As a lead up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, FBTB is going to do something crazy (and likely something that a whole bunch of other sites are going to do too), and review the previous movies. Why? Because shut up, that’s why. We are going to take a slightly different take, other than just eviscerating the PT and fawning love on Empire Strikes back, and actually look at some of the impacts that it has on the toys and stuff we really love. Plus, it gives us an excuse to make fun of Jar Jar. It’s basically win-win.
I’ve said in a few different reviews that Episode II: Attack of the Clones is the worst of the Star Wars movies. At the very least, it’s my least favorite, and watching it again, while sober, did nothing to change that opinion. Sure, I’m bias as all get out, but most people who’ve known me know that I try to keep an open mind, even on things I disagree with. My daughter had never seen Episode II, and it’s the only Star Wars movie my wife has ever watched all of, so I wanted to give it a chance.
I should know better, time can’t turn any amount of Bantha Poo into Gold Pressed Latinum. I might be mixing franchises though, unless you buy the theory that the Star Wars setting was created by a time-travel accident where a task force of Federation, Ferengi, Romulan, and Klingon ships were experimenting with faster warp technology, hit Warp 10, and ended up long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Then after arriving, settled planets, eventually evolved, found the Force, and built the Old Republic. A theory which I just made up while writing this paragraph, mostly because I think Sisko: Jedi Knight would be kind of Awesome.
The lead-up to Episode II was a whole lot different from the lead-up to Episode I, and there was a lot more trepidation with what was coming. By this time, all the adults (and some kids) hated Jar Jar, Jake Lloyds career was dead, and Episode I gave Michael Bay all the inspiration he needed to perfect the “awful movie that makes all the money” formula. I’m willing to bet a lot fewer people remember the Episode II trailer compared to the Episode I. It also represented a time of real uncertainty for LEGO… which is kind of sad, since Episode II has also given us some just awesome sets over the years (and gave us a good decade to yell at LEGO for not making a Padme figure).
Watching the trailer for Episode II, there could be a reason we don’t remember it.
Compared to Episode I, I’d call this trailer just bad. It’s all action, but it skips around, like a short preview reel or tech demo rather than a trailer. There are some decent bits, like Palpatine giving us his best “I won’t let this Republic die until I murder it myself” line, yet also one-liners from Anakin and Obi-Wan. Some of it is hindsight, obviously, since we know what was going on… but so little of it doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of trying to get people excited.
After all of the negative feedback from Episode I, you can see some changes right from the beginning. We get right into the action, with the first scene being an assassination attempt on now Senator Padme’s life, where a body double who’s name is Cordé. She’s apparently so unimportant that she doesn’t have some convoluted backstory in the EU. She only existed to die, and that makes me feel bad for her.
We are then treated to what is at the same time the worst character interaction ever caught on film and the best portrayal of teenage romantic interactions when Padme and Anakin meet for the first time in ten years (despite only being only a couple of years later, filming wise). “You grown… more beautiful, I mean… for a senator, I mean.” The secret to George Lucas’ writing is apparently that he’s really a fifteen-year-old boy writing fan fiction. That… actually makes a whole lot of the prequels make sense.
Shortly after, we get Obi-Wan talking to the council, and Anakin using Padme as bait. The whole interaction is basically a big, long sting of red flags and continuing proof that Obi-Wan is just a terrible Jedi Master, but culminates on killing some bugs and chasing a bounty hunter. It’s also notable for giving us one of the best sets that has never been given a remake, 7133 Bounty Hunter Chase.
The whole chase really sums up Episode II for me… lots of stuff, but so little substance. We get a big infection of the one-liners again, and while the action is a lot better, it’s also just so absurd. The whole “jumping out of the speeder” thing was supposedly meant to show us how, I don’t know, powerful and stupid, Jedi are? Is their technology so awful that they cannot track a vehicle that seemed incredibly distinct. Why not use that homing device that we know Obi-Wan had? Or, you know, call in some authorities to help with the chase.
At the end of it, we also get full-on fascist Obi-Wan, brainwashing a guy to go re-evaluate his life instead of selling perhaps the worst named narcotic (or the punch-line of a Dennis Leary joke) ever. Not saying the guy didn’t need help, just saying that perhaps the lasting path to healing isn’t the Jedi mind-trick. Then, Jedi business, which always seems to be about cutting off arms. Also, did Obi-Wan ever pay for his drink?
After that, we basically get an excuse to go have Padme and Anakin spend alone time together, which seems to be a good choice, given the very creepy and overt affections that the Padawan has been showing in direct violation of the Jedi code. Nothing at all can possibly happen by sending a couple of young twenty-somethings off alone together, right?
