CONTROVERSY!! Attack of the Clones is the Best Star Wars Movie (We Will Not be Discussing The Last Jedi Today)
By John Corry
Photo from It's a Trap! Podcast
December 19th, 2017, 04:02 pm, ET.
It’s just too soon for me…
Full Disclosure (Warning): This article might be a bit of a stretch. It’s long, it’s pretentious, and it gets a little philimosophical near the end. If that doesn’t sound like what you’re into, feel free to turn around now. Note that I am NOT trying to say that, as an absolute, Attack of the Clones is the best film in the Star Wars franchise (…overall). That’s up to everyone and their own opinions. This is just for fun.
Bare with me…
I’m sorry if I offended you with the title, but not really. This is an extremely important subject–like, the most important–and I want as many people to read it as possible–the most. Too many people have gone off on how HORRIBLE the Star Wars prequel trilogy was without taking a look at what it was supposed to be (even totally separate from the Star Wars universe) (and by ‘supposed to be’ I mean story-wise), or what it was really trying to say. My opinion here is imperative, it’s imperative! It must be heard!!
To clarify: I do NOT mean to say that Episode II is actually the best film in the Star Wars franchise; if you’re looking at it from pretty much any angle, that title likely goes to one of the original three (Empire, in my opinion). I’m just saying that as far as getting people to think is concerned, if they’re willing to (also meaning: if they’re not too offended, first), and after getting over the fact that it might have been a little confused or under-thought (ok, maybe a little more than a little…), Attack of the Clones is, indeed, the best (the very best) Star Wars movie. For sure.
Hear me out here.
Let’s first quickly recap the themes of the two main story arcs (those being that of the prequel trilogy and that of the original). The original trilogy was fairly obvious in what it was trying to say, and it wasn’t all that original in that respect either, until you start go deep into it. You had the morally good underdogs fighting for freedom and the villainous tyrants fighting for totalitarianism. That kind of story is all over storytelling since the days of the ancient Greeks (some examples: Lawrence of Arabia, the Iliad, practically every sports movie ever made, WWII (although I guess that’s just history)), but nobody did it like Star Wars did. Some reasons for that may be Star Wars’ cultural relevance at that point in time and movie-making history, its relatively fast pace without ever feeling rushed or impatient, its subconsciously mythological atmosphere, among others.
Another reason is its characters.
Like in Homer’s Iliad, the ‘good’ side in Star Wars had some awesome characters, and everybody could identify or be entertained by at least one of them: Luke, Han, Obi-Wan, and Leia are all easily relatable (both objectively and subjectively), as are Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus from the Iliad. Because of this, mixed with the aforementioned fact that the basic theme behind these stories is the simple good v. bad routine, the themes of these stories are relatively easy to grasp: stories have always been best told through its characters; the reason for this is because it is through characters that the audience can most easily subjectively understand the story’s themes, and it is subjectively that most audience members are watching (or reading) (at least at first).
This then begs the question, however: what happens when all the characters cannot be fundamentally fully subjectively understood, either because that point of relation (from character to audience member) must be purposely skewed or else fall victim to misrepresenting the story’s main themes, or because the story itself is not fundamentally subjectively relatable?
In other words, what happens when that story is added another layer in which that internal conflict (so brilliantly alluded to (as juxtaposed against the external) in the original Star Wars trilogy, by the way) is brought to the forefront, or even worse, is meant to say something complicated, deep, or, dare I say it–
And that’s where the prequels come in. I’ve heard lots of arguments over what the prequels were actually supposed to be about (intergalactic trade relations, how democracy leads to tyranny, race relations on Naboo; a point against the prequels is that this list could probably go on without too much thought)–and I wouldn’t say that they’re all wrong–but there is one basic consensus: if they’re about any one thing, it’s the growth of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader.
That means that the protagonist of the story is, to a certain extent, also the antagonist, not only given that the prequels came out after the original trilogy in which Anakin Skywalker is the blatant bad guy, but also, and far more importantly, this is clearly what the storyteller (George Lucas) has in mind in the prequel movies themselves (otherwise Anakin wouldn’t be so obviously unlikable, nor the atmosphere so foreboding). This kind of story is far less common than the aforementioned ‘moral underdogs v. tyrants’, and it’s even less common once you realize that the audience is arguably not supposed to have any question as to whether or not it ‘likes’ or can ‘relate to’ Anakin Skywalker–it’s not. He turns into the most evil person in the galaxy–we know this–and there’s not supposed to be any question as to whether or not that’s a bad thing, or that Darth Vader was an Absolutely Evil guy (until the internal conflict comes back through external means at the very end). How he became who he became, maybe, but not what he did, in total, by the time of the end.
Darth Vader (i.e. Anakin Skywalker) is a mass murderer. He is a totalitarian. He arguably knows that what he’s doing is bad, but he doesn’t care, and he does it anyway. The Darth Vader of the original trilogy was about as Absolutely Evil as you can get (at least in how he was directly represented in those movies) and it’s clear that by the end of the prequels, this ‘Absolute Evil’ is exactly who he’s supposed to be (he only doesn’t kill his wife and unborn kids because he’d rather get revenge on Obi-Wan, he holds true to angsty resentment against Obi-Wan for no reason until the very end, he refuses to question what’s not directly in front of him (as in the case of his relationship with Palpatine, as well as with the Jedi), and this is what the prequels were about: how a perfectly innocent kid with every potential and indication for moral goodness turns into the spawn of Satan.
