And after a brief layoff, we’re back and exploring Attack of the Clones. First, though, something interesting, in the form of something that I never thought I’d see happen: in comments to one of the Fixing the Prequels: The Phantom Menace posts (specifically), I was taken to task not by someone incredulously asking how I can possibly profess to like the Prequel Trilogy, but by someone who doesn’t think I like it enough.
The reader, whose blog is called “Felice’s Log” even though her Blogger profile says “Juanita”, says this:
Do you honestly think you can “FIX” the Prequel Trilogy? Do you honestly think you’re a better writer than George Lucas?
God! The arrogance of all this!
This is definitely the first time I’ve ever found someone who holds the Prequels more dearly than I do. It’s an odd feeling.
Taking this at face value (and I see little reason to do otherwise), well, obviously no, I can’t fix the PT, because the PT is done. It’s there. George Lucas has made the movies and is now doing other stuff. Still Star Wars, but other stuff. As for me being a better writer, well…maybe I am, maybe I’m not. George Lucas is the one sitting on an enormous pile of money by virtue of his having created something that is one of the great cultural touchstones of the last fifty years; I’m a blogger who does this as a hobby. But hey, maybe I’m a late bloomer! Maybe my own cultural touchstone project is still to come!
But seriously, I hope that Juanita/Felice reads a little deeper into this series of posts and into some of the many other posts I’ve written on the subject of Star Wars over the years of this blog. I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for George Lucas and what he has created over the years, even before Star Wars — American Graffiti is also a long-time favorite movie of mine. But such admiration surely need not preclude me from admitting that the Prequel Trilogy, as good as I believe it to be, simply isn’t perfect. It’s got problems. Some of the problems are bigger than others, even if I don’t think any of them are fatal problems which completely undermine his story. I don’t find the acting across-the-board awful; I don’t find Jar Jar Binks distracting to the point of loathing; I don’t find the dialogue uniformly bad. I’m not one of those people who sneers “I was bored during the opening crawl of TPM when it started talking about taxes and stuff!”
But the films are flawed, in my opinion. There are spots throughout the PT where Lucas doesn’t step soundly, and this series of posts is my examination of all such spots. But this exercise isn’t simply about that, however; this is, I hope it will be obvious when one reads the posts, certainly not a long-form critique of everything wrong and horrible and awful with TPM or AOTC. For that, you can go to YouTube and watch that guy who did those long “reviews” of both films*. For all my focus on the flaws that I perceive in the PT, this series is also about its strengths. I go out of my way to point out all of the places where I think Lucas gets things mostly, or even completely, right, and I’ve always felt that the moments of “rightness” far outnumber the moments that are less than perfect.
I remember back in 1999, when I realized that the prevailing opinion on TPM was turning out to be negative, and how quickly that negative view seemed to strengthen and intensify. Reading commentary on that film back then, it was almost as if every person felt the need to out-do the previous person in saying how bad the movie was. Every time I see any of the Prequels mentioned on just about any website that gets any kind of traffic at all, the result is the same: a chorus of voices, unanimously united in their abject hatred of the movie in question and the Prequels in general. And these discussions always veer into people saying mean things about George Lucas and keeping the happy myths going, such as the old canard that “Star Wars is best when Lucas doesn’t have much to do with it”, on the basis of The Empire Strikes Back and yet somehow ignoring Return of the Jedi (which was written again by Lawrence Kasdan and directed by Richard Marquand, and not Lucas).
These posts are part of a long effort of mine to establish somewhere online the notion that the Prequel Trilogy is not a disaster from pillar to post, and that there is, in fact, a great deal in the PT to love. By highlighting a number of problem areas and showing – or attempting to show, at least – how most of those problems could be solved by either re-writing existing scenes or creating some new ones, I hope to illustrate also the parts of these films that work quite well indeed. And there are a lot of those.
I’d finally point out, before getting back into AOTC, that George Lucas has always himself maintained that the writing is his least favorite part of filmmaking. All of the movies which are credited with Lucas as the writer saw uncredited script doctoring to some degree: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz helped out with A New Hope; Carrie Fisher pitched in on TPM; and Tom Stoppard reportedly helped out with RotS. Lucas has always held up writing as his area of weakness – even if I don’t think he’s that bad a writer, he is clunky at times.
So that’s what we’re all about here. And with that, back to Attack of the Clones!
