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Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Random Thoughts on Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

The last two days I indulged a lengthy essay on the new Star Wars film, concentrating on its structure. Now I should like to discuss some other aspects of the film.

:: What a visual marvel this movie is! Take the very opening sequence, as Senator Amidala's ship arrives on Coruscant. Instead of just swooping down into the same cityscape that we saw in The Phantom Menace, this time the landing takes place on an overcast day on Coruscant -- but the buildings are so high, they tower above the clouds. The ships fly past the tops of buildings that look almost wraith-like as they rise from the cloud cover, before finally setting down on a landing platform. It's a brilliant piece of construction, and just the beginning as the film gives us more details in every shot than we could possibly take in at once. These visuals have been derided by some as overly busy, and George Lucas has been blamed for being more interested in visuals than in the story. I differ greatly on that point, but in any event the visual constructions of this film are staggering in the degree of their world-building. After Obi Wan dives through a window early in the film, would any other filmmaker think to show that window being replaced by a couple of mechanic droids? Or consider the air traffic on Coruscant. Many films like this which assume wide-spread aerial vehicles in their futuristic cities depict the skies as a free-for-all, with vehicles and ships and whatnot flitting every which way possible, like bees around a hive. Not so with the Coruscant that George Lucas and his ILM technicians have envisioned; the air traffic of Coruscant travels in very orderly fashion, with the vehicles remaining in specific lanes at specific altitudes. We even see vehicles peeling away from one lane and into another, much like a standard expressway interchange in the Real World. This orderliness conveys the sense of a real world going on beyond the confines of the Senate Chamber and the Jedi Palace.

:: If I could have one item from the Star Wars movies, of course it would be a lightsaber. But if I had to pick a non-weapon, I might well go for Obi Wan's pocket-sized holographic planetarium.

:: It seems to almost be an article of faith that the acting in Attack of the Clones is sub-par. I cannot agree. Just watch Hayden Christensen's eyes in this film, particularly when he and Padme are talking politics and he says that "Someone should make everyone agree." Before he relents with a sly grin, there is a look in his eyes that makes clear that on some level he is being perfectly serious. And the moment when he snaps and kills the Tuskens, as well as the moment when he confesses the deed to Padme, are absolutely chilling. As for Natalie Portman, she has a couple of stiff scenes early in the film, but then her acting is fine. Ewan McGregor commands the screen in all of his scenes, and of course Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, and Ian McDiarmid provide solid performances. Is Attack of the Clones a masterpiece of thespianship on par with Casablanca or Schindler's List? No. But neither is it inept, as many critics would have us believe.

:: The John Williams score to this film is a revelation. I reviewed the score CD here, but now I can say a few words about the score as used in the film. There are a number of new themes and motifs, most prominent being the new Love Theme, a supple and gorgeous melody that lends a tone of sadness to every scene in which it is heard, never more so than at the end when Anakin and Padme are wheeled into the arena. There is also a motif which I call the "conspiracy" motif; this is first heard when Obi Wan lands on Kamino. It is heard quite often in scenes involving water -- partly, even, during the lake scenes on Naboo. This is an unsettling motif, constantly churning. Williams also uses older themes from his previous Star Wars scores, including the Imperial March at the end as the Clone Army takes to the skies above Coruscant. We also hear the Imperial March -- Vader's Theme -- when Anakin tells Padme what he has done to the Tuskens. However, just before that we hear another theme: the Emperor's Theme, which for these films is being used for Darth Sidious. This only underscores the fact that everything that happens in the film has been orchestrated by Sidious. John Williams manages to both highlight a plot point and foreshadow what is to come with a single musical cue.

Oddly, the film's climactic scenes -- the battle, mostly -- are scored with battle music tracked from The Phantom Menace. The music used fits the scenes perfectly, but I still wonder why Williams did not write new battle music for this film, or why it was not used if in fact he did write new music. This choice struck me as odd, although not nearly as distracting as many film music afficionadoes have found.

:: Yoda's fight scene with Count Dooku was thrilling. Cheers went up in the theater when he hobbled into the landing bay, glared at the Count, and tossed his walking stick aside. I have to admit that I could not envision a Yoda fight scene when I learned that there was going to be one in the film. I'm glad that someone could.

And now, a few speculations and questions regarding Attack of the Clones and its implications for Episode III:

:: Consider the plight of the Jedi: an order of Knights, fairly monastic in nature, that is charged with keeping the peace and maintaining order. But gradually they become absorbed with their own concerns, and as the body they serve becomes more and more threatened by forces internal and external, they find themselves increasingly unable to perform their appointed duties. And even as this all transpires, they are unaware of forces conspiring against them from quarters that they believe to be beyond mistrust. They are betrayed completely and utterly, and in one horrible and violent event (or series of events) they are hunted down and ruthlessly exterminated or driven into hiding in the farthest reaches of the realm. This sounds very, very similar to the historical events surrounding the fall of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon -- the Knights Templar -- in the late 13th and early 14th centuries AD.

The Templars served the Catholic Church until Pope Clement V was convinced by King Philip IV of France that they had succumbed to evil and were undermining the power of the Papacy. The Templars were taken by surprise, and their slaughter was stunningly easy. Some of them eventually fled to Scotland, where the Church had little real power and where they were able to help Robert the Bruce in his struggles against the English throne. Now, we know that Yoda survives the Jedi holocaust, but does that leave Mace Windu to fill the role of Jacques de Molay, last of the Templar Grand Masters? (de Molay was burned at the stake.) Does the story of the Templars point the way toward what may come for the Jedi?

:: I like the idea that the villains found a way to conceal a planet from the Jedi, erasing it from the archives. I've been wondering for a long time why Yoda is allowed to live after the Jedi holocaust; surely the Emperor and Darth Vader, once ascendent, would not allow the greatest of the living Jedi to escape -- unless Yoda has taken a page from their playbook and gone hiding on a planet whose records he himself has deleted from the archives. Thus he will be able to use one of their own schemes against them.

:: As of this film, we have seen the traits in Anakin Skywalker's character that will lead him to the Dark Side, but we haven't seen his real temptation yet. We haven't seen him truly indulge his anger and fear and hatred, and I wonder what the event will be that will finally drive him away. Many think it will involve Obi Wan, and perhaps it will, but I rather suspect that Padme will be the one to do whatever it is that pushes him over the edge. Will it be lost love, or (even worse) love betrayed, that sends Anakin into Darth Sidious's waiting arms?

:: Was the fate of Shmi Skywalker an extremely unfortunate event, or were the Tuskens prompted to abduct this particular woman at this particular time?

:: How will C-3PO and R2-D2 come to forget the man they've served? Or do they at some point think that he is dead, and that it is Vader who doesn't remember them? In any event, it has to be explained why it is that, upon meeting Luke in A New Hope, Threepio doesn't say something like "I think I knew someone named Skywalker once...."

:: Will the Death Star plans prove to be a plot point in Episode III, or were they simply a nifty Easter egg in AOTC?

:: Will we see Mon Mothma and the beginnings of rebellion?

:: Will we get to meet any Correllians?

:: Will we get to see the enslavement of the Wookiees?

:: In Return of the Jedi, Leia says that her birth mother died when she was very young. So, in Episode III, will we see Padme die?

It's a long time to 2005....

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