts from Annakin's head (a Senate works best with one Chancellor in charge? Please!), and we'd have no Darth Vader. So she almost had to play a non-entity or the movie would have failed. Anyway, the only real emotional part of the movie was when Annakin's writhing in lava, and Obi-Wan starts screaming at him, plaintively, "You were supposed to be the one!" or something of the sort. Anyway, Attack of the Clones depended far less on character development, making it at the very least a more enjoyable and satisfying movie.

Also, when the human army turns on the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith, where's the drama? Don't they feel bad? They've been fighting along these Jedi knights for years and years? Now they turn and assassinate without blinking? And let's not speak, ever again, of Annakin Skywalker "killing younglings." Terrible, just terrible. In fact, I never thought I'd say this, but when Annakin goes Iron Chef on the Sand People in Episode II, he's much more convincing as a skilled young dude with some serious anger management problems than he is at any point in Episode III.

One final thought: If I'm not mistaken, galactic travel is a lot quicker in this new trilogy than it was in the old one. Towards the very end of the movie, Darth Sidious jets from the capital planet out to some lava planet on the "outer rim" (which is, presumably, very, very far away) in the short time it takes Annakin and Obi-Wan to finish up their fighting business. Ships weren't that fast in the original trilogy, were they? Also, Padme goes from discovering she's pregnant to giving birth in the course of the movie. Where, um, did those nine months come from?

Continue reading "The Case for Attack of the Clones"
-- Brad Plumer 7:30 PM || ||