The phrase “You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground” was coined in the early ’00s by an anonymous Star Wars fan when discussing the prevalence of Jedi to be a bit thick in times of danger. Since then, it’s become a favorite of mine when something a little more interesting than “You’re an idiot” is needed to really lay down some criticism.
Okay, so that phrase is actually from the late ’70s and is about knowing the difference between a burro (ass) and a burrow (hole in the ground). It’s a pretty cool origin, but I think I prefer my Jedi explanation, as it fits like nothing else could.
Think about it—throughout everything that takes place in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, what predictive power do the Jedi ever exhibit? What explanations do they offer that are of any help before bad things happen? The answers are, in order, “none” and “just about none.” In my review of The Phantom Menace, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the motivations of Palpatine. Yes, he’s evil and wants power, but the theatricality and complicated nature of his plan seemed pointless when he could have just been gathering dark forces in complete secrecy.
That all changed after watching Attack of the Clones. I no longer want to focus on what it gets wrong, which is a lot, but rather on the overall picture it paints of the Jedi landscape. In short, it’s not pretty.
Before I get to that, however, I still feel obliged to go over the most glaring flaws in the movie. They’re too great to ignore or gloss over, and they end up ruining what could have been a tale worth revisiting. As it stands, the first two-thirds of Attack of the Clones are filled with some of the most nonsensical situations and character actions I’ve ever seen.
For someone who has no qualms chastising Anakin about being more mindful and not taking unnecessary risks, it’s hilarious seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) blatantly ignore his own advice. During their mission to protect Padmé (Natalie Portman) from an assassination attempt, Obi-Wan and Anakin (her only guards) set her up in a room that consists of mostly windows, while they sit around in a totally different room and just “feel” what’s going on where she is. Of course, there’s an attempt on Padmé’s life, and it’s done just as you would think—by using one of the windows that looks directly in on her. Sure, the Jedi instantly thwart the immediate threat inside the room, but Obi-Wan hilariously jumps through plate glass to clumsily hang onto a flying droid for dear life without even taking two seconds to think. What he planned to do after that leap of faith, I have no idea. What if the droid’s owner was watching and deactivated it as soon as Obi-Wan jumped on it? How much of an unnecessary risk is leaping out of a thousand-floor building on the off-chance you can defy gravity and common sense?
Immediately after Obi-Wan goes flying off to God-knows-where, Anakin decides to leave Padmé and help his master get out of the idiocy he literally jumped into, face-first. Remember, the Jedi are her only bodyguards save R2-D2, and they both just left the building. Does that sound like a Jedi protection program you’d ever want to be a part of? What if the initial murder attempt was a decoy? As it turns out, the assassin was watching the entire event unfold, but in her infinite wisdom never capitalizes on the fact Padmé is alone and defenseless. Instead, the assassin takes a pot-shot at Obi-Wan with a sniper rifle, proceeding to get herself caught up in a high-speed chase with two Jedi hot on her tail. Why? Why didn’t she let the Jedi fly off and then kill Padmé at her leisure? How much does this assassin charge for a job? If her actions are indicative of how she generally handles them, I could probably afford to hire two or three of her and have change enough for pizza.
On top of that, the bounty hunter who hired the assassin also sees everything that’s going on and even he refuses to just go kill Padmé himself. Why do that when he could expose himself to the Jedi in the dumbest way possible—waiting until the assassin is in Jedi custody to shoot her with an easily-traceable poison dart for no reason whatsoever. With only one place that dart can come from, it defies logic for the bounty hunter to use it, even if he thought it was the best chance of killing the assassin before she spilled any information. What’s wrong with just shooting her in the head with a normal bullet or blaster? Oh, sorry, I forgot that Obi-Wan had to get to the super-secret cloning facility to advance the plot, so I guess the ends justify the means to George Lucas.
My second major complaint has to do with Anakin’s character and how he interacts with just about everyone. The movie tries to make you feel closer to Anakin and Obi-Wan by alluding to past heroics, but just like the majority of the acting and dialogue, it doesn’t work. At least some of that bonding process needs to be shown in order for their relationship to be believable. At the end of The Phantom Menace, Anakin is a little kid; he’s basically a blank slate. When Attack of the Clones opens, it’s ten years later, and Anakin has had the entire decade to grow under the tutelage of Obi-Wan and the Jedi council. But the only character trait of Anakin’s worth mentioning is how he comes off as someone who’s about to shoot up a school. How are Padmé and I the only ones who see it?
On a side note, I don’t buy their love story at all. Their only conversations consist of Anakin yelling and complaining in a very emo way about not being respected by Obi-Wan or any of the Jedi, and him creepily telling her how soft and smooth she is while staring at her awkwardly for what seems like forever. Then, all of a sudden, she confesses her undying love for him after very clearly rejecting his advances with retorts like “Don’t look at me like that . . . It makes me feel uncomfortable” as she gives him a stink eye and walks away. Let’s also not forget her telling him that “To be angry is to be human” upon hearing him confess to murdering women and children who had nothing to do with his mother’s kidnapping. By the way, that whole situation could have been avoided if, oh, anyone would have gone and bought Anakin’s mother out of slavery. How hard could that possibly be in a ten-year period? Anakin is upset that he couldn’t save her? Why? What the hell was he and Obi-Wan doing this whole time?
All this is to say that Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is a shell of a character. His transition to the dark side feels more like a contrivance than a genuine journey, which makes for a terrible person to have on-screen for the majority of the movie.
There are other issues, to be sure, but the more interesting impression Attack of the Clones has given me is that of a respectful one toward Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The man is basically evil incarnate with the audacity to stand nose-to-nose with a room-full of Jedi, all the while acting like a hum-drum bureaucrat who’s up to nothing more than ratifying treaties and solemnly accepting responsibility in the name of the Republic. When I realized the full scope of his ability to manipulate other people, I couldn’t help but laugh maniacally. I complained a lot in my last review about his soap-opera-esque, mustache-twirling plans for galactic domination, but now I look at it in a different light. If I was able to control the thoughts and actions of hundreds of people around me by sheer force of will, I would forgive myself for upping the ante a bit and going for the evil gold medal. Why not make an overly-elaborate scheme even though something simpler would suffice? I’d have some fun with it, just like Palpatine seems to be doing. After all, he’s not your typical movie bad guy. He doesn’t telegraph anything; he doesn’t give the heroes any breathing room; he knows how insidious true evil can be, and he takes full advantage of it. The Jedi being utterly clueless and useless to anyone not holding up a “SITH LORD IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU” sign doesn’t much help matters, either. But that’s what you get when the supposed masters of the Force sit around doing nothing besides pondering their navels and complaining that it’s hard to see the future. That’s fine, but it doesn’t take omniscience to sniff out what Palpatine is up to. When it comes down to it, the double whammy of Jedi incompetence and Sith wisdom equals one giant victory for hate.
I don’t look at that as a negative, mind you. I’m in awe of the scope and ridiculousness of Palpatine’s plan, but I’m more so amazed at the fact he pulls it off. Not to get too far ahead, but let’s not kid ourselves—he ends up reigning as the Supreme Chancellor of Evil for, like, thirty years. Not a bad run. It can’t last in these kinds of stories, but the ol’ college try has nothing on Palpatine’s efforts.
When it’s all said and done, I’m actually looking forward to Revenge of the Sith a lot more than I expected to. I appreciate evil not being completely transparent and moronic and welcome that shoe being on the other foot. That’s not to say I forgive any of the flaws of Attack of the Clones, but once the Senate signs that order to accept the clone army, it’s actually kind of enjoyable to see idiocy rewarded with failure. With this trilogy, I’ll count that as a blessing.
Read more from George Bell at Knights of Mars Roundtable