Part VI. Our Own Counsel We Will Keep

Master Yoda “You are asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do.”

— Anakin Skywalker,
Attack of the Clones

Okay, I've spent this whole long-winded dissertation picking apart narrative implications and divining symbolic motifs in quasi-scholarly analysis, and you have my gratitude for hanging in there with me. In this concluding section, I want to step down off the podium, chill out and just shoot the breeze about my personal reactions to the movie. This gives me the chance to cover miscellaneous things I liked and didn't like, little tidbits that don't carry all the major significance of the topics I've discussed thus far, and didn't fit into those carefully structured sections, but are still important to me as a Star Wars fan. There's no textual analysis to be performed here other than me saying "that's cool" or "that sucks."

I guess it should be obvious by now that I love Attack of the Clones, and actually I rank it second only to the venerable The Empire Strikes Back as my current favorite episode of the saga. Nonetheless, there are still a few minor things I find lacking about the movie. My dissertation on The Phantom Menace had an entire section devoted to the flaws I found in it, but I only have a relative handful of complaints about Episode II. In the interest of ending on a positive note, I'll get the bad points out of the way before moving on to my list of the movie's unsung virtues.

The Dark Side of Attack of the Clones

Maybe He Should Practice on That “Wit,” Too

Obi-Wan and Anakin When Anakin rescues his master from plummeting to his death over Coruscant, Obi-Wan quips, "What took you so long?" A predictable line, perhaps, but funny nonetheless. Then Anakin fires off this snappy comeback: "Oh, you know, Master, I couldn't find a speeder I really liked... with an open cockpit... and the right speed capabilities..." Oooh, burn! Come on, George, that's supposed to show us how sassy and in-your-face Anakin is? Please. This has to be the dorkiest line of dialogue in the movie. Here's a few wittier zingers Anakin might have unloaded on Kenobi's ass instead: "Sorry, Master, I was kinda hungry and had to stop at Dex's for a bantha burger. You want some fries?" Or maybe: "But Master, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if some moron had suddenly jumped through an 800th story window, and was suddenly silenced." And you can't beat the old reliable Jedi snap: "That's what your biological mother from whom you were separated at infancy said last night."

Always Good at Fixing Things, Eh?

Watto recognizes his grown-up former slave when Anakin effortlessly repairs a broken droid, but the scene shows us no evidence that Anakin has fixed anything. The droid just sits there motionless, yet for some reason the Toydarian exclaims, "You are Ani! It is you!" I guess Anakin made some subtle alteration that Watto can see, but the scene would be so much more dramatic if the droid started chattering and jumping around. In fact, the stage directions in the screenplay state, "Suddenly, the fiddly piece of equipment in Anakin's hands WHIRS into life." Hmm... what went wrong there? As it is, the moment of recognition plays like a bluescreen shot where the special effects haven't been added, and the actors are reacting to nothing... although in this case, the key performer is a special effect himself.

“I Guess I’m Your Stepbrother”

Owen and Beru Lucas and crew went to tremendous effort and expense to recreate the Lars homestead down to the last detail, and found an ideal pair of young Australian actors to portray Owen and Beru. Joel Edgerton, in particular, looks exactly like a younger Uncle Owen ought to look. But after all that trouble, Owen and Beru hardly even do anything in the movie. I know they had to play supporting rules to patriarch Cliegg's story, but I wish Lucas had let them be a little more prominent. Poor Bonnie Piesse only got to speak one word — "Hello" — and serve the familiar blue milk. It would have been nice for the two newfound stepbrothers to have a moment of connection, to form some basis for the contempt Owen later displays for Anakin and that crazy old wizard. Or maybe we'll get to see that seed planted in Episode III.

Worst. Edit. Ever.

The Weird Edit Lucas got his start as a film editor, and the Star Wars movies have been uniformly distinguished by their first-rate editing with those trademark Saturday-matinee wipes. But Attack of the Clones has one transition toward the end of the second act that's an uncharacteristic stinker. Anakin's speeding across the Tatooine desert in search of his mother, he stops to gather information from some passing Jawas, and then there's a towering rock formation with a tiny robed figure entering it at ground level. We're anxious to see if Anakin has found the lair of the Tuskens, and inside the rock structure we find... Obi-Wan? We've suddenly jumped planets to a Geonosian tower, which superficially resembles the craggy rock outcroppings we've just seen Anakin go roaring across. It's natural to assume we're still watching Anakin's progress. True, the sky changes color when we cut to Geonosis, but that could be dawn breaking on Tatooine. So this is a bad cut on two counts: it's lame to cut short the grand "Duel of the Fates" operatic fugue with Anakin merely talking to Jawas, and it's disorienting to jump to Obi-Wan exploring a similar environment. Maybe this juxtaposition is supposed to show us the parallel nature of Anakin and Obi-Wan's dark journeys of discovery, but I doubt it.

