Fixing the Prequels: Attack of the Clones (part eight)

part seven
part six
part five
part four
part three
part two
part one

Heavens, it’s been a while since I left off. A long while, actually. Oh well, sorry about that…even if there hasn’t exactly been a massive clamoring for me to continue this series. But really, if procrastination was an Olympic sport, I’d be Bruce Jenner. But now we’re back to it, so hopefully I can work up a bit of momentum.

(Before I get back to my own business at hand, a brief word about something that’s been shooting ’round the Interweb of late: some guy’s 70-minute long rant-review of The Phantom Menace. No, I haven’t watched it beyond the first 90 seconds or so. First, I found the guy’s voice very odd – he seems to keep saying “Phrantom Menace” instead of Phantom; second, from the plaudits being heaped on that video by the usual suspects (people who like to bitch about the Prequel Trilogy on a regular basis), I gather that the review says nothing that I haven’t heard before about the movie. He apparently puts on display some of the footage from the “Making of TPM” feature that’s been in the DVD for years, footage from the first screening of the film’s rough cut at Lucasfilm, and the apparent atmosphere in the room that TPM-haters like to interpret as everybody but George Lucas realizing that the movie is crap. No, folks, this stuff is not new, and I don’t think it’s particularly revelatory, either. Basically, though, I’m just not interested in yet another iteration of everyone’s favorite complaints about TPM. I just don’t share them, and for some of the many reasons why, see my previous posts on the subject (although I would single out one particular complaint in the video I’ve seen cited by people high-fiving it, that TPM has no “main character”. For many reasons that I’ve already discussed, this is complete nonsense.) Jason Bennion also comments on the 70-minute review, for those interested.)

And now, back to Attack of the Clones.

When we’d last left off, Anakin and Padme were hanging out by the lake on Naboo while Obi Wan was actually doing some Jedi work-related stuff, investigating the creation of a clone army on Kamino. Specifically, Obi Wan has just finished meeting Jango Fett and left the bounty hunter troubled to the point of deciding to leave Kamino with his son, Boba. After that, we cut back to Naboo and the romantic adventures of Anakin and Padme – with, in my opinion, some very poor results. This sequence features what is, for me, the single most damaging scene in the entire Prequel Trilogy. But first, we get a brief look at Anakin and Padme at dinner (red type indicates material not in the final cut of the film):

EXTERIOR: NABOO LAKE RETREAT, LOUNGE – LATE AFTERNOON

The setting sun touches the mountain peaks. The lake glows in the rose-tinted light. Floating lamps gleam softly like jewels at the lodge.

INTERIOR: NABOO LAKE RETREAT, DINING ROOM – LATE AFTERNOON

NANDI places dessert in front of PADMÉ. TECKLA does the same for ANAKIN. The dessert is some kind of fruit.

ANAKIN: And when I got to them, we went into… aggressive negotiations. (to Teckla) Thank you.

PADMÉ: “Aggressive negotiations,” what’s that?

ANAKIN: Uh, well, negotiations with a lightsaber.

PADMÉ: (laughing) Oh.

PADMÉ picks up her fork and goes to spear a piece, but it moves! She frowns and tries again – the fruit moves. She looks up at ANAKIN. His eyes are on his plate.

PADMÉ: You did that?

ANAKIN looks up – wide-eyed innocence.

ANAKIN: What?

PADMÉ scowls at him. PADMÉ jabs at the fruit – ANAKIN subtly moves his hand and it lifts up from the plate and hovers in front of her.

PADMÉ: That! Now stop it!

PADMÉ laughs. ANAKIN laughs. She reaches out for the fruit – it loops.

PADMÉ: Anakin!!

ANAKIN moves his fingers. The fruit flies into his hand.

ANAKIN: If Master Obi-Wan caught me doing this, he’d be very grumpy.

ANAKIN is pleased. He cuts the fruit into several pieces and sends one back to PADMÉ. She bites it out of the air and laughs.

The only thing that genuinely bugs me about this scene is, frankly, the special effects, which always look off to me. The relative size of the fruit Anakin levitates across the table seems to change, and when Padme takes a bit of it, she doesn’t seem to exert any actual effort, so it actually looks like what it is: she’s biting nothing. The pear (or whatever it is) has been added digitally. But that’s a small complaint, and I like Anakin’s description of something he’s done as “aggressive negotations”. It’s a nice little scene, and I like the idea of mischievous Anakin using the Force to move Padme’s food around. That strikes me as exactly the kind of practical joke a Jedi would do. (It occurs to me that a Jedi pie fight would be a pretty creepy thing to watch, though – just a bunch of people standing still while pies are Force-thrown through the air.)

And then…the fireplace scene. The fireside chat. The scene by the fire. The scene that…well, while I don’t think it’s the worst scene in Star Wars history (that’s still in The Phantom Menace, this is the single scene I’d re-do in a heartbeat if George Lucas himself asked me to make a single change in any Star Wars film. Seriously, this scene, in terms of the impact it has on what comes after, is orders of magnitude worse than Greedo shooting first.

