It’s mine…all mine!
Well, here we go again…another Star Wars prequel. If you were to poll most fans and ask them their favorite films, this one would probably end up at the bottom of this list. Often cited reasons for its failure are long, drawn-out romance scenes, poor acting, cringe-inducing dialogue, and a convoluted plot that doesn’t make sense (in addition to many lingering criticism regarding the use of CGI). So, like last time, let’s try to break this down and discover the genesis of these problems. How can we learn from this film in order to better understand franchise filmmaking?
Let’s first look at the dialogue in the film. (Excerpt in video). Yeah, that’s the one everyone goes to, mainly because it’s really stupid. But that’s actually not my most hated line in the film…this is it, right here: (watch the video). That’s not how people talk. That’s not how emotions or ideas are conveyed. That’s a superficial bit of dialogue that wishes it was an archaic line of poetry. It’s meant to sound like a high-brow piece of Victorian English that would embellish and elevate the scene to something out of a classic novel or epic poem. And that’s fine, mind you, if it actually worked within the context of the film. However, most popular films are written to convey English as you or I would speak it, including the original Star Wars trilogy and other parts of this film. It’s asynchronous with how viewers expect the characters to interact. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it’s one that could have been polished up a bit with an extra revision or fresh pair of eyes when writing the script. The dialogue may have made sense to Lucas while writing the script, but to those of us on the outside, it doesn’t work well and it takes us out of the film.
The characters in the film, likewise, are written in a way that is thematically confusing to us (even if their role in the story is not). Anakin is painted two different ways by those around him; he’s either a wise, noble, honor-bound Jedi that is tragically seduced by the Dark Side OR an impulsive, reckless, rogue who often rides the line between hero and villain. Those two things are, in a way, mutually exclusive and he, unfortunately, acts like neither in the film. If he was a noble, honor-bound Jedi, why would he be the one making the advances on a dismissive and distant Padme? She continues to turn him down because of her position as a Senator, but he continue to express his desires to her. That seems a little backwards, does it not? Shouldn’t she be the one tempting him and he should be refusing due to his vows made to the Jedi Council? Or how about this: if he is so impulsive and ready for a fight, why did Obi-Wan jump out the window toward the centipede-delivering droid? That was a risky maneuver, and the only reason Obi-Wan survived was because Anakin left to find a speeder in order to catch him. Obi-Wan took the risk and Anakin did the calculated clean-up. Both of these examples show how the character of Anakin is a muddied mess. Not morally ambiguous, just…confusing. The stories and descriptions we hear the others recount don’t fit with what we see on screen, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us. And flipping those roles wouldn’t have affected the main beats of the story in any way. Anakin jumping out the window and Obi-Wan catching him still would have led to the speeder chase, and Padme tempting Anakin would have still led to their secret marriage. Both of these would have been minor tweaks to the script, had an extra draft been prepared by a second screenwriter.
The plot, too, is a bit of a mess. Yes, we can question character motivations and logical courses of action all day long, but I’m referring to a very specific point right now…something that many viewers might not have known about the film. [Sifo Dyas]. Who is Sifo Dyas? No, really, who is he? This character had never been mentioned before ever in the franchise, and never was following this. It’s not Palpatine using his Sith name, Sidious, because Obi-Wan has clearly heard of this Jedi before. He existed. But we get no explanation as to who he is, how he died, or, most importantly, why he would order the creation of a clone army. His backstory was later fleshed out in novels and comics, none of which are canon any more, in order to explain this plot point. So why did this happen? Well, the creation of the army was the work of Sidious, and Lucas had intended to have Sidious’s name attached to the army, but this was changed at the last minute because of a typo. Yes, a typo. Lucas misspelled “Sidious,” or a stylization thereof, and went with it. Rather than revise the script to correct the spelling of a name, Lucas created an entirely new character that would go on to become one of the biggest fan-centered clean-up jobs in the franchise. All because one man wrote and directed the entire film.
And therein lies the problem with Attack of the Clones. It’s all about creative control. Before I say some controversial things about filmmaking, let me first point out that I do not think that all films should be studio-controlled, cookie-cutter films. All movies should, hopefully, come from some creative part of a writer’s head. That being said, there are lots of writers who have bad ideas, and not every single one deserves to be put to screen in its original form. Film is a collaborative medium…directors work with writers who work with actors who work with musicians who work with editors who work with producers. There are hundreds of people who contribute to a film to varying degrees, so to boil down the creative aspect to one person can lead to problems. Sure, there are exceptions and there have been some amazing visionaries who have given us groundbreaking films. But let’s not forget that the original three Star Wars films all had different directors, writers, editors, and producers working with George Lucas to help him bring his vision to the screen.
When was the last time you saw something happen at work that you later tried to recount to your friends, only to see their bewildered faces? “I guess you just had to be there,” you conceded, as your way of explaining the story didn’t quite jive with their way of hearing the story. Or at an even more fundamental level, when was the last time you were simply telling a made-up story, only to have your audience not understand what you were going for? It happens a lot to people, and that is because storytelling is subjective. Often times it’s helpful to have objective people assist in the telling of a story. Someone may have an idea or story brewing in their head for years, so long that he or she has an intimate understand of the story…but the outside world does not. That story needs to be tweaked if you want it to click with a large audience. If you want to write off that large audience and call it a “passion project,” that’s fine, just understand that it won’t be as big of a blockbuster as some more collaborative works, like the original Star Wars films.
This is tricky, too, because how much tinkering will you allow before you call it off? You don’t want there to be too many cooks in the kitchen. There have been many cases in which famous filmmakers have left projects due to a tampering of their work. It’s a tough to strike a balance, but at the end of the day, it’s something that needs to be done if you want the film to be a big hit. After all, nobody said making a Star Wars film was easy.
Attack of Clones just didn’t have that collaborative aspect. Actors couldn’t bring anything new to the script, like they had in past films, different directors weren’t able to put a unique visual flair on the film, no producers challenged any questionable decisions, and there were no fresh eyes checking the script, leading the dialogue being…UNRELATABLE! That’s what…I…wanted to…unrelatable. I’ll leave you with one last quote from person: “I will include this quote once I find it.”
For a more in-depth look at Attack of the Clones, be sure to check out Red Letter Media’s review of the film.
Alex Russo loves Star Wars more than he loves members of his own family. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.