Case Dismissed

Most of the deleted scenes provided as bonus features on the Attack of the Clones DVD deserved to be deleted, no doubt. All that background stuff on Padmé and the Naberrie family is horribly extraneous. But I really like the two connected scenes on Geonosis: "Dooku Interrogates Padmé" and "Anakin and Padmé on Trial." Unlike the rest of the reject reel, these scenes have something to contribute to the story, and it's a shame that they got cut. When Anakin and Padmé get captured in the droid factory, it's too abrupt a jump to find them already sentenced to the execution arena. I think it would help to see how they get there. Padmé came to Geonosis to negotiate but we never get to see her try. Lucas explains that he reworked the confrontation between Dooku and Padmé into the confrontation between Dooku and Obi-Wan, but the scenes aren't at all redundant. It would have been worthwhile to hear Dooku offer Padmé his cooperation on the condition that Naboo joins the Confederacy, hinting at the strongarm tactics he's been using to enlist those thousands of systems. And this explicit display would have strengthened the theme that Padmé's political powers fail her on Geonosis, just as Anakin's Jedi powers fail him on Tatooine. Dooku's original dialogue in the shooting script also included a tirade against the "incompetent" Chancellor Palpatine, making for another interesting wrinkle that should have stayed in.

“Jedi Don’t Have Nightmares”

Speaking of deleted scenes, the IMAX version of Attack of the Clones brutally hacked the "slow parts" out of the movie to accommodate the huge-screen format's time constraints. All these edits were dreadful and damaging to the story except for one, which I actually found to be an improvement: the removal of Anakin's brief nightmare scene. I have never liked this nocturnal interlude of Anakin moaning in bed. It adds nothing that isn't established elsewhere in dialogue. A depiction of Anakin's inner vision could have been worthwhile, something along the lines of Luke's metaphorical battle with Darth Vader on Dagobah, actually showing us the nightmare instead of showing us Anakin tossing and turning in bed. The IMAX edit fades from Yoda's grim decision to remain silent on the Jedi's weakness to the blinding Naboo sunrise and Anakin's Vader-like stance on the veranda. That made for a fantastic transition, maintaining a somber mood without the interruption of Anakin whimpering in his sleep. By not showing Anakin alone in bed, the IMAX version also leaves an ambiguous suggestion that he and Padmé may have slept together, which I think is a nice added nuance.

Anakin's Nightmare But there's another reason why I dislike the nightmare scene, immature and silly though it may be. Anytime you show a young man, in bed, eyes closed, sweating and moaning, wriggling around, hands under the covers, you can't help but create the subconscious visual impression of... well, you know... lightsaber practice with Captain Solo. Grooming the Wookiee. Tinkering with the R2 unit. Switching to manual targeting. Performing the Jedi hand trick. Sure, the Jedi are celibate, but I don't think Lucas intended to demonstrate how they cope with that aspect of their lifestyle.

The Top Ten Coolest Things in Episode II

10. The Coruscant Speeder Chase

Anakin's one crappy line of dialogue notwithstanding, the Zam Wesell pursuit sequence is pure classic Star Wars. Aside from being an exciting visual extravaganza, the scene serves the same purpose as the Trade Federation's ambush of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the opening of The Phantom Menace — showing us a typical day in the life of the Jedi. It's the nonchalance of Obi-Wan and Anakin toward their astounding feats that really transforms this into more than just another Hollywood action scene. The vast altitudes and spatial expanses involved demonstrate that the Jedi really do experience a larger world through the Force, a world that they confidently and easily negotiate their way through. For these superior beings, it's all in a day's work.

9. Hayden’s Vaderisms

I think Hayden Christensen did a great job of embellishing his performance with subtle hints of Darth Vader's mannerisms, which is what he set out to do. "I tried to steal some of his physicality, like his posture, as well as this very monotone demeanor that he has," Christensen said in an interview. Of course, he ended up getting branded as wooden and lifeless for his efforts, but some of us can see the characterization that he was going for. My favorite touch — which may be just the unintended result of Hayden's natural Canadian accent — is the introduction of faint "Britishness" into Anakin's speech. James Earl Jones created Vader's baritone voice with regal, vaguely European pronunciation ("the powah of the dahk side"), whereas Jake Lloyd gave the young Anakin a middle-class American dialect. Hayden employs an intermediate accent, mostly American-sounding but incorporating more deliberate enunciation and BBC-style inflections, in particular dropping his R's as Vader does ("She programmed Artoo to wahn us if there's an intrudah," "I have to help hah! [her]"). We can surmise from this linguistic transformation that Anakin has picked up some of his master's aristocratic speech patterns over the years... and how cool is it to think that Darth Vader got his accent from Obi-Wan Kenobi?