Obi-Wan, on the other hand, engages in one of the most pointless scenes in Star Wars history. It only really served to make an Episode II action figure oddly-overpriced because of rarity for a bit… until everyone saw the movie and forgot entirely about the character later on. I managed to get my hands on a few of those back when they first launched (I was working in retail at the time), and sold them for some very good drinking money (I was in college). Current price on eBay is around $5. It was money well drunk.
What I don’t get is why Jedi Master, who values “wisdom” doesn’t see the fact that what appears to be a short order cook with some terrible hygiene issues and the ability to identify obscure weaponry is less a valuable resource and more an indictment of all of the information you have at your fingertips. Apparently once you develop hyperdrive and blasters you lose the ability to create Wikipedia. I don’t know about you, but I’d trade the ability to waste six hours clicking through a string of articles starting at the Milky Way and ending at a list of top ten hits by Miley Cyrus for the ability to travel around our galaxy [Citation needed].
While I call into question the substance of the movie at this point, I do have to state that while the quality of the dialog doesn’t really change, the number of one-liners really seems to change. There are conversations of substance between Dex and Obi-Wan, and we get more than quips between Anakin and Padme. Sure, it’s all still painfully awkward banter, but at least they’re now complete sentences.
While the diner scene is likely the most pointless scene in the movie, pretty much everything that follows with Anakin and Padme on Naboo are just awful. Fun fact, if you go watch the deleted scenes, you can find some very good scenes where both showed some real connection and Charisma, discussions with family (Luke and Leia have grandparents somewhere), and deeper dialog. These were cut to make room for Anakin misusing force powers to flirt (like we all probably would), inexplicably cutting pears with knives, and rolling down hills.
Back to Obi-Wan, the diner scene is pointless, but the most annoying scene in the movie follows it when he goes to the Jedi Archives and asks Yoda about a missing planet. Since Jedi Masters apparently have the logic skills of a — you know, I was going to say three-year-old, but my daughter can puzzle out some pretty complex things, especially when it involves something she wants, and she’s three. So I’m saying she is smarter than Obi-Wan or Yoda, who display the logic skills of a United States Congressman, yeah, that’ll work, and instead consult the wisdom of five year olds (or, quite literally, anyone else). The planet got deleted, and you can find it by the missing spot on the map. Kind of like looking up Area 51 on Google Maps.
What follows is likely the most interesting that Episode II ever gets, and the point where we get some real insight to the build-up of the Clone Wars and the fracturing of the Republic. Kamino, a water world because we’re back to only one biome per planet. Obi-Wan discovers that there’s a whole secret army of Clones, based on a bounty hunter named Jango Fett, just waiting for the Republic. How lucky, that’s exactly what they needed for the whole upcoming war!
What follows is basically concrete evidence as for why Boba Fett was the worst character in Star Wars… it’s because his daddy was a moron. Boba Fett is the ultimate “style over substance” character in the trilogy… he only was popular because he looked cool, but otherwise was terrible at every job he had, other than playing hide and seek in trash. His dad looks like he earned his position, at least, but makes a fateful decision of answering “yes” when pushed about being to Coruscant. A simple lie, which I’m going to believe he could get past Obi-Wan, and then back to his hobby of windsurfing the Kaminoian ocean.
Instead, he decides now is exactly the time to leave Kamino, tries to kill a Jedi, tipping his hand that “yep, bad guy” instead of just ignoring the whole thing. While this fight is actually quite cool, and shows that Obi-Wan apparently has wrists made of solid steel (given that a rope like that would likely cut off our arms with a fall like that), and had a useful tracking device he didn’t think to attach to a speeder earlier… it’s also just dumb on Jango’s part. He could have just taken off instead of stopping to fight, and gotten away.
Instead, we get two new friends playing laser sword and moron, and Jango Fett goes running straight to Geonosis, revealing the location of the Separatists secret factories, their massive build-up, and the location of nearly all their leaders. Maybe that was part of the whole plan, but it seems like a kind of stupid part. Jango could have left and run off to Risa or something, and left Obi-Wan chasing nothing. Meanwhile, the Separatists could have launched their army and put the Republic and Jedi in a place of desperation and needing to accept the Clone Army just to survive.
Back to the less interesting plot, after a kiss that shouldn’t apparently have happened, and some nightmares because the Jedi Council didn’t think it was important to maybe rescue Anakin’s mom from slavery and danger, thus removing a possible temptation and complication from a padawan’s past, we get our young couple running off to Tatooine. Technically, it was Padme that did the running, which is actually cool. While I don’t buy for a second their romance, because nothing on screen made it believable, both characters, individually, get some very good charactarization in this movie.
