Image from YouTube (“George, you can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it.”-Harrison Ford)
What is most painful to experience when consuming fiction? Is it bad comedy? Boring setup and payoff? A plot that makes no sense and goes nowhere?
All of the above are good, subjective answers. My money is on bad romance. A great romance can be among the most powerful and remembered aspect of a given product.
How many remember Han and Leia’s relationship as a standout example from the original experience, not to mention a case of “subverting expectations”; in that it was expected Luke and Leia to be the series’ item. Everyone is very glad that was the case in the end, unless you’re from the Lannister family.
If the Prequel trilogy is about the triumph of the dark side, and the original vice versa, it would almost seem fitting for the romance this go around to be a bad one. Han and Leia the yin to Anakin and Padme’s yang. Considering the tragic outcome for the latter, that analogy would’ve still worked if the romance was well-written.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that Anakin and Padme’s chemistry and eventual pairing is so badly done. I mean, John Williams gave them an excellent theme and everything. If you ignore the details, it sounds so enticing.
A forbidden love, a senator/former Queen and an up and coming Jedi knight. The latter is told to avoid intimate relationships as the passion and obsession that even supposedly genuine love can bring can make the dark side all the more seductive.
Ignoring that there was not a single hint in the original trilogy or in Episode One for that matter that Jedi were forbidden to pursue relationships, it does act as a more clear-cut emotional stake, in theory, than whatever machination Palpatine used in the Phantom Menace.
It’s a stake that feels easier to digest than yet another “He’s the chosen one!” plot thread, though that is still in effect though conspicuously absent from mention in the OT as well. It’s backdrop being the destabilization of a galactic republic and the rise of authoritarian power to fight an impending civil war is great drama.
Both the romance and political/military intrigue are better realized in non-Lucas written material like the two animated Clone Wars series, the first non canon and second canon. At least something came out of that SW era that can safely be considered mostly not cringe-inducing.
I opened my review/retrospective of Phantom Menace by relating my own history with that film. I suppose here is a good time to relate my innocuous childhood exposure to Episode II. Attack of the Clones is the first Star Wars film I remember watching in a theater. I remember being taken out of class with the teacher’s permission to go and see it with my parents.
Lucas has made the defense multiple times that the prequels, more so than even the originals, were meant for a target audience. In some cases, that’s obvious like Jar Jar, little Annie, etc. In other cases, not whatsoever.
Hey kids, who wants to watch a bunch of aliens discuss boring politics? How about sitting around talking? In slow, craning shots behind what are very clearly greenscreens with CGI that has not aged gracefully? Oh, the kiddies will love Anakin and Padme’s tepid wooing and “We should/we shouldn’t!” back and forth.
As an eight year old kid, not really knowing as much as I do about believable dialogue or what accounts for real human behavior of the loving-doving variety, I just assumed all the slower and romantic moments would click for me when I got older.
Nope, it’s still pretty bad and well, It is safe to say that Lucas didn’t so much improve upon what he did with Episode I, he found a generally new variety of the same bad stuff. All being said, I don’t find II as boring and drawn out as I. Perhaps it’s just that the bad is more attention grabbing and maybe even fun to laugh at.
The difficulty with talking about the prequels is that there isn’t much left to say that hasn’t already been talked about. The best I feel I can do at this point is relate my voice as part of the bandwagon. I could also talk about stuff that I think are actually good as it relates to this particular episode.
Again, I have to talk about Williams great score, though I already mentioned “Across the Stars”, Anakin and Padme’s love theme. I think of the three prequel scores, I would probably consider Episode II to have my favorite selection of original music made in this period. There are several occasions where Williams copies tracks from the Phantom Menace and reuses them in a new scene though.
The most notable case off the top of my head would be using the music during both the ‘blockade run’ and ‘battle of Naboo’ sequences from Phantom Menace. I don’t mind because the music works just as well for what is happening in Clones, in this instance being the Arena battle.
Big shock, that battle with hundreds of Jedi and thousands of battle droids was one of the scenes I constantly kept replaying on DVD, along with the subsequent battle of Geonosis. Yeah, it’s tied to a plot that doesn’t make enough sense and Lucas is clearly indulging himself in spectacle fancy, but I was eight to nine, gimme a break!
Back to Williams, even though I love what he adds in III, especially with the music representing the tragic stuff, II has this foreboding tone to its tracks when it isn’t all action and romance. It both signals the coming of the Clone Wars as well that things are in due time, going to go very south for those who adhere to the light side. The music builds better dread for the foregone conclusion that is the prequels than anything Lucas wrote.
