Yeah, yeah, I know that criticizing the prequels is just beating a dead horse at this point. Here’s the thing: with The Force Awakens coming next week, I am losing my mind. I tried not to get excited about it because I had been burned before…exactly three times, actually. But that trailer looked so. Damn. Good. After watching it on loop 17 times, my hype was practically oozing onto my couch.
That was before I was flipping channels the other day and caught a showing of Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I turned it on as Padme was confessing her love to Anakin, and proceeded to watch the entirety of the arena scene, until Yoda swooped in with his cringe-worthy, “around the survivors, a perimeter create.” And just like that, my hype turned to ashes in my mouth. Because with that one scene from the second prequel, I was reminded of just how horrible a movie in this awesome universe can be.
And now I’m here to share that pain.
It begins with Padme the Personalityless stating that she’s so in love with Anakin the genocidal maniac. Apparently she’s “not afraid to die” because being around him again has been so gosh-darn painful. For me too, sweetheart. Actually, this movie makes me drown in secondhand embarrassment for Natalie Portman, because she really was pouring her soul into lines that made no sense, all whilst acting against a performance so wooden it would make middle school drama clubs shudder.
I mean…the lines “make sense” because like, we all understand the vague concept of love and professing that to someone. But at what point were we supposed to have seen this loving dynamic develop between Padme and Anakin? From what I remember, every scene together was him creeping on her, while she like, reminisced about her school trips or something. Then he’d say pretty manipulative stuff, such as the fact that she was “torturing his soul” for simply existing. But I guess shoving two pretty people together and having them talk about how much they like each other is a good substitute for actually bothering to develop their relationship to give us that impression ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Sorry, back to the arena. Padme decides to make out with Anakin. (Like honestly, she thinks they’re about to die, so fuck it. She’d probably have made out with Dooku if he’d been in that weird sled thing. I don’t judge.) And then they’re led out on into the arena where Obi-Wan is already tied to one of the pillars. We didn’t hear the crowd cheering during the love confession, so I guess he’s been there a while?
John Williams’s music swells to remind everyone of what could have been.
There’s light banter between Obi-Wan and Anakin, who seems to be as annoyed about the plot convenience of their arrests as I am. Then the execution-by-big-animals begins. Obi gets a praying mantis of doom, Anakin gets a giant bull with lizard skin, and the lil’ lady gets an R.O.U.S. But it killed the tamer on its way over, so there’s no sexism here.
Sidenote: did CGI always look this bad in 2002? Is this really where their resources should have been allocated?
As the animals wander over, Padme is CLEARLY picking her lock, and the Geonosians give none of the shits. Nor do the Trade Federation peeps looking on. Well, at one point Viceroy Gunray asks Jango Fett to shoot her, “or something,” and like…yeah buddy. That probably would have been a way more logical way to carry out this execution. Where were you an hour ago?
But whatever, Padme climbs up to the top of the pillar and kicks the R.O.U.S. a few times, while the other two animals conveniently break Obi-Wan and Anakin’s chains. And I think Anakin used the folksy stuff he learned back on Naboo to “tame” the bull. #CharacterArc.
Padme gets saved by her man, and if I wasn’t so apathetic about what was happening, the feminist in me would be a lot more irritated. Then Obi-Wan hops on the bull’s back too so we know that fight segment is over. This staging is brilliant.
Next segment: the droids arrive! It’s like, a shitton of battle droids, plus a fair amount of droidukas. And what do they do? They just SIT there and do nothing. It’s not like they could have known that Windu just held a lightsaber to Dooku’s throat (oh yeah, that happened). And seriously, the droids could have totally shot Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Padme like 50 times during the jedi dramatic poses:
Christopher Lee says some quasi intimidating-sounding stuff that makes me wish I was watching a different trilogy from the early 00’s. Then the jedi and droids run at each other, while some red-shirted jedi toss lightsabers to Anakin and Obi-Wan. Oh yeah, and Mace jumps off 4 stories and is fine.
At this point, I realize just how much effort this was to kill off one senator with one vote. Viceroy’s still miffed about the events of Phantom? Palpatine thinks she needs to die to turn Anakin to the dark side? Padme was chairing a crucial Senate committee? Pick your honeypot; I want none of it.
However, I do want someone to actually explain to me what Jango’s contractual obligations are. Because he just flies off to go engage in this giant battle, and that really seems to me like it should cost extra. Especially given the result:
It’s like a proto-Man of Steel!
Also, why did Windu do a double take after killing Jango? Has he never killed before? Was he a fan of the original trilogy and realized that this was the terrible retcon for Boba’s backstory?
While we’re talking about jedi randomly wasting time and reacting oddly, what is with the jedi who took all that time force-pushing the droid with Threepio’s head on it? He was that moved by Threepio shouting “oh no, I’m sorry.” And how do droids even work? Threepio’s identity is fully in his head, but not his torso? The droid who got his body thought he needed maintenance and didn’t realize he was walking, yet Threepio was well aware of every time he shot at a jedi? How were Threepio’s legs even moving?
Can I watch these events without speaking in rhetorical questions that highlight the ridiculousness of what is occurring?
For some reason, no one else was disturbed by the giant praying mantis thing for the past 10 minutes, but now its back and wants revenge specifically against Obi-Wan. And I think it was supposed to be a cheer worthy moment when he took it down, but really it almost seemed a little cruel to me.
And then, finally, (mercifully), Yoda swoops in on a ship with clone troopers. Because if there’s one guy I want as a battle commander, it’s the dude who cannot construct sentences properly.
That was when I turned off the TV. I could definitely go on about how any of this happening made absolutely no sense for anyone, unless we project a Batman’s Gambit onto Palpatine, which seems to be how a large amount of Star Wars fans rationalize away the prequels illogic anyway. But it’s an exercise in futility at this point.
One random scene, and I was suddenly transported back into my parent’s car in 1999, sitting in stunned silence, wondering what the hell I just spent two hours watching, and where was the franchise that I loved? Though to be fair, I suppose that this arena scene from Attack of the Clones is the perfect microcosm for the prequels: lots of fanservice, unconvincing character exchanges, wasted acting talent, and ultimately cool-looking shiny prioritized over an actual plot.
I really do believe that The Force Awakens is going to be great. But for me, this experience was a worthwhile trip down memory lane. Because if nothing else, I’m reminded of how low of a bar Episode VII has to clear to be considered the fourth best Star Wars film. I can live with it; there’s far worse things than the pewter metal, and if I’m pleasantly surprised…all the better.