I always feel the need to offer full disclosure when it comes to talking about the Star Wars prequels, but child me absolutely loved these films. And credit where it is due, if it hadn’t of been for these films, I probably wouldn’t have developed the love for the franchise that I have now.
With The Phantom Menace, I can look back on it with wistful nostalgia and despite its many, many flaws, it is still a film I can enjoy for the most part. Sure, it’s silly and Jar Jar Binks is an abomination, but it also has Darth Maul and one of the best lightsaber battles in the entire saga. Attack of the Clones however is a film I really struggle to rewatch however, because it is not only terrible in its plotting, and execution, but it is also incredibly boring; something a Star Wars film should never be.
It is perhaps most egregious for the fact that it had the opportunity to right the wrongs of The Phantom Menace, and yet it completely wasted this opportunity. On paper, this should be the most interesting film of the three, the chance to see the progression of Anakin as a character, with the dichotomy of the Master and Padawan relationship between him and Obi-Wan. Add in the backdrop of the Clone wars providing an infinitely interesting storyline to frame that against, and this should’ve been a recipe for success.
Instead, the film spends a frustrating amount of time with the blossoming love story between Anakin and Padme, something which is far creepier than it is romantic. It is in this in particular that the film really stumbles, and whether the fault of Hayden Christensen or the script, the scenes feel stilted and forced. It is perhaps unfair to put so much of the films failings on one person, but his acting is atrocious and when he is the focus of this trilogy, it puts the flaws front and centre so they become even more noticeable.
This is probably another article for another time, but my feeling has always been that the prequels focused in on the wrong character, and missed the golden opportunity to explore more about an altogether more interesting character, Obi-Wan. With Anakin, we know where he ends up, and whilst the journey there is interesting somewhat, it is an altogether straightforward story of the good kid who turns into the greatest villain in the galaxy. Had the story instead focused on Obi-Wan, you have the narrative of a young Jedi thrown into the deep end with a padawan of his own when his own master meets an untimely end. Him dealing with seeing Anakin change before his eyes and the effect this would have on him later in life is so much more compelling. In the original trilogy we only have one film with Obi-Wan, yet he is one of the most iconic and beloved of the whole series. His arc is consistently the most interesting thing of the prequels, and had it been given more focus, particularly in Attack of the Clones, then the films could’ve looked very different indeed.
As it stands, we have the film that we have, and it is always the one I struggle with the most when it comes to finding redeemable points. Much of the character and production design makes the film look like a sub par Men in Black film; the “diner” scene with Obi-Wan and Dexter Jettster being a particular example. An over reliance on digital characters is something which hasn’t aged the film particularly well, whereas the practical effects of the original trilogy still hold up for the most part, and it brings up that old debate of just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should necessarily. The technology was undoubtedly very advanced at the time, but the more of it you have, the easier it becomes to scrutinise.
Of course, as is the case with any Star Wars film, the redeemable qualities can always be found in the score by the incomparable John Williams. The Across the Stars track which accompanies the love story of Anakin and Padme remains one of my favourite individual pieces from any of the films.
Attack of the Clones is very much a film which adopts the “more is more” approach, and the Battle of Geonosis is the classic example. It throws every possible creature it can until the CGI bloodbath becomes entirely meaningless spectacle over substance.
I think the most damning thing that could be said about this film is that it adds almost nothing to the series as a whole. If you’re doing a rewatch, you could skip it and pick things up pretty quickly with Revenge of the Sith. For me, this was truly the point where the prequels lost their way, and it remains the weakest point of the Star Wars saga…despite some stiff competition for that lowly position!