Why? Well, we need to look at the scene itself:

INTERIOR: NABOO LAKE RETREAT, LODGE, FIREPLACE ALCOVE –
TWILIGHT

A fire blazes in the open hearth. PADMÉ and ANAKIN are sitting in front of it, gazing into the flames. She looks up as ANAKIN leans in to kiss her.

PADMÉ: Anakin, no.

ANAKIN: From the moment I met you, all those years ago, a day hasn’t gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m with you again, I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over – my mouth goes dry. I feel
dizzy. I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask…

Silence. The logs flame in the hearth. PADMÉ meets his eye, then looks away.

ANAKIN: If you are suffering as much as I am, tell me.

PADMÉ: …I can’t. We can’t. It’s just not possible.

ANAKIN: Anything’s possible. Padmé, please listen…

PADMÉ: You listen. We live in a real world. Come back to it. You’re studying to become a Jedi Knight. I’m a Senator. If you follow your thoughts through to conclusion, they will take us to a place we cannot go… regardless of the way we feel about each other.

ANAKIN: Then you do feel something!

PADMÉ: Jedi aren’t allowed to marry. You’d be expelled from the Order. I will not let you give up your future for me.

ANAKIN: You’re asking me to be rational. That is something I know I cannot do. Believe me, I wish I could wish my feelings away… but I can’t.

PADMÉ: I am not going to give in to this. I have more important things to do than fall in love.

There is silence as they stare at the fire. ANAKIN is thinking.

ANAKIN: It wouldn’t have to be that way… we could keep it a secret.

PADMÉ: Then we’d be living a lie – one we couldn’t keep up even if we wanted to. Mt sister saw it. So did my mother. I couldn’t do that. Could you, Anakin? Could you live like that?

Silence for a moment.

ANAKIN: No. You’re right. It would destroy us.

That first bit, with Anakin leaning in to kiss her, isn’t in the finished film; but the way the scene plays, there’s about six or seven seconds of body language between Anakin and Padme before he begins his “From the moment I met you” speech. Padme is turning away from Anakin, looking uncomfortable with something; Anakin is looking sad and disappointed. This makes clear that something has just happened, but the way it plays onscreen, we don’t know what.

And then there’s Anakin’s speech itself, in which he just bluntly lays it all out there, making his love for Padme sound like an awfully unpleasant feeling. Now, since he’s a Jedi and since he’s been in love with the only girl he’s ever met since he met her, I suppose it’s possible that he wouldn’t have picked up on this, but telling the object of your affections how miserable you are by feeling the way you feel about her isn’t a strategy that’s likely to bring her into your arms. But that speech isn’t even my big objection, even though I’d rewrite it to be a bit less overly dramatic. Anakin is, after all, a deeply immature person, and this speech again strikes me as something that is awkward and overly dramatic by design. Anakin’s a teenager in love with an adult, and he can’t help but voice his feelings in the way teenagers sometimes do. Teenage love can be pretty unpleasant, sometimes. So I can somewhat see what’s behind Anakin’s lovelorn speechifying here, even if he comes off a bit too stalkerish. (Plus the simple fact that at one point he uses the same word twice in the same sentence — “I wish I could just wish my feelings away!” I remember that line ringing horribly in my ear when I saw the movie at a midnight screening opening day.)

Where the scene starts to really go wrong, though, is Padme’s response. She discourages him, yes; she tells him they shouldn’t, that it’s impossible, that she’s a Senator and he’s a Jedi…but she admits that there is something there. That’s the crucial mistake. Lucas has Padme slamming on the brakes, when she shouldn’t even be admitting to being on a ride in the first place. She should not even be aware of her burgeoning feelings for Anakin yet, much less admit their existence. And she absolutely should not seem to at least be partially open to the idea of keeping a relationship a secret. So, what should she have done?

She should have smacked him down, hard.

Yes, it would seem harsh and maybe even a bit mean, but it would also establish her as the clear mature person here; it would clarify Anakin’s lack of maturity, so that over the remainder of the film he could be seen more clearly to have grown; it would make their love story more real by showing it to be more of a struggle and less of a pre-ordained drama to be acted out. It would establish Padme more as a strong character in her own right – we don’t get nearly enough of a look at things from her point of view – and it would focus our sympathies on Anakin, which is where they should be. We need to be rooting for Anakin, which is hard when (a) he’s being depicted as something of a crazy guy already, and (b) it’s already being conceded that he’s on his way to getting the girl.

So, it seems to me that the fireplace scene should go something like this:

Fire blazing in the hearth, ANAKIN and PADME sitting on the couch, looking at the flames.

PADME: You haven’t said anything in a while.

ANAKIN: I just don’t want this moment to end.

She meets his gaze, and he leans in to kiss her, but she turns her head away at the last second.

PADME: No, Annie. It was a mistake before, I can’t let it happen again.