One of the most wasted parts to Episode II was with Christopher Lee as Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus. I mean, Dracula in Star Wars. How cool is that? Well, even though “Dooku” is a pretty dumb name, the wasted part for Lee’s role is how it seems as if they could have done more with him. Sure, the Clone Wars expanded universe content is compensation I suppose, but for those who watch the films only…
Out of the entire cast, Lee manages to make his line delivery best. Having experience that goes back to at least the 50s’ if even earlier certainly helps make Lee the best actor in the film. The problem is that there’s a tasty suggestion that Lee’s Dooku could have been more than a replacement for Darth Maul, who died(in the films at least) too early.
There is some hint that Dooku was more than just another fallen Jedi who wants more power than he deserves. There was a hint that Dooku’s fall related to how the Jedi order’s inflexibility and outdated traditions( one of which Anakin openly rebels against) was an indication of how fragile the light side was becoming in staying in strength against the dark.
Had Lucas better talent or other better writers alongside him, Dooku could’ve been an example of a pragmatic if still villainous critique against the order’s flaws. Dooku turned to the dark side because he felt there was no other way to improve the order from within. A skeptic who went too far. If you want a taste of that better character, it’s not in his cinematic appearances. Also, for the sake of time, he dies like a wimp next episode.
It can’t just be Lucas’ overestimation of his scriptwriting ability that is the reason that the strongest moments of the prequels in my experience happen inbetween episodes. The Clone Wars in its majority? Between Episodes II and III. The Jedi Purge, birth of the Rebellion and Empire’s rise? In-between III and IV.
A lot of what comes next here relates to what Episode II led to rather than what remains directly as Mr. Plinkett and legions of others have you covered.
Instead, I try to cope with some mild cognitive dissonance when it comes to what both the non canon 2D animated Clone Wars show, from the guy behind Samurai Jack, and the canon CG animated Clone Wars show, from one guy behind Avatar: The Last Airbender, means for this era of Star Wars. Namely, it is not beyond redemption as Luke would say.
I’ll focus more on the CG show more than the 2D one for established reasons of canon but both shows I strongly recommend viewing. Simply put, the promise of Lucas’ ideas for the story the Prequels tell is better realized here. Anakin Skywalker still has anger issues and is impulsive, but his whininess is toned down, making him seem more like the figure that old Ben Kenobi wistfully described to Luke.
Giving Anakin extra responsibility by making him master training an apprentice ( padawan if you insist) during a time of war is a decent addition, which doesn’t hurt as Ahsoka Tano is also a welcome new face not seen before in the Star Wars universe up until that point. It also adds a needed ingredient of uncertainty for a show that is stuck in predestination.
Prequel or interquel, depending on your point of view, it takes advantage of what will happen in future episodes. It creates seeds of foreshadowing, some unexpectedly subtle, some not so much for the fate of the Jedi, the destiny of Anakin( however butchered by Ep. III), and an idea that this is all some sadistic game being played by an unknown figure that you or may or may not already aware of, assuming you haven’t been paying attention.
Not only is the storytelling done well in the Clone Wars show, it humanizes the clones themselves more than they could in the prequels from the resource of added time and attention as well as their relationship with the Jedi that leave them. Remember feeling somewhat cold or indifferent when all those Jedi get owned during Order 66? Well, maybe this show could change that.
Then again, some of the dumb behavior of the movie Jedi, like standing still when a Sith lord is slicing them apart, is conspicuously absent from TV show Jedi. Yes, I am saying that a cartoon show meant for kiddies is more mature and intelligent than a film series meant for…also kids but the adults are more expected to show up for the latter.
I say kids show, but for a kids show it doesn’t dumb down the PG/PG-13 violence Star Wars is known for. Want clone or Jedi seen physically dying? It’s got it. Want some generally dark subject matter like the fog of war, the costs of war, the doubts of the war’s purpose? It’s here.
Want to be treated to characters you once dismissed for a number of reasons in the movies? Well, you’ll at least give them the time of day now and maybe more.
So, want to watch a Star Wars series that fulfilled a desire for adventures before Luke and Leia’s time that didn’t suck? You will get it. Just mentally compartmentalize the stuff that’s stupid in the movies from how it canonically ties together in the show. Come to think of it, I don’t know if midichlorians have been mentioned once in the show yet.
So, in conclusion, if you wanted to find something to enjoy about the Prequels without having to go into awkward apologetics, The Clone Wars shows are an out. If you still want to defend movies like Attack of the Clones, I can’t stop you. I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong, it’s honestly more confusing than aggravating.
I mean, I’m not against so bad, it’s good type of experiences like The Room. But Star Wars is not intended to be laughed at, if that’s why you like it.