(But first, Felice/Juanita is running a pretty interesting blog herself — lots of in-depth reviews of movies and teevee shows there. Check it out.)
When last we left, Anakin and Padme were leaving Tatooine in direct defiance of the Jedi Council’s orders for them to stay right there, and heading to Geonosis to attempt to help Obi Wan. Meanwhile, back on Coruscant, the government is now very nervous at the evidence Obi Wan has presented that the Separatist movement is preparing for war. The scene, with material not actually in the film in red:
INTERIOR: CORUSCANT, CHANCELLOR’S OFFICE – DAY
BAIL ORGANA: The Commerce Guilds are preparing for war…there can be no doubt of that.
PALPATINE: Count Dooku must have made a treaty with them.
BAIL ORGANA: We must stop them before they’re ready.
JAR JAR: Exsueeze me, yousa honorable Supreme Chancellor, Sir. Maybe dissen Jedi stoppen the rebel army.
PALPATINE: Master Yoda, how many Jedi are available to go to Geonosis?
YODA: Throughout the galaxy, thousands of Jedi there are. To send on a special mission, only two hundred are available.
BAIL ORGANA: With all due respect for the Jedi Order, that doesn’t sound like enough.
YODA: Through negotiation the Jedi maintains peace. To start a war, we do not intend.
ASK AAK: The debate is over! Now we need that clone army…
BAIL ORGANA: Unfortunately, the debate is not over. The Senate will never approve the use of the clones before the separatists attack.
MAS AMEDDA: This is a crisis! The Senate must vote the Chancellor emergency powers! He could then approve the use of the clones.
PALPATINE: But what Senator would have the courage to propose such a radical amendment?
MAS AMEDDA: If only Senator Amidala were here.
JAR JAR steps forward from the back of the group.
JAR JAR: Mesa mosto Supreme Chancellor… Mesa gusto pallos. Mesa proud to proposing the motion to give yousa Honor emergency powers.
This is a good scene. I do wish some of the stuff about the limitations of the Jedi had remained in the finished film; maybe not specific numbers, but something like that to highlight the fact that the Jedi are simply not able to fight a Galaxy-spanning conflict. I do appreciate how, in the final film, Jar Jar’s last line is left out, and we just see him standing there, thinking on what’s just been said, instead of him stepping up and pledging to be the guy who basically introduces legislation to start the Republic on its final road to ruin. (I always thought that was a neat conclusion for Jar Jar’s character arc, by the way.)
One other thing I always loved about this scene is that even though the script indicates it takes place during the daytime, in the final film it’s set in early evening, when night is falling over the Capital part of Coruscant. The final debate over what to do about the clone army is underscored by being set at night; we are literally watching the darkness fall over the Republic. George Lucas has always done a good job with his progressions of color schemes through his films; note how in ANH the prevailing colors go from the bright desert yellows and oranges early on to more silvers and grays and blacks as the final confrontation with the technocratic Empire looms, and how after an hour or so of that, we get a brilliant dose of green when we finally meet the Rebellion. Or how, in TESB, the action on Bespin takes but a single entire day – dusk as the Millennium Falcon arrives on Cloud City, dawn the next morning as Leia is fretting over where C-3PO has disappeared to, mid-day as Luke is arriving and as Han is being frozen, and dusk again as Luke is being nearly destroyed by Vader.
Anyway, after this scene we cut to Geonosis and what is one of the best scenes in any Star Wars movie, a near miracle of a scene, considering George Lucas’s utter inability as a director. (Yes, that last is sarcastic.) Count Dooku visits a captive Obi Wan Kenobi:
INTERIOR: GEONOSIS, PRISON CELL – DAY
COUNT DOOKU walks into the cell holding OBI-WAN. OBI-WAN is suspended in a force field, turning slowly as blue electric bolts restrain him. COUNT DOOKU circles OBI-WAN as they talk.
COUNT DOOKU: Hello, my friend. This is a mistake. A terrible mistake. They’ve gone too far. This is madness.
OBI-WAN: I thought you were the leader here, Dooku.
COUNT DOOKU: This had nothing to do with me, I assure you. I promise you I will petition immediately to have you set free.
OBI-WAN: Well, I hope it doesn’t take too long. I have work to do.
COUNT DOOKU: May I ask why a Jedi Knight is all the way out here on Geonosis?
OBI-WAN: I’ve been tracking a bounty hunter named Jango Fett. Do you know him?
COUNT DOOKU: There are no bounty hunters here that I’m aware of. Geonosians don’t trust them.
OBI-WAN: Well, who can blame them. But he is here, I can assure you.
COUNT DOOKU: It’s a great pity that our paths have never crossed before, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you. I wish he were still alive. I could use his help right now.
OBI-WAN: Qui-Gon Jinn would never join you.
COUNT DOOKU: Don’t be so sure, my young Jedi. You forget that he was once my apprentice just as you were once his. He knew all about the corruption in the Senate, but he would never have gone along with it if he had known the truth as I have.
OBI-WAN: The truth?
COUNT DOOKU: The truth. What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of the Dark Lords of the Sith?
OBI-WAN: No, that’s not possible. The Jedi would be aware of it.
COUNT DOOKU: The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend. Hundreds of Senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious.
OBI-WAN: I don’t believe you.
COUNT DOOKU: The Viceroy of the Trade Federation was once in league with this Darth Sidious. But he was betrayed ten years ago by the Dark Lord. He came to me for help. He told me everything. The Jedi Council would not believe him. I tried many times to warn them but they wouldn’t listen to me. Once they sensed the Dark Lord’s presence, it would then be too late. You must join me, Obi-Wan, and together we will destroy the Sith.
OBI-WAN: I will never join you, Dooku.
COUNT DOOKU turns to leave.
COUNT DOOKU: It may be difficult to secure your release.
What’s so great about this scene? Well, for one thing, it’s just two good actors talking to one another. I’m of the opinion that there’s far more of that to be found in the Prequels than most seem to believe, but that’s neither here nor there. The scene is even better because in a short time it establishes a lot of ground. We learn something about Qui Gon Jinn that we hadn’t known, a possible source of some of his rebelliousness, if his own teacher was a Jedi who eventually left the order entirely. And how fascinating that the first time any of the Jedi learn that a Sith Lord is behind the political machinations in the Republic is from the lips of that very Sith Lord’s apprentice. Seriously, what a masterstroke that was: Obi Wan is actually hearing the truth, but because he knows the man he is talking to is a villain, he disbelieves it.
I also love how Lucas returns to a small thread that was mentioned originally in The Empire Strikes Back, in the way that Dooku (whom we later learn is actually “Darth Tyrannus”) tries to tempt Kenobi into joining him. It seems that one of the problems with the Sith lies in the way that apprentices are always planning to topple their masters, and it’s cool how Palpatine deals with this by always seeming to have his next apprentice either lined up or on the way; he treats his apprentices as disposable, so that they can never really get moving on their own schemes to topple him.
Next we go back to Coruscant, where in a night-time session, the Senate is taking up the matter of what to do about the immediate threat of the Separatist army. As Mace Windu and Yoda look on, Senator Jar Jar Binks is rising to the occasion and offering legislation to give “emergency powers” to the Chancellor, who immediately pledges to build “a grand army of the Republic” to deal with the Separatists. The road to war is now paved. Yoda and Windu agree that Windu will go to Geonosis, while Yoda plans to travel to Kamino to see the army for himself.
After this scene, we cut to Anakin and Padme arriving on Geonosis. After making their landing, they make their way through a back entrance into the droid factory. This leads to a very frenetic action sequence as they make their way through the factory assembly lines, with robotic machines whipping this way and that, giant buckets of ore being filled and dumped in the forges, and entire armies of droids being built.
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I honestly wouldn’t change any of it, save one thing: I never much liked the way C-3PO falls into the arms of a flying droid. I have no problem with him ending up on the assembly line himself, with his head replaced with that of a battle droid and a battle droid’s head replaced with C-3PO’s, but the way this unfolds is treated a bit too comically for my tastes. I’d cut out some of his one-liners through there – “It’s a nightmare!”, foremost – but other than that, I’m fine with the whole thing. R2-D2’s flying never bothered me, either. I know that a lot of Star Wars fans kvetched a lot over this, on the basis that he was never shown flying around in the Original Trilogy, but then, there weren’t any scenarios in the Original Trilogy that I can remember in which R2 flying would have been desirable, and having an astrodroid able to fly for short periods of time is fine with me. If your ship is damaged and drifting in space and your astromech droid can’t reach the thing that needs fixing from his assigned spot, then being able to propel himself in space a bit would be really useful, right?
