Tuesday 21 May 2002
Ten Reasons to Like the Clones
A response to reviews of Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
by Paul Levinson
This is not a formal review, but rather a response to the negative reviews of Attack of the Clones which have (unsurprisingly) appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.
I'm presenting this response in the form of my ten top reasons for liking — actually, loving — Attack of the Clones. In order that these reasons, and this letter, not be misconstrued as satire (ala David Letterman), I'll present the reasons beginning with number 1. Then, after the list, I'll make a few comments.
1. The plot has a neat Asimovian twist, in which what starts out seeming evil later turns out to seem good but in the end winds up being evil, after all. Further, there is a delicious Asimovian inevitability in this: at the conclusion, we understand that whatever actions the leading characters take, the conclusion — the strengthening of evil — will be upheld.
2. While we're on the subject of Asimov, I thought the movie had all sorts of nice homage-references to the Foundation series: the capital city looks, for all the galaxy, like Trantor; the library looks like the library at Trantor; a planet is missing and must be found, ala Second Foundation. I've seen some critics who have lambasted these references as derivative. But as someone who has loved the Foundation series for nearly 50 years, I found the allusions only enjoyable.
3. Speaking of homages, there is a splendid air-borne car-chase scene near the beginning of the movie, very reminiscent of Blade Runner in locale. Several critics have praised this scene in their otherwise negative reviews, and I certainly agree about this scene.
4. The Jedi: It was wonderful to see the Jedi in actual battle, as an elite force, near the end of the movie. This scene was the equal of the best scenes in A New Hope (the original Star Wars movie), and The Empire Strikes Back, which were the best two previous movies (more on this below).
5. Yoda in one-on-one battle: this was also a superb scene, thoroughly motivated in the story.
6. Different levels of prowess among Jedi: In past Star Wars movies, this was only hinted at (or, in the case of the Darth Vader, he was identified as stronger than the rest). In the Clones, we see explicit variations: Obi Wan is unable to defeat the bounty hunter (Jango Fett), but the Jedi played by Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) is. (And there is some very good, subtle development of Obi Wan as a Jedi whose physical prowess is perhaps not quite as good as those of his colleagues — which makes sense, given that his mentor, Quai-Gon Jinn, was killed in the last movie, before Obi-Wan's training was 100% complete.)
7. Natalie Portman gives a fine performance. Her character was, at any rate, far more believable as love interest than Princess Leia.
8. Excellent Dolby sound effects, throughout. Check out, especially, the sound when Obi-Wan is pursuing the Bounty Hunter in the asteroid cluster.
9. Lots of good, derring-do touches of humor throughout the movie, including some nice self-referential stuff. (Again, tone-deaf or myopic critics seemed to have missed this.) Example: Obi-Wan says casually to Anakin, early in the movie, about the physical risks Anakin exposes both of them to, "you'll be the death of me." (While we're on the subject of Anakin, the difficult portrayal of the beginnings of his seduction by the Dark Side was handled well, including his first slaughter of innocents, and the accompanying music.)
10. I liked the different colors of the Jedi light-sabres: red bad, green good, blue apprentice, and one special purple.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
Well, ok, here's one more: I like the thread of evil, like a recessive Jedi gene that only comes out every few generations, running from master to apprentice: the evil Dooku is the good Quai-Gon's master, who is the good Obi-Wan's master, who is Anakin's....
In general, I think Clones is a lot better than Menace and Return of the Jedi, and it may be as good as The Empire Strikes Back. As a story, I actually liked it better than New Hope, but that's of course in a class by itself. [Note added in 2005: I also liked Clones better than Revenge of the Sith, which I liked more than Menace.][Note added in 2007: I'm thinking now that Clones may be my favorite Star Wars movie.]
So how come so many critics have been disappointed?
My guess is, they don't really love science fiction. If they did, a movie that draws upon the Foundation trilogy, Dune, Blade Runner (it also draws on Gladiator — spoofs it — which is a kind of fantasy) would have been irresistible, despite its imperfections.