Silence as ANAKIN turns away and glowers. She makes no motion to comfort him.

PADME: You’re still not saying anything.

ANAKIN: (angry) Anakin.

He looks at her.

ANAKIN: My name is Anakin. I was ‘Annie’ ten years ago, not now. Why can’t you see me for who I am?

A silent moment….

ANAKIN: From the moment I met you, all those years ago, a day hasn’t gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m with you again, I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over – my mouth goes dry. I feel
dizzy. I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. If you–

Finally Padme grows exasperated and stands up.

PADME: Stop it, Anakin. Can’t you hear yourself? You live in a real world. Come back to it! You’ve been living a dream. How can I be “in your soul, tormenting you”? You barely know me, Anakin! I’m ten years older than you. Like it or not, you’re still a Jedi Padawan, and I’m a former Queen and a Senator.

ANAKIN looks like he’s been kicked in the gut. PADME shakes her head.

PADME: I see now that this was a mistake. I shouldn’t have allowed the Jedi Council to assign you and Obi Wan to my protection. When this affair is over, I will speak with them.

She goes to leave the room, and stops at the door.

PADME: None of this was your fault, Anakin. But I’m not the person you’ve been dreaming about. No one is.

She exits, leaving a devastated ANAKIN to stare at nothing.

That’s how the scene should have gone, I think. We know that Anakin’s already in love with Padme, but she needs some time to get there, and a reason to get there. The reason the scene, as originally written and shot for the film, doesn’t work is that if you’re going to have a character acting weird, you need to have someone acknowledge that his behavior is weird. No one does that here, and it’s damaging, as we can see that Anakin’s love for Padme isn’t the healthy kind.

And that’s a good place to stop. Next time, we wrap up Obi Wan on Kamino and Anakin on Naboo. And I promise it won’t be seven months until the next installment!

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7 Responses to Fixing the Prequels: Attack of the Clones (part eight)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cole slaw and green beans. I love their green beans. The new grilled chicken is delicious.

  2. Roger Owen Green says:

    No, it's Frampton Menace. Fear of curly-haired 70s rock stars.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Tosy And Cosh says:

    I've always thought that the bit with the apple floating was meant to be a signpost of Anakin's dark side tendencies – that Jedi's aren't supposed to use the force for parlor tricks, that to do so is to abuse the power. To me, that's why the whole "Yoda limps slowly but can fight like a whilrwind" thing works – he COULD use the force to walk easier in his daily life, but to do so would be to abuse the power.

  5. Kelly Sedinger says:

    "Anonymous": You're on the wrong thread; hence the removal of your comment. Feel free to try again on the right thread.

  6. jason says:

    …even if there hasn't exactly been a massive clamoring for me to continue this series.

    I've been meaning to send up a clamor, but things have been busy at work, you see, and, er…

    Well, anyway, happy to see you continuing with the project. I, for one, enjoy it immensely.

    I agree that the fireplace scene was very bad (my prequel-hating friends seem to pick on this moment, in particular), and I think you've hit on exactly the reason why, i.e., Padme admitting her feelings too soon. In a way, Anakin and Padme's relationship is a mirror of Han and Leia's in Empire, or at least it ought to be. Leia resists Han's sometimes-awkward advances too, giving in a little bit at a time until she finally blurts out her feelings for him in the carbon-freeze room at the end of the movie. Even though everyone, including Han, already knew how she felt, that moment has great resonance because she's finally saying what she couldn't bring herself to say before, right at the moment when it matters most. That's what Padme's "I truly, deeply love you" on Geonosis should have been like as well, but it just came across as flat… in part because there hasn't been much of an emotional build toward it earlier in the film.

    Your fix here sets us on a much stronger path toward that emotional pay-off; I'm anticipating that your continuing rewrite will show her gradually warming toward him until that moment in the arena.

  7. jason says:

    Oh, and another couple of thoughts:

    I agree with Tosy and Cosh — I read the bit with the fruit as Anakin using the Force for a frivolous purpose, which I imagine would be a definite no-no and something he should've known better than to do. I've always seen the Dark Side as being as much about subtle ethical problems as the big fear-anger-hate-murder thing. Using the Force for ordinary day-to-day interactions (like flirting with a girl) would give Jedi (or Sith) an immense advantage over "normal" people, and it would be a slippery slope toward using it more and more to get the things you want. Seen in this light, Qui-Gon was also flirting with abuse when he affected the outcome of his bet with Watto in TPM.

    I would've liked to see Anakin fall to the Dark Side unfold much more incrementally than it does in the actual movies. That was another mistake of the fireplace scene, I think, by allowing us to see him as stalker-ish, rather than simply a lovesick teenager. His behavior toward Padme should've become more obsessive and creepy as he falls more under Palpatine's influence, rather than seeming that way from the start. Again, I think your tweak — having her call him on acting weird, as you put it — defuses some of that problem. The hint of bigger troubles is there in your version, but it could be easily dismissed by the viewer at this point in the story. We'd only see it as another signpost later…

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