Welcome to Wednesday Rewatch, a SYFY WIRE series that challenges writers to rewatch a science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise genre-adjacent movie they've already seen and reevaluate in a new context.
This week, in honor of May the 4th Be With You, we watched Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
The release of this month's Solo: A Star Wars Story is still a few weeks away, so what better way to celebrate the advent of everyone's favorite Star Wars holiday, May the 4th (be with you), than by rewatching an episode of the Star Wars saga? I chose Episode II because it's one of the ones fans are least likely to rewatch, um, ever. In fact, as a child of the 1980s, the original Star Wars trilogy was so precious to me that I couldn't even bear to see the "bad ones" when they came out. When the negative reviews came pouring in, I froze my memories of the original three films in carbonite, only venturing out to see the quite palatable (and Palpatine-able) Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in 2005.
So great was my need never to see a bad Star Wars film that I did not see Episodes I or II till early 2017, 18 years and 15 years after their respective releases. By then, the saga had been rebooted to mostly great effect, and it was no longer possible to hide in a hole with a VCR and three '80s-era VHS tapes marked "Star Wars/ Nothing But Star Wars." (Not that I did that, but you know what I mean.) I watched both much-maligned episodes for the first time a little over a year ago and, now, Episode II for the second time. Believe it or not, I really love Attack of the Clones.
THE FIRST WATCH
What I remember, more than anything, about my first impression of Attack of the Clones was just a double-layered sense of relief. I had long known that Jar Jar Binks was the real Death Star of the Star Wars prequels. And... he was. (My only real recollection of the character from the time in 1999 was hearing about him and actually seeing that awful lollipop they made of his tongue while waiting on line at a supermarket. Yikes.) So, no surprises there, I knew that character would be bad, and boy, was he. But what I was surprised by was how so much of what was not Jar Jar actually worked for me in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
And then, in the second one, he is barely there, and so large swaths of that film actually seemed pretty great to me. That was the double sense of relief I felt seeing Attack of the Clones for the first time 15 years after it came out. My expectations for it were so incredibly low that I came through saying, "Huh. Not too shabby." Also, I remember thinking that Naboo looked like Space Italy. (Still does, by the way.)
THE OFFICIAL REWATCH
Let's do the bad news first. I have a lot of great news for you, so let's get the Bantha in the room out of the way in the beginning.
The bad news is this: The entire love story between Anakin and Padmé is a problem. It's a major part of the film and obviously, knowing what we know about Anakin's future, you wouldn't expect his younger years to be all Jawa juice and playing cheerful games of dejarik with friends. But still, the problems in their courtship go somewhat deeper than just the character flaws of this one young padawan. His methods of trying to obtain her love, the pressure he exerts on her, his constant dismissal of her obvious discomfort, and plowing forward regardless are all things commonly depicted in popular culture as A-OK ways to win a lady... whereas they most definitely are not.
When, after numerous red flags were raised in the form of creepy statements like "I've thought about her every day for 10 years," and "She blacked out the cameras. I don't think she liked me watching her," Padmé suddenly kisses Anakin after he uses her mention of sand (sand!) to say, basically, "I don't like sand. But you're not sand." (??)
I literally stopped the movie to see if any women had worked on the writing or production team of this film at all. As to be expected, not even a Kathleen Kennedy was to be found, kids. (One of my other least favorite moments was when Padmé asks Anakin to "stop looking at me like that," and Anakin actually smiles in obvious pleasure at having made her uncomfortable. Nope. Not a good look. Seeing him be ultimately rewarded for this kind of behavior is... yikes.) I understand the need to telegraph that young Anakin has problems in this film, of course, but it's incredibly hard to believe that Amidala is actually falling for this guy who starts shouting "Obi-Wan is jealous of me!" for no reason while she's packing.
Some fans will make the case that the story of Anakin is a tragedy, so tragic things happen to him and those around him, and therefore Padmé must do XYZ. Except... this Beauty and the Beast trope is such a tired (and damaging) script device that gets foisted onto female characters again and again and again. Another world/another storyline is possible (and long overdue).
Oh, and PS: Let's not forget their lunch in the meadow on Naboo, where he tells her, "Haha, dictators are cool!"