So I’d tone down the C-3PO-related comedy in this sequence a bit, and if possible, have Anakin trying to get to Padme, instead of just trying to survive the assembly line. The way the sequence ends, with Anakin’s lightsaber being destroyed and his sheepish line, “Ohhh, not again. Obi Wan’s gonna kill me” is really good. I like that a lot.
In the film, at this point we cut to the great Arena on Geonosis where the executions of Obi Wan, Anakin and Padme are to be carried out. There was a scene filmed to take place before this, however, and the scene was cut due to the ever-present concerns about running time. It’s a good scene, though – well-written, and it shows Padme’s attempts to use diplomacy to defuse a bad situation as she meets with Count Dooku:
INTERIOR: GEONOSIS, CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY
COUNT DOOKU sits at a large conference table with PADMÉ on the far side. ANAKIN stands behind her with FOUR GEONOSIANS GUARDS standing behind him. JANGO FETT stands behind COUNT DOOKU, and SIX GEONOSIAN GUARDS stand behind him.
PADMÉ: You are holding a Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am formally requesting you turn him over to me, now.
COUNT DOOKU: He has been convicted of espionage, Senator, and will be executed. In just a few hours, I believe.
COUNT DOOKU smiles.
PADMÉ: He is an officer of the Republic. You can’t do that.
COUNT DOOKU: We don’t recognize the Republic here, Senator. But if Naboo were to join our Alliance, I could easily hear your plea for clemency.
PADMÉ: And if I don’t join your rebellion, I assume this Jedi with me will also die?
COUNT DOOKU: I don’t wish to make you to join our cause against your will, Senator, but you are a rational, honest representative of your people and I assume you want to do what’s in their best interest. Aren’t they fed up with the corruption, the bureaucrats, the hypocrisy of it all? Aren’t you? Be honest, Senator.
PADMÉ: The ideals are still alive, Count, even if the institution is failing.
COUNT DOOKU: You believe in the same ideals we believe in! The same ideals we are striving to make prominent.
PADMÉ: If what you say is true, you should stay in the Republic and help Chancellor Palpatine put things right.
COUNT DOOKU: The Chancellor means well, M’Lady, but he is incompetent. He has promised to cut the bureaucracy, but the bureaucrats are stronger than ever, no? The Republic cannot be fixed, M’Lady. It is time to start over. The democratic process in the Republic is a sham, no? A shell game played on the voters. The time will come when that cult of greed, called the Republic, will lose even the pretext of democracy and freedom.
PADMÉ: I cannot believe that. I know of your treaties with the Trade Federation, the Commerce Guilds, and the others, Count. What is happening here is not government that has been bought out by business… it’s business becoming government! I will not forsake all I have honored and worked for and betray the Republic.
COUNT DOOKU: Then you will betray your Jedi friends? Without your cooperation I can do nothing to stop their execution.
PADMÉ: And what about me? Am I to be executed also?
DOOKU: I wouldn’t think of such an offense. But, there are individuals who have a strong interest in your demise, M’Lady. It has nothing to do with politics, I’m afraid. It’s purely personal, and they have already paid great sums to have you assassinated. I’m sure they will push hard to have you included in the executions. I’m sorry but if you are not going to cooperate, I must turn you over to the Geonosians for justice. Without your cooperation, I’ve done all I can for you.
JANGO FETT: Take them away.
Yes, I would have included this scene. I like how it draws the political lines a bit more sharply and shows more of the roots of the conflict that is about to engulf the Galaxy. I especially like that Dooku calls Palpatine “incomptent” – does Dooku know that his master, Darth Sidious, actually is Palpatine? That’s an interesting question.
I’ll stop there for now. I’m not sure, but I may well finish up Attack of the Clones next time out – seriously, I have very few quibbles with the movie after the Naboo sequence, and what I’m doing here is more fleshing out bits of the film that I really like a lot. We’ll see what happens then. Tune in!
* On the new 90-minute review of AOTC, I watched about five minutes of it and stopped there, once I realized again that this fellow was saying things I’ve heard before and disagreed with before, many times in this space. I’ve got better things to do with my time than listen anew to the same old criticisms. As soon as he brought up the “Lucas made Return of the Jedi so he could sell Ewok toys” notion, I knew what was to come and shut the thing off.