Shiny Shelf

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

By Jim Smith on 15 May 2002

Star WarsOnly time and repeated viewing will tell us whether ‘Attack of the Clones’ is a better film that its predecessors. The one thing which is certain is that it’s significantly stranger.

The structure of the screenplay, the continually oscillating tone, and the utterly peculiar photography and design all conspire to create something palpably unique in the history of filmmaking; a staggeringly bizarre combination of ‘funny alien’ comedy, naked sadism, political melodrama and enormous set-pieces.

It’s a love story, a realpolitik essay and a slapstick comedy. It’s a film which both reveres and parodies the series of which it is a part. It’s the darkest and the lightest ‘Star Wars’ film depending on which scene you’re watching. Sometimes it manages to be both in the same scene.

With its twisted moral ambiguities, brutal action sequences and stupid, stupid jokes it is very, very clearly the product of a personal vision – the work of a filmmaker who cares not one iota whether he pleases anyone but himself. And what pleases George Lucas is clearly becoming increasingly esoteric.

A few examples should suffice. Obi Wan muttering that Anakin ‘will be the death of me’ is played strictly for laughs. At one point a dramatic swell of romantic music is stopped dead by an ugly noise, as if the stylus has been ripped from a record – and the tone of the scene being scored abruptly changes. Samuel L Jackson is visibly being ‘Samuel L Jackson’, this is Shaft-as-Jedi-Master, this is Jules as Protector-of-the-Force. At one point you honestly think he’s going to ask another character who they think they’re f***ing with.

The physically impossible occurs approximately once every 30 seconds. The genuinely insane is limited to about once every three minutes. There’s a sequence where Yoda – YODA – has a lightsabre fight with Christopher Lee. That’s a CGI Muppet duelling with an octogenarian. It’s a sequence both thrilling and absurd, a moment when George Lucas stands up demands that you laugh with him at the crazy, crazy world that he’s dragged you into. He’s letting you know he’s in on the joke.

There are moments when characters seem about to wink to camera, and there are others which display the ability to handle strong emotions which cynics felt Lucas had lost. This is a film which actually contains the kind of shifts in tone, texture and style which people insist that Jean-Pierre Jeunet accomplishes all the time, but which he hasn’t actually got anywhere near since halfway through ‘Delicatessen’.

‘Attack of the Clones’ is an extraordinary, unique, bewildering film. It is also very, very odd. For anything more coherent than that you’ll have to wait until I’ve seen it again.

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