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What do sand, leaping frogs, and CGI clones all have in common? They’re part of the best Star Wars prequel. That’s right, I’m going to explain to you why Episode II: Attack of the Clones is the series’ best prequel. Better than Revenge of the Sith and The Phantom Menace. And yes, even better than Rogue One. The comments section is waiting below.
No, I’m not trolling you (okay, maybe a little). But if you ask me to watch a Star Wars film that takes place before the original, I’m going to pick Attack of the Clones pretty much every time.
Before I get into this film, though, we need to establish some things. I’m someone who passively engages with the Star Wars franchise. That wasn’t always the case. My cousin loaning me her copies of the original trilogy when I was around seven years old helped open up my love of film (something that Jurassic Park had started). I had a ton of the old Kenner action figures and little die-cast ships.
Eventually, though, I grew out of it — and I don’t mean in a “Star Wars is beneath me” way; I just moved on. Star Wars just isn’t something that I obsess over.
Why am I going into all of this? I guess, to establish that I’m not anywhere close to a die-hard fan.
But now we need to get into why Attack of the Clones is the best of the prequels. To do so, we need to take a look at the other prequel films.
First up, let’s just knock Star Wars: The Clone Wars out. A half dozen of my friends and I saw that in theaters while I was in college, and it was so bad that it turned me off of the upcoming show. I’m still somewhat amazed at how good that turned out, considering this film.
Next, let’s address the prequel with a lowercase “p” — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I think pretty much everyone, even those that love this film, agree that it has structural problems. Characters get very little development, Forest Whitaker’s Saw Guerrera seems like a remnant from a completely different (and much more interesting) film, and most of the members of the “team” get little more than a line or two about who they are and otherwise serve as cannon fodder.
My biggest issues with Rogue One, though, are its lead, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and its tone. The tone is actually the bigger problem. This may just be a personal thing, but in media, the “grittier” you make something, the less willing I am to suspend disbelief. The more you ask me to view the dirt and grime of a universe, the more I’m going to ask you about how the ships work and why a rebellion that needs to remain hidden to survive allows a valuable ship to leave unauthorized when one of its occupants is a recently defected Imperial pilot as opposed to shooting it down.
And that brings us back to Jyn. The rebel that’s too rebellious for the Rebellion. The woman that’s going to risk everything to find her father because boo-hoo her parents were taken from her when she was young.
Dear sci-fi writers: if the sole motivation for your lead character is one that was dismantled by a talking raccoon back in 2014, you’re doing it wrong. Especially if your lead is a Whiny White Person™ and your supporting characters are all POC who go along with WWP in a story that is a metaphor for things that real life POC are currently experiencing.
So yeah, Rogue One is out.
The Phantom Menace is out because it’s overlong and asks me to believe that Anakin Skywalker doesn’t have a dad, and that the Jedi somehow can’t raise this child well enough to keep him from becoming Darth Vader. I don’t take issues with Jake Lloyd’s performance — he seemed like a believable kid to me. I don’t like the racist elements of the Gungans and the Neimoidians, but Jar Jar Binks was never too “kid-friendly” to me. This franchise is made for kids.
And now we come to Revenge of the Sith. It… just doesn’t work for me. It has one of, if not the, best overall scores in the franchise, and the scene where Obi-Wan confronts Padme has all the emotion it needs. I could get into the nitpicking of all the little things that don’t work for me (I think all the lightsaber duels in this film are over choreographed and overlong, I dislike pretty much everyone’s performance except for those by Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid, General Grievous and Count Dooku are both unnecessary, etc.). But the real heart of why I think the film fails is its take on Anakin Skywalker.
As presented in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker is a talented Jedi who has formed strong relationships with his master, Obi-Wan, and other members of the Jedi Order. Though he has a secret relationship with Padme and some anger issues (see his judge/jury/executioner bit with Dooku), he’s otherwise a good person.
The film then asks the audience to believe that this good person has a nightmare about his wife dying in childbirth, and then is willing to betray his entire order, kill other children (some of which he’s likely helped train), because Some Old Dude tells Anakin that he can achieve immortality. Audiences are supposed to believe that Anakin is afraid because he had a nightmare like this before and it proved to be true (see Attack of the Clones). We’re also supposed to believe that Some Old Dude has been working his way into Anakin’s life and has been manipulating him the whole time (see Attack of the Clones). And then there’s supposed to be the seductive nature of the Dark Side of the Force which can lead people to their own failure if they are too tempted by it (see Attack of the Clones).
Unfortunately, Revenge of the Sith never takes the time to properly develop any of these angles, and so it’s never really clear how much of Anakin’s actions are his own choosing as opposed to the results of Palpatine’s manipulations. The end result is a film where Anakin asks, “What have I done?” after assisting in the murder of Mace Windu before promptly doubling down and turning his back on his whole order, family, and galaxy. On a promise of something that he doesn’t even know will work. And since the entire film hinges on Anakin’s turn to the dark side, if that doesn’t work, neither does the film.
This is where Attack of the Clones comes in. Attack of the Clones is the only prequel where you can actually believe that Anakin will become Darth Vader. He’s hotheaded, arrogant, extremely talented, “in love” (the same creepy “love” that Doctor Doom has for the Invisible Woman) and straight up starts committing genocide. This guy is falling. I get that people generally don’t like the dialogue in George Lucas’ writing, and find Hayden Christensen’s acting here to be grating, but in terms of plotting and character motivation, this at least works.
The film also attempts to do something fairly unique for a space opera: a detective story. Taking cues from film noir and pulp magazines, Obi-Wan investigates the origins of an assassin and their connection to a system that has been erased from the Jedi archives. It’s a good plot that slowly grows into a full-blown conspiracy plot that leads to all-out war. But more importantly, it leads to these two:
Personal story time: Back in May 2002, I was a fourteen-year-old biracial kid getting ready for the last summer vacation before high school. Like most teenagers, I started to have a minor identity crisis, in part because I was learning that society viewed my race as one of, if not the, most defining character traits. This meant that I was becoming more and more aware of my race, and the privileges and disadvantages that came with it. And so I started to seek out, subconsciously at first, media that best represented me.
At around the same time, the internet was really taking off and I was starting to dabble on more message boards online. And it was here that I learned about the Boba Fett fandom. Prior to this, Boba Fett was just a dude to me. I was way more into the main group of characters than I was any supporting character. It wasn’t until I was on the internet that I learned that Boba Fett was that dude.
So you can imagine that when I saw Attack of the Clones with my dad, and learned that Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) looked like me, more so than any other movie character before, it was a pretty big boost to my self confidence. Boba worked with and loved his “father” Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who was a badass himself. And as my father and I exited the film and drove away in our car, my dad driving and me riding shotgun, I couldn’t help but imagine that we were in a spaceship of our own, evading Jedi along the way.
Boba Fett was that dude. I was that dude.
I don’t think I have to say any more, but if you really want to argue in the comments, here’s my ranking of the Star Wars films:
- The Empire Strikes Back
- A New Hope
- The Force Awakens
- Return of the Jedi
- Attack of the Clones
- Revenge of the Sith
- Rogue One
- The Phantom Menace
- Clone Wars
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