As the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker nears, so does the end of the third trilogy in the Star Wars series. Thus, it is an ideal time to look back at each film that came before it, in chronological order, starting with the prequels. This is Attack of the Clones, though the title is misleading.
[This post openly discusses the plot of Attack of the Clones.]
The film starts with a bang, literally, as we witness a failed assassination attempt at Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). On the advice of the Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), she accepts two Jedi as her personal bodyguards. Ten years passed since the first film, and although Amidala barely aged a day, Anakin (Hayden Christensen) is now a fully grown man and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) let his hair grow out enough to win a Jesus look-alike contest. The master and his padawan split up, as Anakin goes with Padmé to Naboo, where they let their forbidden romance grow. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan travels across the galaxy to track down Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), the bounty hunter behind the failed assassination. What Obi-Wan discovers is an enormous army of clones, being made in secret for the past 10 years as a weapon for the Republic.
Attack of the Clones keeps its characters separated for most of the first half, which is why it feels so dry and dragging. Chemistry between Padmé and Anakin is non-existent, partly thanks to the performances of both leads. While Portman tries do invoke an emotional response and occasionally makes the poorly-written dialogue feel effective, Hayden Christensen’s acting became sort of legendary for how bad it is. He alternates between dull deliveries and angsty, anger-filled screaming in no time, never fully committing to either.
We meet Anakin as a fully formed man and a completely different character to the one introduced in The Phantom Menace. It makes the viewer wonder why that part of the story was even told, as it renders any character development in the first one (although there wasn’t much) completely irrelevant. They’ll get their answer in the first four films, chronologically, as they slowly come to the realisation that what we’re watching isn’t Anakin’s story. The main character, and the only one with some understandable growth, is actually Obi-Wan.
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ewan McGregor delivers the standout performance of the film and has some of the most entertaining sequences. His screen presence makes the 140 minutes go by somewhat more pleasantly. Attack of the Clones also hugely improved on the action, especially in the latter half when the Jedi order fight off a Separatist droid army, led by ex-Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), in a giant gladiator pit. Despite heavily relying on CGI and eliminating almost all practicals, it holds up surprisingly well, especially during the battles.
Eventually, the clones come for help in a deus ex machina moment to get their 15 minutes of fame. And even then, they don’t become the focus of the story, which the film’s title would lead you to believe. The battle culminates on multiple places at once, as the clones defeat the droid army while Count Dooku battles the Jedi. He takes on Anakin and Obi-Wan in a battle that proves as the best lightsaber clash of the film. Dooku manages to defeat them, at which point the old Master Yoda comes to fight him. I won’t spend much time recounting this scene, but it’s one of the worst moments to come out of the film, as it betrays the character of Yoda by making him jump around the scene in a nonsensical, and frankly unnecessary, battle.
Attack of the Clones is an improvement upon its predecessor, in almost every way. It still spends way too much time on space politics and the Anakin-Padmé subplot should have been reduced. Luckily, the film more than makes up for it with its multiple engaging action-filled performances and a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor.