Review – Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
This is the second review of all nine episodes; as I explained in the first review I am looking at the movies as if they were released in episode order, trying to forget any other episodes or expanded universe information. My reviews are focused on how well the story was put together; special effects might make a film a better spectacle, but not a better story.
Full disclosure, of the prequel films, this is my favourite. Obi-Wan is a boss, Yoda is a boss, Padme is a boss, and Count Dooku is a boss. These strong characters really carry the film in my mind where the story is lacking. But my emotional subjective opinion isn’t what my reviews are about. What I’m trying to do is analyse a story through the lens of being a science fiction nerd and see how it does.
Attack of the Clones is a huge improvement from The Phantom Menace. This movie has a main character. Anakin is undoubtedly the main character; however, he does fall a little short on the hero’s journey. That’s ok, because as a second movie in a trilogy the movie doesn’t need to hit all of those beats (think of the way that Marvel’s Infinity War and Endgame told one story over two movies). It does, however, stumble around a few problems that could be a bit clearer for the story.
There is some squabbling between experts on the hero’s journey as to the exact steps but I like to follow a 12-step guide.
The Hero's Journey
Call to adventure
Refusal of the call
Meeting with the mentor
Crossing the first threshold
Tests, allies and enemies
Approach to the inmost cave
The road back
Return with the elixir
The story arc of this movie is: the separatists have succeeded from the republic; can they be brought back to the republic or will the galaxy fall to civil war? The main character’s choices should affect this outcome.
The opening act of a movie is typically set in the hero’s ordinary life. For Anakin, this is being a Jedi. We get this in the scene of Anakin and Obi-Wan protecting Padme. The characters have been ordered to help by the council, so they help. I would have liked for the ordinary world to be a little more fleshed out for the audience, but we can’t have everything. The call to adventure should be the trip to Naboo. Except that isn’t a call to adventure so much as a reason to sideline Anakin from the story arc while Obi-Wan is moving the plot. While Anakin does meet and consult with many mentors, this scene happens when Anakin asks Palpatine to convince Padme to go to Naboo. It is possible to look at the call to adventure as when Padme and Anakin decide to go to Tatooine, or when they decide to rescue Obi-Wan later.
Here’s my problem, Naboo, Tatooine, or Geonosis, at no point is there a refusal of the call. Anakin is so gung-ho that he is jumping first into everything he comes across. The reluctance of the hero to adventure is an important part of the hero’s journey, as all the parts are, but the refusal of the call shows the main character isn’t impulsive and more importantly, it sets up the acceptance of the call. When the hero accepts the call, it is for a righteous reason. In two movies time, when Luke faces this he will tell Obi-Wan that he can’t go adventuring because he has responsibilities at home, and only when he gets home is he motivated to leave. Luke’s hormones might make him interested in the quest to save a beautiful princess, but he can’t go until he returns home and a need for justice is added to his reasoning. I know, I know, I shouldn’t bring up later movies.
While we are on story conventions, the romance subplot of this movie is dreadful.
A typical romance plot will follow these story beats:
The protagonist is started on a path to find love
The non-protagonist lover isn’t interested
The protagonist’s first dramatic gesture (motivated entirely by self-interest) fails
One of the lovers confesses their love too early
The first kiss/intimate connection occurs
A misunderstanding/outside social forces causes the lovers to separate
The protagonist feels utterly devastated
One lover sacrifices for the other without an expectation of reciprocity (true altruism)
The lovers reunite
Either they have found love or some useful enlightenment about life.
In the romance subplot of this movie: they meet, Padme’s not interested, they kiss (for no reason), Anakin professes his love, Padme says they have to stay apart, they are threatened in a life or death situation, Padme professes her love, they get married at the end.
Instead of feeling like a love story, it feels like a stalker story, with a Stockholm syndrome ending. Anakin is just straight-up creepy, not flirtatious, until he wears Padme down, then she accepts him when she’s about to get murdered because there’s no one else around and she doesn’t want to die alone.
Maybe this is ratcheted up by the lack of chemistry between the actors, but the dialogue and story beats are dreadful. This love story is very important to the over-arcing plot of the universe, and it just doesn’t come across as anywhere near as epic as it needs to be.
One last point, Yoda is shown to feel Anakin’s turmoil when he massacres the Sand People, and when he turns back to his responsibilities in the “She would do her duty,” scene. This could have been polished to show a redemption arc for Anakin. Instead of the “She would do her duty,” scene, Anakin could actually have been redeemed in the light. Showing that a fall to the dark side isn’t as permanent as the Jedi believe it to be. A redemption arc in this movie would have set up all that comes after into a constant question; it would have ramped up a lot of the tension of future movies.