If I had a label for my relationship with Attack of the Clones, it would probably be “it’s complicated.” I adored this movie in high school, fell out of love with it in my 20s, and I now (kind of, maybe) love it again?
I know what you’re thinking – for a number of fans, Attack of the Clones lands at the very bottom of their Star Wars movie rankings. It’s been criticized for having corny dialogue, a cheesy romantic subplot, and an over-reliance on CGI. And yet…for myself and many of my fellow millennials, the Star Wars prequels inspire a lot of nostalgia. As Attack of the Clones celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it’s a good time to take a fresh look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the second episode in the Star Wars franchise.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the existence of the Star Wars prequels – how they were developed, how they were received, and why George Lucas chose to tell this story the way that he did. I’m not going to argue that the prequels are great cinema, but I genuinely do appreciate the fact that George Lucas was willing to throw caution to the wind and take some creative risks with Episodes I-III.
It would have been so, so easy for him to churn out three more Star Wars episodes that were similar in tone and feel to the original trilogy. They would have capitalized on fan nostalgia, made him a boatload of money, and (potentially) inspired less debate and upheaval in the Star Wars fandom (I use the word “potentially” because it seems like no matter what happens in the Star Wars franchise, some fan somewhere is salty about it).
Yet that’s not the kind of guy George Lucas is. The prequels were the story he wanted to tell, and he wanted to do it in a different style than he’d used before. He sought to portray the gilded age of the Republic, using an approach that unfortunately comes across as stilted. Still, I’d much rather creatives shoot for the stars and sometimes miss than have Hollywood mass-produce soulless cash grabs.
I enjoyed Attack of the Clones in high school, because I was an angsty teenager, and it was about an angsty teenage Jedi. At the time I wasn’t involved in the larger Star Wars fandom, so I had no idea the prequels were controversial. However, I figured that out pretty quickly once I started getting more involved in online fandom, and when I rewatched Attack of the Clones years later, I found it hadn’t aged well. It quickly dropped to my least favorite Star Wars movie.
And then…Attack of the Clones and I took a long break, and I didn’t rewatch it until 2021, when I revisited it as part of a Star Wars movie marathon where I watched the entire saga in chronological order. And you know what? It might not have magically transformed into a better movie, but I had a blast watching it. I’d simply arrived at a point where I was A) exhausted by the infighting in the Star Wars community and no longer cared if people judged my Star Wars opinions and B) was finally ready to accept Episode II for what it was.
Whether you love it or hate it, Attack of the Clones is a pretty bonkers movie, and I have to respect George for committing to that. It starts with Obi-Wan Kenobi jumping out of a window, kicking off a high speed flying car chase through the skies of Coruscant. The film goes on to include a surprise clone army, floating pears, a gladiator style arena fight with a hoard of Jedi, a 1950s style space diner, C-3PO dropping groan-inducing puns, the introduction of Boba Fett’s father, and Yoda showing off his lightsaber skills for the first time. I didn’t realize just how much crazy Star Wars stuff was packed into this movie until I actually sat down and started listing it all out.
For a lot of fans who dislike this movie, the real sticking point is the love story between Anakin and Padmé. It’s an important part of the plot, because it leads to Anakin’s fall to the dark side later on, but the chemistry between these two characters is…well…let’s just say it’s not exactly at the level of Han and Leia in The Empire Strikes Back.
But the sometimes-cringey romance didn’t really bother me as much upon rewatch because again, I’d just accepted that it was part of the movie. And if you think about Anakin’s years of repressed emotions and trauma, his awkward behavior does make a little more sense.
I had a lot more fun focusing on Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan, a true gift to the Star Wars saga (I can’t wait to see him reprise the role in the upcoming Disney+ series). Also, I’m forever grateful to Attack of the Clones for bringing Temuera Morrison into Star Wars. I was so delighted to see him show up as Boba Fett in the second season of The Mandalorian.
Also, if George Lucas didn’t make Attack of the Clones, there would be no Clone Wars animated series, which is one of my favorite parts of the Star Wars franchise. Dave Filoni does a lot to flesh out the prequel characters and add a richness to the narrative you don’t get from the live-action movies alone.
I feel like Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has also helped soften my views on the prequels. There’s so much content now that one or two so-so stories don’t stand out as much.
I can respect the feelings of fans who grew up loving the originals, who had waited years to get more Star Wars and then what they received was The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Yeah, I might have been disappointed too. For me a good comparison would have been if I’d ended up hating The Force Awakens.
I guess I’m just personally over the debate about the prequels. It’s been 20 years, and the conversation stopped being productive a long time ago. If you don’t like them, you should be left in peace. If you do like them, you shouldn’t have to apologize for that or be shamed by the rest of the fandom.
Although it’s still interesting to talk about the complicated legacy of the prequels and their impact on the franchise at large, it’s time to stop complaining that George Lucas ruined your childhood by making three movies you didn’t care for. Star Wars is a big, messy galaxy, and for better or worse, Attack of the Clones is a part of that. And it’s no longer my least favorite Star Wars (sorry, Phantom Menace, that honor now belongs to you).