I've been a fan of Star Wars since the opening fanfare hit my eardrums in 1977. 1980 was an even better year. 1983... not so much, but for a 10 year old it was everything I dreamt it could be. And a little more besides. The experiences of watching those movies would and still does have a huge impact on who I am today.
Fast forward to May 1999...after a 16 year Star Wars movie hiatus, the fans are in uproar. The most eagarly awaited movie spectacle of all time hits the silver screen... `The Phantom Menace'... is apparently a blot on George Lucas's CV. Expectations in 2002 for `Attack of the Clones' is high but there is an air of caution amongst the fan base and general moviegoers alike. Would it be a stinker, would George Lucas redeem himself, like a certain heavy breathing character dressed in black?
Initial impressions and feedback were on the whole positive, but then the fans and media started to second guess themselves, and now, `Attack of the Clones' holds the distinction of being possibly the least popular movie in the Star Wars Saga.
So...is this a fair assessment 10 years after its cinematic release? Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, viewing anything is wholly subjective, but I wholeheartedly say, `No, it isn't.'
I'll admit, I had my problems with `Clones' on the first few viewings, I found it to be a jumbled mess, with an over reliance on CGI, it was clinical, was suffused with stilted dialogue etc.. but then something happened on subsequent viewings... the pieces, 1 by 1 just started to fall into place, and now I proudly lay claim to it being my favourite Star Wars movie and the first one I go to whenever I fancy some fantasy escapism.
This movie is dense and claustrophic, yet spacious. The political machinations, the behind the scenes manipulation of the Republic , for which the initial seeds were sown in 'The Phantom Menace' (yep, it's there in the title folks) all start to bear fruit. If you turn the movie's premise inside out, the movie's lead Bounty Hunter, Jango Fett, assigned with the task of assassinating the former Queen of Naboo, now Republican Senator Padme Amidala, is somehow also the genetic template for a Republic Clone Army, yet it is revealed that he is also Leader of the Separatists, Count Dooku's muscle (the opposition to the Republic).
Nothing here is really what it seems, thematically the political and emotional underpinnings of this movie mess with your head, there's no obvious bad guy. In fact it can be confusing to figure this out fullstop as it appears everyone is the bad guy. Or the good guy...depends on your point of view.It's internal logic appears clouded, ambiguous and disorientating when you actually sit down, pick the pieces apart, absorb them, and try to reconstitute them into a coherent 'bigger picture', somewhat like the peculiar opening shot of Padme Amidala's starship approaching Coruscant upside down and landing through the mist. Seconds later upon landing and the first assassination attempt unfolds, it is revealed that Amidala is not Amidala at all but a decoy. Symbolism litters the very fabric of 'Clones,' as does deception, masks, foreshadowing, complexity and a big dollop of symmetry. Examples, off the top of my head... Obi-Wan Kenobi's and Jango Fetts duplicity during their conversation on Kamino,the tension harks back to the duplicity in Vader's and the Emperor's conversation about Luke Skywalker during 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Anakin Skywalker's journey to save his mother, thematically mirrors Luke Skywalker's journey to save Han Solo and Leia on Bespin Cloud City, again in The Empire Strikes Back. This symmetry defines the Star Wars saga, original trilogy and prequel trilogy, in the choices presented to the Skywalkers the terrible truths discovered and the repercussions of their choices.
Visually and sonically (and after my initial viewings CGI overload) Attack of the Clones is without equal in the saga. Vivid colours set tones like paintings, landscapes reflect emotions, the movie is an elaborate moving and shifting picture, with one of John Williams most evocative scores complimenting this. This movie is more than the sum of its parts, subtly manoeuvring any viewer willing to submissively give in to it, toying with the viewer's unconscious mind.
The movies micro events, the story of Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala and Obi-Wan Kenobi, are drenched in retro charm, stilted dialogue and acting, however this gives me the impression of a movie that `conceptually' has been made prior to Episodes IV, V and VI, stylistically and evocatively harking back to the epic movies from the 50's and 60's, the block colours reminiscent of colour palettes that movies made during the mid 60's carried, and I believe that this is intentional, to lock down the saga as a fluid chronologically made series
But of course the abundance of CGI negates this view doesn't it? Not to my eyes. Creatures carry the style of Ray Harryhausen's classic stopmotion models... moving CGI backdrops, the cousin of their painted older counterparts.
Part of the fun in watching this film (as a cynical modern viewer)is to let go all you have learned about being a cynical modern viewer. All the clues in how to approach/watch any film in the Star Wars Saga are actually explicitedly stated within the Saga itself, giving it an organic, 3 dimensional post modern twist.
So all in all, Attack of the Clones is a feast for the eyes, the senses and the brain. Your enjoyment will depend greatly on your own point of view of course, and particularly on how much you are willing to just 'let go your conscious self and act on instinct,' as well as digging under it's superficial CGI surface and interact with the movie on an intellectual and emotional level. The Star Wars Saga isn't just a set of entertaining films, they are films about films, the history of the motion picture, and a running document of it's creator George Lucas's world view and ever changing vision..wrapped up and neatly presented in a fantasy epic, the likes of which we may never ever see again. As far as I am concerned this movie represents the pinnacle of George Lucas's new Star Wars saga concept. Witnessing this remarkable journey from 1977 to the present day has been, from this fans perpective, as enjoyable and as interesting as the movies themselves. 'Attack of the Clones' is easily the most rewarding allround Star Wars movie, and upon further investigation reveals itself to be a multilayered and dynamic movie, a gift for all Star Wars fans.
5 Stars. Magnificent