Well, I suppose I've waited long enough, so it's time to return to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to pick my way through the second of the oft-derided, and in my view unfairly unappreciated, Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. So, bring 'em on: Attack of the Clones!
First, a couple of reminders from Fixing the Prequels: TPM:
1. I will be using these abbreviations throughout:
TPM = The Phantom Menace
AOTC = Attack of the Clones
ROTS = Revenge of the Sith
ANH = A New Hope
TESB = The Empire Strikes Back
ROTJ = Return of the Jedi
PT = Prequel Trilogy
CT = Classic Trilogy
2. This is not about ripping George Lucas a new one as a writer or director; nor is it about completely rewriting the PT from the ground up. Those who are looking for that kind of thing had best look elsewhere. My view toward the PT stands to this day: the films are very good, and often excellent; they tell gripping and fascinating stories; and they display amazing amounts of imagination. However, I do admit that they have flaws. Not fatal flaws, but flaws nonetheless. This series is about the flaws I perceive in the movies, and how I'd have fixed or avoided them.
As we go through AOTC, I may make some fairly surprising choices. In reconsidering this movie, it's the prequel film to which I'd actually make the fewest wholesale changes. In light of what I see mentioned in discussions of this film, online and off, whenever the subject comes up, some of my choices might prove surprising.
So, with all prologue aside, it's time to jump right in!
As with all Star Wars movies, we start with the opening crawl. Here's the text:
There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several hundred solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic.
This separatist movement, under the leadership of Count Dooku, has made it difficult for the limited number of Jedi Knights to maintain peace and order in the galaxy.
Senator Amidala, the former Queen of Naboo, is returning to the Galactic Senate to vote on the critical issue of creating an ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC to assist the overwhelmed Jedi....
Here's a nifty beginning indeed. I remember all those people bitching about the politics in the opening crawl of TPM, but for some reason, here's one that's also political in nature, and yet, I don't recall any complaints. In just four sentences, George Lucas creates a dangerous political situation that establishes that the Republic isn't in a state of mere decay but in actual danger of collapsing; he names his new villain; and he establishes that the Jedi are meeting their match in their efforts to keep the peace. It's one of the series's better opening crawls.
Onto the opening sequence, which I've always loved. It's mysterious and off-putting. Instead of the traditional pan down to the first planet of the movie, the camera pans up, for the only time in the Saga. The way this shot is done is a wonderful effect: we're traditionally panning over a starfield, but then suddenly it seems that some of the stars are moving. A second later, Coruscant comes into view, and we realize that the moving stars are actually ships, hundreds of them, coming and going from the Galactic capital. Then the Naboo ships enter the frame from behind, a large transport ship escorted by three fighters. This transport ship has a unique low rumble, sounding like a World War II bomber, and as it approaches Coruscant, it begins to roll in order to properly orient itself with the planet.
It's morning on Coruscant, and it's very foggy, high up in the upper reaches of the cityscape. The tallest buildings poke through the clouds as the four ships come in to land. All's well, until the explosion that kills Senator Amidala's decoy. This was another terrific touch by Lucas: Padme's use of a decoy through TPM is suddenly shown to have been a very good idea, one which she has kept in her bag of tricks.
In the original shooting script, we next cut to a sequence in the Senate, where Chancellor Palpatine announces Amidala's assassination, which sparks new debate on the need for a strong response to the Separatists. Amidala then arrives, to everyone's shock and delight, and begins to argue against military action. All of this was actually filmed and can be seen on the Deleted Scenes on the DVD, but cutting this sequence was a good decision on Lucas's part; it really doesn't do anything to establish the political situation that can't be done in a much shorter time. (I'm not as thrilled with all of Lucas's cuts from his original script for the final release, as we'll see as we move on.)
So, in the film, instead of going from the attack on Senator Amidala to the Senate, we cut instead to the Chancellor's office, where Palpatine and the Jedi leaders are discussing the situation. Here's where I'd make the first significant alteration in the film. The problem is that in the movie as it was finally released, we don't meet the film's main villain until more than halfway through. When that happens, we need to know automatically that we're looking at Count Dooku, and here's where I'd make that correction:
INTERIOR: CHANCELLOR'S OFFICE – DAY
CHANCELLOR PALPATINE sits behind his desk with TWO RED-CLAD ROYAL GUARDS on either side of the door. YODA, PLO KOON, KI-ADI-MUNDI, and MACE WINDU sit across from him. Behind them stand the Jedi LUMINARA UNDULI and her Padawan, BARRISS OFFEE.
[ASIDE: This is the first time I've ever known that there was a Jedi named "Luminara Unduli". A lot of the names in the PT tend to be clunky, but that is one wonderful name. Luminara Unduli!]
They are watching on the Chancellor's immense viewscreen a news video of an elderly man, white haired and bearded, speaking before an audience of thousands in some alien world's capital city. This is COUNT DOOKU.
DOOKU: You have all seen what has happened these last decades: the gradual erosion of a once great and proud Republic. Now, the Senate endlessly squabbles while the Chancellor accomplishes nothing, and the peace and harmony of every star system is threatened! Trade wars erupt with no enforcement of treaties! The crime syndicates take control of entire star sectors! The Jedi Knights dither over matters of doctrine while the people they are charged with protecting suffer! It is time for the Republic to either return to its roots, or cease functioning altogether!
The audience erupts in immense cheers. Palpatine, disgusted, makes a motion to Mas Amedda, who cuts off the transmission.
PALPATINE: So, your Count Dooku finds more converts to his cause.
YODA: "Our" Dooku he is no longer.