Run, don't walk, Senator Amidala. RUN!
Okay, so, what's the good news? Well, aside from Anakin's toxic behavior and the four-ish minutes of Jar Jar Binks screen time, pretty much everything else.
First off, the look of the film is beautiful. From the speeder chase in a bright yellow sports-speeder on Coruscant to the asteroid belt fight scene against the glowing backdrop of the red planet Geonosis to the "machines making machines" C-3PO factory nightmare sequence, any number of frames of this film could be wall art. Any number of stills look like one-pagers in a comic book. Take, for instance, just a random shot of Amidala surrounded by her captors in the droid factory. It's like a painting.
Having not seen the early-aughts Star Wars films as many times as the '70s/'80s films, I forgot (or never realized) how great they look. Even something like Yoda's fight scene with Count Dooku, which seemed out of place in some way the first time I saw it, didn't bother me the second time around. The look of this film, from Naboo's Space Italy to Coruscant's PG-rated Blade Runner City, was a real treat. (Side note: I also really dug all the panoramic views and wall-to-wall carpeting inside the buildings in Coruscant. Coruscant-chic could totally be a thing.)
Secondly, the humor was just right. This film was written by George Lucas and directed by George Lucas, and so it has that very, very exact brand of George Lucas humor one expects in a Star Wars film. My main criticism of the recent Rian Johnson outing, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as an old-school Star Wars kid, had nothing to do with the storyline he retconned onto Luke Skywalker.
What was off for me was the tone of the humor. At times it felt so heavy-handed and self-referential that instead of watching a Star Wars movie, I felt like I was watching a Star Wars spoof video on YouTube. That's not a feeling I like to have as a Star Wars fan. Also, the slapstick humor of Finn falling off a table (or walking around with tubes spouting water) felt more Family Guy than Skywalker Family. But this earlier film, being Lucas through and through, had that exact old Star Wars humor in buckets.
For instance, in the following frame, a beheaded C3PO is saying, "I'm beside myself right now."
That, my friends, is some good old-fashioned cornball Star Wars humor.
Third (but maybe first): The plot of this one is great. It's creative, it's complex, it unfolds organically from a very small story (preventing the assassination of Senator Amidala) into a larger one, and never lags. Every scene feels important, every scene is of interest. Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu really shine. I'd watch a whole film just of Obi-Wan as a space P.I. trying to crack tough space cases. The scene on Kamino in which Obi-Wan bluffs his way through to his inspection of the clones is among the best and most surprising in all the films. The plot of this film turns and twists but never breaks, and rarely shows its hand. It undeniably works as a whole.
Which brings me to a two-minute sequence in the film that I'm sure must be divisive but that I absolutely loved: Dex's Diner.
I love the Space Diner. I love Dex, I love Dex's mustache, I love the droid waitress, I love the chrome stools, I love the Jawa juice — I love Dex's Diner.
I want to listen to a podcast that is just Obi-Wan and Dex chatting on the topics of the week live from Dex's Diner. (Someone in real life made a lollipop out of Jar Jar Binks' tongue, so I don't think wanting this podcast is asking too much.) Oh, you may say, what is an actual 1950s diner doing in space? And to that I say: Multiverse, chaos theory, why should a cantina be a more basic form of human organization, or a senate, or a nightclub, or a farm, than a 1950s diner? And yes, you might say the chrome stools would truly be a random thing to be replicated on another planet, and to that I'd say, "Look, your worshipfulness, I take orders from just one person: me!"
But, seriously, there is something so bold and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-ish about choosing to have a 1950s-style diner in space. After this rewatch, it's one of my new favorite two minutes of Star Wars.
Lastly, the origin stories we see in this film are phenomenal. Boba Fett's childhood (Boba Fett picking up his father's helmet/head is one of the most affecting shots of the entire film), the origins of the stormtroopers (in my first viewing it was truly outrageous to see stormtroopers defending Jedis), and our very first sighting of a rendering of the Death Star are all in this film. There's certainly a lot to like in Attack of the Clones, especially where the character of Obi-Wan is concerned.
Watch it again I might.