20 years ago, on May 16, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released in theaters. And while a younger generation of new Star Wars fans were excited to see where the adventures continued to, a generation of older fans complained online about how their childhoods were ruined. I was one of those people, and I was wrong.
I was lucky enough to see Return of the Jedi in theaters when it first came out; however, I had just turned one, so did I even really see it? My childhood memories all revolve around the original trilogy--although those movies were aimed at what we now know as Generation X, and I'm one of those old millennials. I had the toys. I bought the movie on VHS--and the subsequent rereleases, like a sucker. I read the books that expanded the galaxy lore.
My love of Star Wars was exceptionally deep until May 19, 1999, when I skipped school and saw The Phantom Menace. Every complaint you've seen about the movie, I probably had at the time because I felt betrayal that my "childhood was destroyed," and that pain got worse/continued on May 16, 2002 when Attack of the Clones was released.
Now, I have nothing to prove to you, the person reading this. Our takes on the things we love and hate in Star Wars are purely subjective based on experiences, personal tastes, etc. There is one person I do need to address, me in 2002.
Listen 20-year-old Mat, I know you think you're really important because you're about to get that floor supervisor promotion at the local toy store--instead of going to college right out of high school--but you're very wrong about the Attack of the Clones for a plethora of reasons. First and foremost, let's talk about the prequels in general.
They're not made for you. You are not the target audience. This is a new Star Wars for a new generation, and it's marketed mainly towards children--just like how you loved the original Star Wars as a kid. When it comes to Attack of the Clones, you're more than justified to say the CG doesn't look great--and it especially doesn't hold up 20 years later. You can discuss how Anakin and Padme's relationship is stiff and unnatural. You can even say the Neimoidian's of the Trade Federation sound like a racist stereotype. These are fair assessments of the movie. However, it's a lot better than you're giving it credit for because it forges its own path. It's not what the original trilogy was, and that's what is intriguing about it, for better or worse.
The Phantom Menace sets up the world. The Galactic Republic rules the galaxy with discussions and representative democratic rulings. There's also a Trade Federation, which is the source of all problems. Anakin Skywalker is introduced, a Force sensitive boy from Tatooine--a planet Lucas simply can't get away from. Obi-Wan is going to train him to become a Jedi.
Now, 10 years after the events of that movie is when Attack of the Clones takes place--a title that I still find utterly terrible. In the film, we have an adult Anakin working with Obi-Wan to take on the Separatist movement within the Republic. They are a threat to order in the galaxy. Sifo-Dyas of the Jedi order commissioned a clone army--as his Force vision saw a huge conflict coming and he wanted the Republic to be prepared. After Dyas dies--at the hands of Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus--Obi-Wan finds out about this clone army, but Dooku wants control, so he sends out Jango. Eventually, the Republic gets control of this army to take on Dooku and his Geonosian army.
This movie is a game of chess between the Sith and the Republic. Things are peachy-keen--for the most part--in the galaxy as far as order is concerned, and this is where things begin to crumble. With the original trilogy, there was an antagonist right from the get-go: the Empire. The prequels were a little more ambiguous, as it's about the crumbling of the "utopian" Republic, so you don't really know who the bad guys are--outside of a second Sith--until the tail end of Episode III.
Now, let's talk about Jango Fett because this was a huge, terrible talking point for you. You love Boba Fett, but not because of his appearance in Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. You love the character primarily because of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, Tales from Jabba's Palace, and The Bounty Hunter Wars: The Mandalorian Armor. Everything that happens in those books is a few years away from being nixed from canon anyway.
Because of your love for this character, you were hoping to get more of him here, but he's a kid, and his moments in the movie are merely a starting point for something else--part of an animated series that will come out years later. Also, he's barely even a secondary kid here, in an already jam-packed movie. Yes, it's annoying that Star Wars movies have a knack for introducing secondary villains and not getting in-depth with them--or flatout killing them in the same movie--but so much of the appeal of Star Wars is the secondary material. You loved Boba Fett because of the novels, and you'll fall in love with The Mandalorians as a whole because of two animated and one live-action series. Star Wars is expansive and the movies that we know--for all but two of them currently--revolve around the Skywalker lineage.
And speaking of that Skywalker lineage, Hayden Christensen is great in this role, and this is outside of the wonky lines written for him. Your complaint that he is whiny, too emotional, and unwieldy is exactly what makes him great. That's how the character is supposed to be. I'm sorry if you like your Jedi to be super-stoic, but that's not the story being told here. This is Obi-Wan's greatest mistake. Jedi are supposed to be emotionless, but that's not Anakin. He's on the verge of slipping to the Dark Side the entire movie, and we get a few moments where it's clear we know which way the character is headed.
Attack of the Clones isn't the best movie in the Star Wars franchise--not by a long shot--but it's certainly a lot better than you originally remember. It's part of a trilogy that's a big departure from the original films, and that's fine. It's made for another generation of fans, and it's exploring the turn from Jedi to Sith. No, it isn't the most memorable of films from the Star Wars Universe, and at times, it's a rough watch. However, it's much better than the "franchise ending apocalypse" I claimed it was when it first came out. I was mad it wasn't the original trilogy, and I didn't judge it fairly.
You can revisit Attack of the Clones for yourself on Disney+.
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