PALPATINE: His separatist movement grows stronger with every system he visits, and the people who come to follow him believe in him because he was once a Jedi, Master Yoda. And if the systems sworn to him begin signing treaties with one another, we could be facing a Galactic civil war.
PLO KOON: Which would make the creation of an Army of the Republic unavoidable, even though it goes against every tenet the Republic has ever stood for.
PALPATINE: I don't know how much longer I can hold off the votes, my friends. More and more star systems are joining these Separatists. The attempt on Senator Amidala's life has bought us time - I was able to dismiss the Senate into recess – but the vote will happen.
MACE WINDU: If they do break away from the Republic-
PALPATINE: I will not let this Republic, which has stood for a thousand generations, be torn in two. No matter how many speeches Count Dooku gives. My negotiations will not fail.
MACE WINDU: But if they do, you must realize that there aren't enough Jedi to protect the Republic or enforce the Constitution. We're keepers of the peace, not soldiers.
PALPATINE: Soldiers. Master Yoda, do you believe it will come to war?
YODA: The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is. But do their duty, the Jedi will.
Now, in comes Senator Amidala and her contingent, including Bail Organa. for their audience with the Chancellor. Interestingly, they are announced as "the Loyalist Committee", which seems to imply that the Separatist movement actually has some sympathy in the Senate, if not outright support. This isn't really commented on, though, and soon we're on to discussing Senator Amidala's dangerous situation:
PADMÉ: Do you have any idea who was behind the attack?
MACE WINDU: Our intelligence points to disgruntled spice miners, on the moons of Naboo.
PADMÉ: But I think that Count Dooku was behind it.
There is a stir of surprise. They look at one another.
KI-ADI-MUNDI: He is a political idealist, not a murderer.
MACE WINDU: You know, M'Lady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn't assassinate anyone. It's not in his character.
YODA: In dark times nothing is what it appears to be, but the fact remains for certain, Senator, in grave danger you are.
OK, here we have a bit of a problem. I've always felt that Padme's suspicion of Count Dooku comes out of the blue; it's not really set up at all. This ties into my original notion that Dooku's introduction and establishment as the film's new villain, combined with the fact that many don't even realize he's a villain until far too late, isn't handled as well as it could have been. So I add an appearance via newscast by Dooku above, so when we meet him in person later on we'll know who he is; also, I'd alter things in the conversation a bit to flesh out Padme's suspicions:
PADME: Spice miners? I have had almost nothing to do with the policies that have aggrieved them. But I have been active in trying to resolve the Separatist crisis peacefully, and I have been named as a "Loyalist". (Pause while she allows this to sink in) I believe that the Separatists were behind the attack. Perhaps even Count Dooku himself.
The Jedi look at one another in amazement; Palpatine leans back in his chair and adopts the stance of a fascinated observer.
KI-ADI MUNDI: My Lady, Count Dooku is a committed political idealist. He is not a murderer.
PADME: The Separatists have much to gain-
MACE WINDU: By killing you? How? All a high-visibility assassination could accomplish would be to drive sympathy in the Republic toward the Loyalists, and not the Separatists. It would make no sense.
PADME: Not everything always makes sense, Master Jedi. Remember the invasion of my own world, ten years ago.
MACE WINDU: I grant that, Senator, but Dooku was once a Jedi, and even though he left the order for arcane reasons, he is still bound by the Force. He couldn't murder anyone.
With all this we have AOTC's first instance of one of the main recurring themes of the PT, namely, that a big reason the Jedi fall is that they're almost always wrong about stuff. They can't see the real threat even though it's right in front of their faces, and even though Yoda and Mace Windu later on realize that they're not seeing the whole picture, they still fail to totally grasp what's going on. It's all pretty chilling.
Continuing our scene, with a bit of dialogue I'm adding in (comment within):
PALPATINE gets up, walks to the window, and looks out at the vast city.
PALPATINE: Master Jedi, may I suggest that the Senator be placed under the protection of Your Graces?
BAIL ORGANA: Do you think that is a wise decision during these stressful times? From what I have heard, the Jedi are ill-equipped for bodyguard duties right now.
[ASIDE: As originally written, Bail Organa's objection could be heard as him objecting not to the Jedi protecting Padme but to her receiving protection at all, so I clarify this.]
PADMÉ: Chancellor, if I may comment, I do not believe the...
PALPATINE: ..."situation is that serious." No, but I do, Senator.
PADMÉ: Chancellor, please! I don't want any more guards!
PALPATINE: I realize all too well that additional security might be disruptive for you, but perhaps someone you are familiar with... say, an old friend like... Master Kenobi.
[ASIDE: I love the way Ian McDiarmid takes on a grandfatherly tone when he suggests this, even though he most certainly knows that Master Kenobi's apprentice will be affected by being thrust together with Padme again.]
PALPATINE nods to MACE WINDU, who nods back.
MACE WINDU: That's possible. He has just returned from a border dispute on Ansion.
PALPATINE: You must remember him, M'Lady... he watched over you during the blockade conflict.
[This line isn't in the movie, but I like it.]
PADMÉ: This is not necessary, Chancellor.
PALPATINE: Do it for me, M'Lady, please. I will rest easier. We had a big scare today. The thought of losing you is unbearable.
AMIDALA sighs as the JEDI get up to leave.
MACE WINDU: I will have Obi-Wan report to you immediately, My Lady.
I do like the way the scene establishes that Padme is still pretty headstrong and unwilling to be pushed around, and also establishes Palpatine's own gifts for manipulation. Good stuff.
And that's a good place to leave off for the first post on AOTC. Next time, we'll address something that's always bothered me a little about how we meet Teenage Anakin. Excelsior!