Anakin is a petulant and arrogant young man, powerful in the force, and that is what’s ultimately holding him back as a Jedi. You see it in his decision making, his missteps, and in how he tackles a problem. The most powerful moment in this comes when he shows up at his old home and finds his mother kidnapped, tearing into the guy who freed her from slavery and married her (and who lost a leg trying to rescue her) for making a fairly valid assumption that she was dead or would be soon. She wasn’t at the time, but was obviously not long for the world after Anakin went full on murder-spree.
In some ways, Anakin’s reaction to his mother’s abduction is shocking… not because it happened, it was a moment of unbridled rage that made the character quite relatable. But it was shocking because Lucas actually put such an important point of character growth in the movie. We also see how Yoda can feel the growing darkness and pain in Anakin… I mean, with something so important, it’s obvious that the people in his life will rally around him, offer support, and make certain that he comes to terms with it and faces the consequences. They wouldn’t possibly just ignore it, right? Like when he shocks and frightens the woman that he loves with the fact he just committed genocide (or whatever it is when you eliminate another species other than your own), she wouldn’t possibly forget within minutes of such a dark confession.
We get a plot device instead, where the fact that Padmekin are on Tatooine is useful for Obi-Wan in relaying a message to the council, that he survived the Fett’s half-*bleep* attempt to kill him and not so much as check for a body (I can understand, it’s not as if this particular opponent has showed extreme resourcefulness in eluding death and deflecting attacks or anything). That gets people to move, and stuff happens.
There’s also the always great parts of the prequels that involve Palpatine (except for one obvious example where it’s probably the worst part of a movie), complete with a little bit of fan service where it’s actually Jar Jar duped into giving Palpatine the power he needs to become Emperor later on. Or, if you want to follow the entirely reasonable conspiracy theory that Jar Jar was really the power behind it all, a shadow emperor if you will… I won’t blame you for feeling vindicated when Snoke comes out and goes “Mesa Gonna Crush Ya” and launches the attack. Oooh, or better yet, Palpatine took over Jar Jar’s body when thrown into the reactor, and now Snoke is him living on in Jar Jar’s body!
The last third of the movie is basically a long string of battles, including a trip through the droid factory that feels more “tacked on as a proof-of concept for some platformmer video game” than “meaningful in any way for the movie.” It’s basically just twenty minutes to set up a joke about C-3PO, who Anakin presumably stole from the Lars family because when you are a Jedi and you find the droid you’re looking for, steal away. Oh, and R2 continuing his murderous little ways. It’s kind of ironic that the Darth Vader comic felt the need to introduce a murderous astromech when there was already a psychotic killer R2 in the universe.
The real bright spot in this whole sequence is the introduction of the late, great, Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. It at once exposes the overconfidence and naivety of the Jedi (he was a Jedi, he can’t be evil), and also makes it very apparent that Christopher Lee makes everything 1000% more watchable. Here’s a Sith lord who is the lord of the undead and the leader of the Istari… he’s going to be awesome.
No amount of Christopher Lee changes the fact that the Separatists are going to be dumb about killing the trespassers on their planet, who attacked their factories and executed their citizens. Instead of tossing them in prison and locking it forever, they decide that a public spectacle was the way you eliminate two Jedi and a Senator that’s already thwarted your invasion once before. Oh, and let some big animals do it instead of using any one of the thousands of guards that are armed with blasters.
As can be expected with the Cobra Commander level of absurdity in this plan, things do not go well. It’s at least a little bit surprising that a Football game didn’t break out in the middle of the battle or something, with a voice-over monologue about how this plan was just brilliant and would never fail.
The action in the scene was actually fairly good, just so over the top. Padme would have shattered her pelvis with a jump down like that, and that scratch should have probably done more than just rip her shirt a bit. It’s just crazy that they waited until things got so far out of hand to actually do something about stopping the three of them, instead of putting a well-placed sniper to eliminate them from a safe distance.
Instead, they watch long enough for all the Jedi to show up, and we get to see the fight that everyone really wanted to see finally begin: Jedi being their most Jedi-ish-ness. While a few Jedi get mowed down, we get to see some power levels established that will unfortunately come off as faked once Order 66 comes around. Mostly they’re squashing bugs and killing toasters, but still a lot of them.