8. The Blonde with Blue Lipstick

Hayde Gofai There are certain images in the Star Wars saga that just stick with you, even the wordless glimpses of background characters that have nothing to do with the main story but somehow feel important and memorable. Like the "Hammerhead" alien Momaw Nadon in the Mos Eisley cantina, or the guy clutching an ice cream maker as he flees Cloud City, and of course, the immortal Gonk the Power Droid. We don't get to stop and meet these folks, but they've all obviously got very interesting stories of their own. My favorite notable extra in Attack of the Clones is the blonde party girl with blue lipstick in the Coruscant nightclub. It's not that I find her attractive (she's much too skinny for my tastes), but this funky chick just seems to belong perfectly in Star Wars for some reason I can't explain. I love the way she checks out Anakin as he walks past, flirtatiously looking him up and down, evidently judging that young Skywalker looks pretty fly for a Jedi. Is she a prostitute? A senator's mistress? A lifelike pleasure droid? The answer will remain a mystery, at least until some Expanded Universe "Tales of the Outlander Club" offers her biography. (Last minute update: Just as I was finishing this section, the May 2004 issue of Star Wars Insider has revealed that the character's name is Hayde Gofai. Can her action figure be far behind?)

7. Anakin’s Meeting with Palpatine

Despite its brevity, the private conference between the young Padawan and the Supreme Chancellor is a transcendently powerful and epochal addition to Star Wars mythology. What amazes me is that the scene didn't appear in the original script and came about during the later pickup shoots. Thank goodness Lucas realized that this episode needed to establish a personal connection between Anakin and Palpatine. This way it won't seem at all inconceivable when we finally see them join forces as the Lords of the Sith. The long shots of Anakin's dark silhouette striding in lock step behind his future master vividly recall Return of the Jedi's scenes of Vader standing by his Emperor's side.

6. Seismic Charges

Seismic Charge

BRAAAAAWMMP!

Oh man... with all due respect to Alderaan and the first Death Star, that's the coolest space explosion effect ever, and the favorite 5.1 surround sound demo of many a home theater enthusiast.

5. “What Mission? What Are You Talking About?”

Episode II's reunion of Artoo and Threepio is marked by the single most clever line of dialogue in the movie. It's nowhere near the most important line in the script, nor the most meaningful, but it's definitely the wittiest: "It seems that he is carrying a message from an Obi-Wan Kenobi. Master Ani, does that name mean anything to you?" That's a textbook example of dramatic irony, returning the droids to their primordial roles of unlikely messengers seeking Jedi Knights in the desert wastes of Tatooine. Continuity hounds can take note that Threepio never met Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, and thanks to his future memory wipe, he'll forget the name again in time for A New Hope. I'm in awe that Lucas was able to work in this delightful grace note in a way that logically serves the progression of the story and avoids being a just gratuitous nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

4. The Fab Four: Together Again For the First Time

Pizzazz (1977), Attack of the Clones (2002) There's something magical about the assemblage of Anakin, Padmé, Artoo and Threepio departing for Geonosis that gets me all goosepimply, and I can tell you exactly what it is. The scenario stirs my nostalgic recollections of those cheesy old Star Wars comics from the '70s that always featured Luke, Leia and the droids setting off for some adventure on a mysterious planet. I'm thinking of that weird little strip that ran in the Marvel kids' magazine Pizzazz, where our heroes meet up with four goofy robot children with the powers of water, fire, air and earth. And that infamous Michael Golden fill-in issue published in Star Wars #38 when the scheduled adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back was postponed for a month. Heck, you could even put Splinter of the Mind's Eye in this category. The quartet bound for Geonosis substitutes Anakin and Padmé for Luke and Leia, but considering that back then there existed some unresolved sexual tension between the long-lost siblings, the group dynamics are identical. The result is a virtual recreation of those old-school Star Wars spinoffs — the original Expanded Universe, you know what I'm sayin'? — which gives old-timers like myself a warm and fuzzy sense of déjà vu.