Which makes Anakin Skywalker (as opposed to Darth Vader?) the embodiment of subjective absolute evil. It’s no coincidence that both stories (OG and the prequels) were written in the era following the first in which humanity really started to see and understand–on a personal, yet simultaneously objective, level–what evil is (with WWII, soviet Russia, Vietnam, etc., and through globalization and the onset of mass media (industrialization, the Internet, etc.)). Evil began to be understood as something no longer simply inherently either-or, but at least something we could all be subject to, given certain circumstances–
And Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is that idea in character form, muddying the audience’s willingness (and/or capability) to understand him subjectively. Nobody wants to watch a subjective movie about a cute, innocent, little kid in Germany who grows up to be Hitler. Maybe this is bad (though also why I said earlier that ‘this is the most important subject’), or maybe that’s why the Star Wars prequels were just a little bit better than they at-first seemed (because a universe and atmosphere like Star Wars can make that same story appear objective in a way any movie regarding real history couldn’t)).
Either way, it’s a tough story to handle, and I don’t blame people (fully) for being offended but it.
But it’s also a story that needs to be told and understood by the majority of humans, otherwise the atrocities begot by that ignorance of (every) man’s inherent capacity for evil may very well come right back to bite us in the ass–again–and this time we won’t have Jar-Jar there to save us (it’s a joke, calm down).
And that’s why Attack of the Clones is the best in the franchise when it comes to this line of ‘thinking’: it presents and attacks this narrative–as well as the underlying theme of the entire franchise as a whole (see: end of this paragraph)–and boils them both down to their most objectively complicated, yet subjectively simple, paradox: love.
I’ll go on–
The original trilogy dealt with ‘familial’ love, although it certainly had its romantic elements (see: C-3PO and R2-D2?), The Force Awakens as well, and Rogue One probably more with the camaraderie/friendship type (actually, The Force Awakens does too (but certainly not because it has to)). Every Star Wars film in the canon (well, maybe not Clone Wars) has some sort of ‘loooove’ permeating its background themes and side-messages, but Episode II is the only one where romantic love is its focus in that area, and, more importantly, where love in general is the central theme of the movie (which is also telling, given that it is the one where the internal conflict of Anakin progresses the most, and then given the impact of that internal/external question permeating the series as a whole).
The point, as I took it, is that–like living beings, people, and the galaxy–love is complicated, and although that can be a bad thing, that’s not an absolute, far from it.
Attack of the Clones attacks that idea more fervently than any other Star Wars movie. Say it’s because it’s the one where the internal conflict of Anakin is the most prevalent, say it’s because it’s the one where the Jedi order and the Republic develop their most troubling attributes and prove themselves to be not as much ‘miracles’ as they claimed to be originally, but that’s what Star Wars is about: that relation of internal conflict and external conflict, the growth of the idea of Absolute Relativity (and, therefore, Relative Absolutism ;D), and that nothing is ever exactly how it seems.
That and of course it’s characters.
And this internal/external love (and, therefore, potentially, everything else just mentioned (‘love is complicated, man’)) is once again where the prequels are at least not ‘crap’ movies, story-wise (and, therefore, their ability to clearly present a theme). To look at love (or to try to understand it) through power the way in which Anakin does by the end of the prequels is quite possibly the most evil thing a person can do, or at least the most tranquil in its path towards Absolute Evil, as far as Star Wars is concerned (it seems to me right now). Love is open-ended, faith, the Force, relative and absolute. Power is the most focused Form of anything conscious that you can get–the empire, Palpatine, the absolutism of the Sith ideology.
Love is corrupted is by power (corrupted, not destroyed), and this is shown in Star Wars over and over: Anakin’s obsession with power nearing the end of Revenge of the Sith, and everything there is there (like him cheating death, killing the sand-people responsible for his mom’s death in Attack of the Clones, his adolescent outbursts against Obi-Wan in both, etc.), the Emperor’s constant address to potential apprentices to ‘think about the power’ (paraphrased), the trade federation caring more about money than lives, everything Yoda ever has to say, the Vader/Luke/Emperor scene in Return of the Jedi, even the relationship between Leia and Han Solo only worked out because both parties were willing to give up some degree of power either to the other outright, or for the sake of the other.
The love story in Attack of the Clones is representative of that, but questions it, specifically attempting to produce an understanding that an ignorance to that fact (that love is corrupted by power), and, worse, the need to pursue that ignorance for whatever sake (or the choice not to care), and keep it in place (for whatever reason, which is another big sub-theme of Attack of the Clones) is a big part of what produces the growth of Subconscious Evil–and therefore the potential for Absolute Evil–on both Individual and Societal scales–‘the potential growth of Subconscious Evil on both Individual and Societal scales’ being another primary theme of the entire Star Wars saga.
Attack of the Clones ends with the secret wedding of Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker (yes, I know, no matter how many times you say that, it still sounds creepy). It happens after Padme has told Anakin that she loves him just before they’re about to die, and after the Republic has taken a big hit as far as their military operations were concerned. It’s dark and foreboding, but it’s also happy, somehow, and comes off as light-hearted. Maybe this was done on purpose on George Lucas’s part–that dark of a story could certainly, at least in theory, benefit a bit from a ‘lightening up’–or maybe it was a cash-grab. We all know how much cash-grabs can ruin good art for those lucky enough to understand it through the creator’s eyes (…), but, then again, maybe there aren’t too many of us out there anymore. It’s much easier to recognize the faults of ANYTHING, unless it’s very obviously really good, than to actually look for the potential positives from it, even from it in and of itself. Maybe George Lucas was totally off his rocker, and I only like Attack of the Clones so much because I’ve have a crush on Natalie Portman since I was twelve years old. It’s certainly plausible… But there isn’t much point in talking crap on something just after you’ve seen it unless you’re subconsciously trying to smear (and by ‘talking crap’, I mean like really passionately).
God (Yoda) only knows how hard that can be.
SPOILER WARNING FOR LAST JEDI: This could also all be taken a point against The Last Jedi (it did nothing).
It’s fucking RUINED EVERYTHING!!!!