Jango manages to kill one Jedi before picking a fight with the Original BAMF, in which case he gives his son a lasting impression of the Jedi. Unfortunately, that impression isn’t “don’t pick a fight with someone that can whoop you,” and that’s why junior ends up in a Sarlacc pit at the hands of a Jedi who is more powerful than any others we’ve seen (I’ll make my argument why Luke is the most powerful once we get to the OT) but has less training than the younglings that can find lost planets. I get that Boba is going to carry a grudge and all, but Jango absolutely deserved what he got in that fight.
Regardless, they wait too long, and that clone army that was conveniently left for the Republic and did not raise even a few questions (even after the fact that Obi-Wan learned that they were all based on the genetic code of a known enemy of the Republic), and things get kind of crazy. There’s shooting and explosions, but the only real victims of the fighting would be the Geonosians and the Jedi… the rest are effectively disposable.
The action obviously continues for the scene that I think was included as a way to try and wash away that pain of Episode I. We get to see Christopher Lee at his most Christopher Leeishness, Obi-Wan get his butt kicked because his student is a moron, and Anakin earn his nickname “Lefty” without also learning an important lesson that maybe where he things his skill level is and where it actually is are far out of sync.
The fight between Yoda and Dooku is the one that got us so very excited when we saw in the theaters, and honestly, watching it again, it’s still really exciting, even if kind of dumb. This is the “Great Warrior” Yoda that Luke mentioned (and Yoda dismissed), and it’s clear that he’s more than capable of taking out a Sith Lord but less capable of sound strategic choices. Seriously, did Yoda never learn how to do a Force Push in those 900 years? Because instead of stopping it from falling and tossing it to the side, maybe he should have redirected it into the back of Dooku’s ship. It was right there! Watch it, he just had to toss it a few feet to the right and wham, no escape with half your ship caved in.
The bigger problem, though, is that the whole scene, while exciting, basically evaporates away shortly after it’s done. He picks up his cane for the cheap laugh, and we’re now on to more fighting. We get some illusions to Empire in watching the assembled army and the ominous “Begun, the Clone Wars has.” Which doesn’t make sense… since it’s not a war about Clones, just a war involving them. Why not call it the War of Succession or something like that? We didn’t call World War II “the War of Russian Conscripts.”
As a whole, this movie is more than Episode I in terms of action and cinemotography… it certainly feels more like a Star Wars movie, and delivers a lot. But it still misses on so many more notes. It is mostly lacking in plots, with one Deus Ex Machina after another showing up to save our heroes, and a lot of filler that just doesn’t need to be there. The whole Dex and younglings scene could have been a much better way to flesh out the Jedi and them being more than just sitting around in weird chairs. Make that arrogant librarian more of a obscure historian, or maybe give us both.
Much Episode II is a more watchable movie than Episode I, but it’s also a more frustrating one to think about. Much like the last one, it ended later than it should have, tacking on the wedding and things like that. I would have loved to see it just end after Dooku gets away, an army rushing in to occupy and dealing with the wreckage of Jedi an dead Geonosians. I guess we should just be glad we didn’t get six different endings with Hobbits… Christopher Lee was around, after all.
All of that being said, of the prequels, I think that Episode II is easily the best for the overall quality of sets it gave us. Phase II clones, the Republic Gunship, Jedi Starfighters, and the AT-TE are all standout sets. The biggest problem that Episode II has had compared to the others is that, despite the flaws in the movie, there are a lot of sets deserving of releases or re-releases. More of the Arena Battle, more Jedi fighting, newer versions of Bounty Hunter Chase or Tusken Raider Murder Fest.
Hopefully this movie doesn’t get all sets shoved to the bin as all the Force Awakens, Rogue One, and whatever other sets come out there. LEGO has been good about keeping a few in rotation, but it remains to be seen if the PT can have the lasting draw that the OT sets have had once there’s a whole, what should we call it, New Trilogy, come out?
There’s also another lasting contribution that this movie gave us, and that was the various Clone Wars cartoons. Sure, the originals are no longer canon (and they are tonally different from the rest, so I get it), but the other stuff is and those sets, even with the awful faces, gave us a whole lot of things we likely wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Clone varieties, a whole bunch of Jedi (including Female Jedi), aliens, and different type of ships. While I’m not going to review the cartoons, because I’m not that crazy, they aren’t a bad watch. Clone Wars did something the movies never could, and that’s make you actually care and relate to characters like Anakin and Padme. Plus, they gave us Ahsoka, and she is just awesome.
Much like Episode I, I’d give this one two out of five stars. It’s better in some ways, worse in others.
Next up, the first of (now) two PG-13 Star Wars movie, with the soundbite that keeps infecting other films… Revenge of the Sith.