3. Dooku’s Temptation of Obi-Wan

This is a marvelous interlude whose significance I have already covered, but I want to recognize it here for the quality of its acting. The scene contains a number of exchanges that read rather flat on the printed page, but Ewan McGregor and Christopher Lee give bravura performances that infuse their dialogue with unspoken depths. Check out Lee's blustery "This is a mistake. A terrible mistake. They've gone too far. This is madness." And McGregor's cool sarcasm in "I have work to do." In the hands of lesser actors, those lines would come across either drab or overblown, but these guys get it just right. I love how Lee pauses during his reverie about Qui-Gon Jinn, choked with regret, and how he leaves us fully bamboozled as to Dooku's motives in revealing the truth about Darth Sidious. This is Star Wars acting at its finest, matching the standards set by Alec Guinness.

2. Everything About Kamino

Boba, Close the Door In all honesty, just about every major sequence of all the episodes of Star Wars has some teeny little flaws that you can complain about, if you really want to get nitpicky and anal-retentive. Some character or line of dialogue seems off, some plot development lacks complete logic, some special effect could use improvement. But in my judgment, there are two exceptions. The Empire Strikes Back, as a whole, is 99.9% perfect. And all the Kamino scenes in Attack of the Clones are just about equally flawless. Obi-Wan's encounter with the cloners and the Fetts is thoroughly satisfying in every last detail. Taun We's pleasant yet eerie greeting of the "long-awaited" Jedi visitor. The mutually befuddling exchange between Obi-Wan and Lama Su. The mystery of Sifo-Dyas. The tour of the cloning facilities. The marching battalions of clone troopers. The Death Star decor of Tipoca City. The tense conversation in Jango's apartment. The glimpse of the armored suit and helmet before Boba shuts the door. Obi-Wan sending a transmission "care of the old folks home" (now that's funny!) and using his lightsaber in the rain. The knock-down drag-out between Obi-Wan and Jango, complete with head butt and Jedi kung fu. The only nitpick I can think of regarding Kamino is the question of how Obi-Wan was supposed to haul Jango back to Coruscant in his one-man starfighter, but I think it's fair to assume the Kaminoans would have lent him a larger vessel. There's nothing else in the Kamino segments that anyone can reasonably gripe about. Nice job, George.

1. The Great Warrior

I know, this is horribly predictable and unoriginal of me, singling out the major crowd-pleasing moment of the movie that everybody in the world has already gone berserk over. But I can't help it. I'm not ashamed to say I love Yoda's fight scene as much as the average Joe Six-Pack, although maybe I can offer slightly more sophisticated reasons for my appreciation. Some critics have argued that it was wrong for Lucas to transform the Zen-like character into an action hero, but honestly, a scene of Yoda in combat was inevitable.

Yoda spent the classic trilogy sequestered on Dagobah, far removed from any scenes of direct conflict, serving as the wise and non-aggressive sage. But during the era of the prequels, we can't expect Yoda to sit around on his ass the whole time the Clone Wars and the extermination of the Jedi are going down. At some point, the greatest Jedi Master of all would have to turn from teacher to warrior. We've always wondered what would happen if Yoda were confronted with a scene of hostility and evil, and here we finally get to see it. Yoda can damn well take care of himself, thank you very much. I actually get the most satisfaction out of the opening "battle of the wizards," with Dooku ineffectively (and stupidly) hurling the power of the Force against Yoda. The shot of Yoda absorbing and dispelling the Sith lightning is perfect beyond words.

Less successful in dramatic terms is the much-ballyhooed lightsaber duel, I will freely admit, since for all Yoda's hyperkinetic leaping about, his whirling blade never seems to put Dooku in that much peril. If Yoda had slightly wounded his adversary, it would have been clearer who's getting his ass kicked when Dooku chickens out and ends the fight. It also would have been nice to see Yoda be a little more innovative in his dueling techniques, maybe using the Force to propel his lightsaber through the air like a remoted-controlled version of Xena's chakram. But shucks, even with those minor quibbles, not to mention whatever misgivings I might have about Yoda's morality in the movie, I nonetheless have to say that his fight scene is totally... well, I guess the only word is awesome.

Mine! Mine! Love it or hate it, that action sequence has forever changed our perception of the little green Jedi Master. The first time I rewatched The Empire Strikes Back after seeing Attack of the Clones, I discovered that one classic scene in particular now has a whole new meaning. It's when Yoda first meets Luke and lays claim to his flashlight, which Artoo unsuccessfully tries to take back: "Mine! Mine! Or I will help you not." Having seen what we've now seen, it's impossible to look at that comical exchange without realizing that the illuminated metal cylinder in the strange creature's grasp represents his true identity, which Luke then wanted to deny, as many among us still do today. The resolutely appropriated lamp visually echoes the weapon the little guy once wielded in a more civilized age, telling all of us from the very beginning that Yoda has always been the Master.

Epilogue: Always in Motion Is the Future
Looking ahead to Episode III.

The Shroud of the Dark Side
Cinema