Sure, it’s bad. But even working within this structure, some tweaks could have salvaged something.
Re-watching Attack of the Clones there are many things that are wondrous. The design for instance. Grown men have been known to invest in Lego kits of Obi-Wan’s beautiful Jedi starfighter. Then there’s terrific space action, like that seismic charge combat with Django Fett. There are memorable images, like Obi-Wan hanging trapped in a colum of light. And oh yes, the wonderful music. All tip-top stuff.
But then there are the many more weak things we are subjected to.
Lucas accomplishes extraordinary feats in this movie. He recruits Jackson and Lee and then ignores them; he depicts Annakin as sulky and petulant rather then menacing; he portrays Jedi as rather easily slaughtered; and he gives Obi-Wan the look and gravitas of a Bee Gee.
A lot of criticism of the film centres on its story, but George’s structure really isn’t that bad. A few adjustments could have delivered big improvements within his story’s sequencing. It’s the character work, or total absence of it, that above all else sinks this thing.
1. Position Windu as Annakin’s nemesis
You have to figure George had the plot points of episode three all worked out when he began this picture. That being the case, why in Attack is Windu doing no more than wandering in and out of scenes looking a little sleepy?
Windu should have a much stronger role as Annakin antagonist. We should spend a little more time with him and learn that he is the member of the council most unsettled by Annakin’s power, most suspicious of his intentions and nurturing the most obvious dislike for him and his high medichlorian bullshit.
One particular incident could bring this relationship into sharper resolution: some moment of needless brutality by Annakin – he could perhaps kill Padme’s assassin with a force choke – should lead to Windu reprimanding him, even calling for him to be thrown out of the order.
Despatching Annakin to Naboo should be Windu’s way of getting the unstable, violent youth out of the picture for a while, somewhere where he can’t cause any trouble or hurt anyone.
Windu’s emnity would, in turn, give Palpatine a more obvious tool to work with in his project to turn Annakin from the Jedi – and give Annakin a little nudge towards their final confrontation in episode 3.
2. Make your romantic leads begin by disliking each other
Lucas at least has a little fun with Jar Jar in Attack, having him grant Palpatine special powers and set the ball rolling on the empire. He should have applied the same principle, of playing with episode 1 elements, to Padme and Annakin’s time on Naboo.
If George is going to insist on making us spend time with this pair, they had better do something a hell of a lot more interesting than roll around in grass together and exchange the most leaden foreshadowing dialogue known to cinema.
Do something with your brilliant character George! Annakin is supposed to be an impetuous, bloodthirsty, damaged, thrill-seeker harbouring a deep, brooding darkness. The very last thing he should do is fawn over Padme from the moment he meets her as an adult.
Both he and Padme would be considerably more likeable if they began by disliking each other. This is not exactly a new or complex trick. Annakin should be irritated to be made her babysitter and denied the fun important Jedi stuff Obi-Wan gets to do.
He should be humiliated to be her bodyguard and blame her for his predicament. He should lose his temper with her and damn her as a spoiled fool. This is a former slave after all, tasked with watching over a former queen.
He should rude about her homeworld, throw his weight around out of boredom and inadequacy, act like he rules the planet until he finds himself in a scrape that only Padme can extract him from.
Again, it’s not exactly a dazzling innovation to pop the hero’s bubble in an adventure movie. Were Padme to use cunning, humour or trickery to rescue him where his strength has failed, he could begin to see her as something more than a politician and an oblivious aristocrat.
They would have been through a little adversity together and built a relationship. It’s all there in your own movies, George: Han and Leah did not develop feelings for each other by going on a scenic picnic.
This suggestion would be well trodden Tropeville pavement, but my GOD it would be preferable to the piffle of Darth Vader making a pear dance for dinner theatre.
3. Hold the romance until Tatooine
Annakin still can have his dream and drag Padme off to Tatooine in search of his mum. There Padme can start to have feelings for him, as she remembers what he has come from, pities him for what he has lost and admires him for what he has become . She could begin to understand him, to sympathise.
Perhaps the strangest misstep the movie makes is to have Annakin admit to Padme that he has slaughtered an entire village of sand people – only to be instantly forgiven. George really was completely lost at this point.
Her behavour is so far removed from reality that we’re thrown out of the story – only to be assaulted by another strange decision: to make Annakin have a tantrum, a Jedi who whines that it’s not fair.
It’s all very strange, because the obvious point of this moment – a beat in the film that could have far better shown the Vader nascent within – would have been for Annakin to lie: to tell Padme he retrieved his mother’s body and simply omit to mention his killing spree.
That way Padme’s integrity is not utterly tarnished, and Annakin has adopted his sith ways of murder, manipulation and the dark arts – while pretending to be something else.
Like the baffling lack of Windu, what the movie does wiht this relationship really is incredibly strange. It seems ot be because George enjoys plotting way more than character and pushed ahead with every inch a first draft.
4. Give Lee a speech. Just one lousy speech to sink his canines into.
Dooku – what a name! What an actor! What a look! What a potentially seminal baddie! – is utterly hung out to dry here, save for his light sabre moment, which is handled efficiently enough.
Doubtless various cannon reasons have been trotted out for his baffling conversation with Obi Wan and confused motivation throughout – but at the time, and watching it again, it is just tricky to understand what the hell he is here for.
Would it have been so terrible for him to use that wonderful prison setting to stare at Obi Wan with those Dracula eyes, describing the beauty and the power of the dark side, to be for the first moment we meet him an openly converted Sith?
Dooku offers a chance for the dark side to be given a magnificent presence, to explain itself, to have one of cinema’s greatest voices speak with pride of embracing one’s dark half, of knowing all aspects of the cosmic mystery. Even if George wrote it, Lee could still sell it. And it would set him up far better for episode three.
5. Trim your Jedi
Before watching this picture again, I had only one abiding memory of it: the crushing disappointment of the proliferation of Jedi.
It is not for me to say how many there should be. It is not George’s fault that somehow, watching the original trilogy, listening to Alec Guiness, I imagined that there were perhaps a couple of dozen Jedi in the whole Republic.
Here there are swarms of the sods. The point is, the greater their number the more diminished is their individual power. This reaches its ultimate point in the arena, where what looks like an entire battallion of Jedi arrive to rescue ObiWan, Padme and Annakin.
This feels all wrong. The Clone Wars cartoons handle Jedi powers so much more thrillingly. In that series Windu fights an enire clone army – is a kind of demi-God. Without speaking a word, in that one scene, he is more what my childhood self imagined a Jedi to be than any character in George’s overpopulated movie.
The arena scene fair swarms with Jedi, who are cut down in large numbers by droids. It feels totally wrong, tossing away all the thrill and power that the first movies – and even episode 1 – managed to suggest the Jedi order possessed.
Here was the moment for one Jedi, Windu, to attempt a rescue, and to very nearly accomplish it before Dooku intervenes and wounds him. Then Yoda can arrive with the cavalry.
This is less a matter of inadequate powers, it’s a matter of character. The movie is so crowded with Jedi Windu is starved and diminished.
That’s the thing about this movie that condemns it most of all. Yes the writing is horrible. “Good call, young paduan” deserves the scorn it receives. But it’s George’s total lack of care for his characters that really condemsn it, and could have been so easily addressed.