After the public revulsion that followed The Phantom Menace, few people outside of decided fans really thought that Attack of the Clones was going to be any better. Many found their assumptions to be correct. With the second installment in his prequel trilogy, Lucas decided that trying something new might be a bad idea. So, he turned to fan service, giving us the backstory of Boba Fett in an effort to win back fans that had been repelled by The Phantom Menace.
Actually, I think the story in Attack of the Clones is an improvement over The Phantom Menace. It’s the story of an angry, mal-ajusted kid with powers that make his immediate peers nervous and whose circumstances go from bad to worse inside the span of 142 minutes. He loses his mother, his loses control of himself and he struggles with the fact that he can’t even date. Jedi powers or not, I’d be ticked off too.
The problem with Attack of the Clones is the dialogue. I’ve said for years that if the dialogue were better, no one would complain about the story. But that dialogue. It’s flat, dull, colorless, factual, formal boiler-plate speech that even wonderful actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor can’t overcome. I know, I know, that’s not really what this essay is all about. I’m supposed to be neutral in these things, but I feel that a survey of Attack of the Clones is not complete without mentioning its shortcomings. That said, let’s move on.
What Attack of the Clones offers that Phantom Menace did not was a wider scope of The Jedi Order. What is interesting is that while the role of the Jedi is widened, the powers of the Jedi are not. Very few new powers are introduced here save for one quizzical thing in which Anakin and Obi-Wan are able to fall hundreds and hundreds of feet and land on a passing speeder without getting squashed like a bug. Do they have a Force-shield? Can they slow themselves down? It’s never implicitly said and I don’t recall this coming from the novelization.
What is special about Attack of the Clones is that it explores how and why a Jedi falls to the Dark Side. Of course, joining the Sith seems to be a matter of choice much like a teenager who takes up a life of crime. Some do this out of despair and others do it because it is a quick and easy path that requires less effort. Anakin’s journey into darkness is born out of frustration. He’s a kid who was born a slave, taken from his mother, raised by a council that persistently told him ‘no’ regards to personal matters, and refuse to let him love who he wants. He’s angry and bitter at the cards he’s been dealt and that feeds the aggression that will consume him. The dark side takes advantage of his weakness and seduces him with promises of greatness.
The chief difficulty here is the coda from the Jedi that forbids Anakin from having a girlfriend. This is handled in a rather strange bit of dialogue in which Anakin tells Padme that, for a Jedi, possession and attachment are off the table, but compassion is central to the mantra of the Jedi. “You might say, we’re encouraged to love.” So, you can love but you can’t date? You can love humanity, but not an individual? It’s not very clear.
As far as I can tell, the Jedi’s code of non-romantic attachments is more along the lines of why Superman and Batman can’t have girlfriends – because they can be used as leverage by one’s enemies to hurt you. But there’s also the theory that the Jedi operate in the same way as Catholic priests in that they don’t marry after they’ve been ordained. In the case of the Jedi, the purpose behind this may stem from the emotional telepathy, i.e. a vengeful Sith can weed out the one you love and kill them much in the same way that Vader weeded Leia out of Luke’s mind. After the fall of the Galactic Empire, this ‘no-nooky’ clause was virtually abandoned. In the new Jedi Order that rose up in the years following Luke’s redemption of his father, he married Mara Jade and eventually had a son named Ben. How this will be handled now that Disney has wiped the Expanded Universe off the table remains to be seen.
Anakin’s personal battle runs parallel with what is happening in the larger scope of a world that is coming apart at the seams. The overview of the Jedi maintains their role as a religious order running parallel to the central government but having no hand in government affairs. However, the role changes with the clouds of social change. In times of peace or when political strife sparks debates but not war, the Jedi seem to function as a peaceful but still stern diplomatic core. As negotiations break down and actual conflicts begin, the role of the Jedi is expanded and they begin operating as a unilateral paramilitary organization working side by side with the actual military as they march into battle. That role would mysteriously change as The Clone War neared its peak.
The social role of the Jedi Order raises an interesting question about whether or not it is government funded. I mean, look at their Temple. You don’t get that kind of elaborate décor when you’re broke. As I have mentioned before, this goes back to A New Hope when the exiled Ben apparently had $17,000 to spend on a trip to Alderaan. And here it’s strange that somewhere a Jedi – Master Sifo Dyas – had enough money to secretly fund a cloning project when he got nervous after foreseeing the coming Clone War. Dyas had to get the money from somewhere. When he died in an accident, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku picked up the project, wherein was installed Order 66.
All of this leads to the biggest question of all. How did the Jedi not see this coming? In a movie in which the dialogue feels like a festering wound, this plot hole is covered up by one line from Yoda who reasons that “The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is.” Exactly how this works, I’m not sure but it clears up a lot of possible plot holes.
Within the Star Wars lore (actually Wookieepedia) it would be explained as a “Wound in The Force,” a catastrophic event that either happened or is on the verge of happening. When The Force is weakened – such as by war – the Sith can take the opportunity to alter the fabric of The Force and cloud their actions. This explains a great deal in terms of what happens in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and the coming Clone War. Though it is controversial in nature, and is probably the reason the Yoda warns Luke the the future isn’t written in stone. Whatever it is, however it works, it would alter the course of events for the rest of the Star Wars universe.