Stars: *** out of 4
Summary: Still plagued with problems similar to its mixed predecessor, ‘Clones’ shows us just a little more of what we wanted to see, and when it works, it works.
Review: As the ‘Star Wars’ Prequels carried on, Lucas kept pushing technological innovation, enabling the crew to achieve a vision of the space opera that is much closer to Lucas’ original conception of it. Circa 1974, Lucas had written a spectacular and veritably impossible-to-make film called ‘The Star Wars’, which included hundreds of elements that would show up in all of the final films. The technology necessary to transfer this rough draft to the screen in a convincing manner wouldn’t exist until the early 2000s. Along with its wild action and splendor came story elements, especially in the second Prequel, ‘Attack Of The Clones’.
The Jedi protagonists, Anakin and Obi-Wan, inherited the relationship between the “Jedi Bendu” master and apprentice in the original ‘The Star Wars’. Their bickering, Anakin’s desire to be free of Obi-Wan’s wise restrictions, etc. are all there. This works pretty well in the ’74 script, but seems kind of out of place in this film because Anakin and Obi-Wan have been master and padawan for about 12 years, while in the ’74 script the apprentice had been transferred from the tutelage of his dying father to this new master, and was bitter about it. No such bitterness aught to be here. This criticism aside, once again, the master-apprentice relationship is the strongest interplay of the movie. The other relationships are somewhat lacking, or just bad. In particular, and infamously, the romance between Anakin and Padme, which is pretty badly written. The weakest aspect of Lucas’ original ’74 ‘The Star Wars’ draft was the dialog, and it comes back from the dead to torment the Prequels.
Thankfully, though, the technology had finally caught up with Lucas’ idea of what the action should look like and feel like. The visceral scope and feel of the birth pangs of the Clone War are pretty spectacular. Their main weakness is a lack of the warm character interplay familiar to the Original Trilogy. Part of this weakness is again the dialog, especially in how the actors choose to deliver it. It comes across as either stilted or overblown, most of the time, and the actors who seems most comfortable with the material and sound more convincing are Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Frank Oz (Yoda), and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku). These folks are good enough at their trade that performing against a soulless blue screen — a major drawback to the new tech — doesn’t hamper them too much, even when the writing lets them down.
The best part of the movie, the part worth seeing, is Obi-Wan’s travels across the galaxy to unravel the mystery of the Kaminoans and their clone army. The action is much, much closer to the tight, visceral tone of the Original Trilogy in his scenes, and he’s a likable guy going up against a well-done enigma.
Philosophically, the film suffers a bit, because the romance is so trite (despite being of great importance to the story), the clone army isn’t examined in the ethical light that it should have been, and the Separatists bad guys are never given a sympathetic light that would have explored the degeneration of the Republic. Nevertheless, I will do what I must. I’ll try to dig in and infer things from the narrative.
The forbidden romance seems to be an attempt to explore the ancient struggle of love vs. duty, which also shows up in classic works like ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’. Is following one’s feelings, especially love, more imperative than performing one’s previous high obligations? A possible solution is to suggest that the particular duty be judged in a utilitarian manner, which, in addition to being hilariously ironic if you know anything about ethics, would allow a person to weigh the benefits of either path without a blind devotion to his duty, or his love.
The clone army is pitted against the Separatist’s mechanical army. The clones, being human beings, can react rationally and creatively to any number of situations, despite being genetically altered to be obedient without question. The droids are easily taken by surprise and require a great deal more control from their flesh-and-blood masters. The clone army contrasts with the droids while shedding light on something more terrifying, something directly connected to the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire: The blending of machines and mechanical principles with sentient beings, a kind of “Anti-Force”. The clone army are created with mechanical manipulation, they eventually lead to the creation of the Empire (which dominates and manipulates people as if they were mechanical), and the Empire is also created with the help of Darth Vader, who is transformed into a person who is mostly machine. The enemy droids themselves are just a part of the Sith gambit to capture the Republic. To contrast with the Sith use of machines to manipulate life, Lucas holds up the pristine planet Naboo in the Prequels, and the planets Yavin, Endor, and Degobah in the Original Trilogy. They each are tied to characters that represent biological communion with the Force and oppose the Empire, the Sith, and the perverse use of machines. Here’s what I think Lucas is saying: Biology and spirituality are symbiotic, but machines should never have this kind of relationship with biological beings.
The Separatists, an evolution of the villains from Episode I, are the great dupes of the Prequels. They’re portrayed as unsympathetic and unjustified in their separation from Republic control. The only time that a major character makes a statement that shows some understanding of their point-of-view is in Episode III. The Separatists are basically greedy. There’s no indication (in this film) that they have a good reason for waving goodbye to the Republic. So, we’re never able to explore in greater detail the real underlying problems with the present system that Darth Sidious exploits.
I’m surprised I was able to get that much out of it. This is a good movie, but it could’ve used a rewrite.
(Future me: Actually, I had a chance to read the whole second draft of this movie, and was very impressed. It dragged on at a couple points, but was overall much better than the final film. Ironically, the rewrite might have hurt it this time, though it was probably necessitated by length.)