If there’s one thing that Star Wars fans do possibly better than those of any other film series, it’s argue over the quality of the films. But long before modern audiences raged over the sequel trilogy and the myriad controversies found within, there existed the great prequel debate.
In light of ‘The Disney Era’, the years-long discussion over the various faults of Episodes I-III seems to have long since quietened. Whether it’s because of the recent groundswell of support for the trilogy on places like Instagram and Reddit, or just that the debate over the newer films is more in vogue, is unclear. What is clear is that the hatred for the only singularly-directed Star Wars trilogy seems to have (mostly) subsided.
Whilst there probably is an alternate reality where the films are as universally loved as the Original Trilogy, we don’t have the means to access it. What we do have right now is May the Fourth, aka Star Wars Day – a time for celebration of all we have come to know and love about George Lucas’s sandbox, including its obscure corners, which tradition dictates should be fully explored through countless articles and publications. There have been investigations into the origins of background droids and desert extras, and it is in that spirit this article investigates another galactic rarity: the good parts of Attack of the Clones, the most maligned of all three of the original Star Wars follow-ups. To go a level deeper, as the above title suggests, we’re talking about the film’s opening 250 seconds.
Perhaps the strongest thing that these opening minutes have going for them is that they are free of many of the intrusions which caused fans to so passionately reject the film. This is long before Dexter, or hybrid-Threepio, or even the first appearance of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker – who, let’s be fair, was an inexperienced actor thrown in at the deep end here, forced to deep with complicated themes and strange dialogue who later went on to prove himself a more than capable tortured soul in Revenge of the Sith.
As any good Star Wars film – or rather, as ANY Star Wars film does – we open with the immortal tagline, the burst of the iconic logo, and then the opening crawl. Immediately, hope starts to build; after The Phantom Menace started with talk about “the taxation of trade routes” and “the congress of the Republic”, this is a marked improvement as it introduces the idea of AN ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC.
True to form, this very-important information is presented in ALL CAPS, which can only mean that some truly outrageous weapons-slugging is imminent and, as this film’s astonishing final set-piece and the success of The Clone Wars show, there’s always been an appetite for the chaotic intergalactic battles that such armies could bring about. Then, this opening does something that no Star Wars film had done before; the camera pans UP, not down. This may seem like a trivial detail, but it shows a break from form that sets up the daring nature of this film’s introduction. Gliding through this are some Nubian pilots showing off a few maneuvers as they approach the underside of Coruscant.
The design of the Naboo Starfighters has always been vastly underrated, and it’s a shame that this is the last time the films show them off. They’re accompanying Padmé Amidala’s new ship (which is a marked and majestic improvement on her rounded-dagger cruiser from Episode I) towards the galactic capital, and the scope of the city-planet arguably comes to life here more than it does anywhere else.
A common critique of George Lucas’s prequels and ‘Special Editions’ is that he “puts too much into a scene” (to his credit, he openly admits to wanting to ‘fill every frame’ in commentaries and featurettes). However, here this approach works; the space garbage and streaming traffic only serves the ‘busy-ness’ of what is essentially the galaxy’s fulcrum. There is then a beautiful shot of the main ship’s reflective underside (complete with a lens flare that would make future Star Wars director JJ Abrams smile), before the film’s first lines of dialogue bring us into “our final approach into Coruscant”.
The next shot is one that’s difficult to distill into a single still image, working much better as a fluid sequence. It features a deep cloud cover, upon which are cast ominous shadows by the overhead ships amongst the tips of impossibly tall buildings that rise from beneath, to form a stunning piece of cinematography. John Williams’ score, gently rising in suspense, invokes suspicion and subterfuge, danger and debate, key themes for the entire movie. Years have passed in-universe since we were last in this galaxy; we’re a bit unsure as to what the state of affairs is, and the sense of beginning anew found here almost feels like we’re hanging low over Tatooine in A New Hope once again.
After plunging through the clouds, Amidala’s starship (a J-Type diplomatic barge, for those who are interested) eeks its way out of the dense fog, those imposing skyscrapers boxing it in as its descent stages slowly begin. This isn’t a war film, at least not yet; we all know where it’s going: we’ll be in the Clone Wars sometime soon. Nevertheless, this mysterious, slowly-paced opening could quite easily fit into the Star Wars saga’s very own war film, 2016’s Rogue One.
And then, cheerfully welcoming us into a galaxy far, far away like so many times before, is R2-D2:
Having Artoo so early in a Star Wars film is always good – after all, just look at all he does for the opening thirty minutes of Revenge of the Sith. He glides us along to meet Captain Typho.
A cheerful, eye-patch-wearing character of obvious strength (if first impressions are anything to go by, at least), he’s Captain Panaka’s replacement, with his predecessor busy saving lives on the outskirts of London.
And then BOOM!
Our sense of security, in spite of safely having landed amidst Typho’s telling line, “I guess there was no danger at all”, is shattered as Amidala is seemingly killed off. Admittedly, so no-one thinks she’s actually dead, but it’s still a shocking move, complete with a camera shudder and the series’ favourite sound effect, the Wilhelm scream. The consistency of the cinematography continues with a gem of an aerial shot.
On a personal note here, I find it a little heartbreaking when that sleek Naboo Starfighter in the bottom left gets destroyed – not to mention the little green astromech who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The droids in these films often have more personality than some of the characters, and whilst it may just be a throwaway bit of set-dressing to enhance the destruction in this scene, it feels like another unfortunate victim of this surprisingly resonant scene.
The Naboo Pilot to whom Typho was speaking is actually revealed to be Padmé (Natalie Portman) herself, surviving in a not-so-shocking twist which still continues the air of second-guessing and mistrust the film has offered so far, and the fallen ‘Padmé’ is actually Cordé one of her handmaidens; obviously, that privilege isn’t just reserved for Naboo’s Queens or Keira Knightley. For all the accusations of forced, wooden acting that plague this film (even toward the future Academy Award winner Portman), this small exchange between the two adds just the right level of emotion for the scene – particularly when the latter dies in her friend’s arms, apologising for a failure that wasn’t hers.
The Senator barely has time to grieve when Typho rushes her from the platform, and the “rest of the film” begins. The next scene takes place in Almost-Emperor Palpatine’s office, and an old enemy – the political talk seen in The Phantom Menace – arrives alongside a new one: the overly green-screened environments and characters that unfortunately come to define this film. Soon, we’re swept into talk of “political idealists” and sent hurtling down a road which leads directly to all that cringeworthy meadow flirting.
Admittedly, the title of this article is misleading: the first 23 seconds of this film are the 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm opening titles, so technically this is an examination of even less of the proverbial “good” Star Wars. Yet, looking at some of the screenshots above, this film clearly has some interesting and well-worked cinema to offer; moreover, in places, it looks like the Star Wars we all know and love.
It’s very easy – customary, even – to point out what we may not like about a given Star Wars film. But, for the saga to remain popular over forty years after its debut, it clearly must still boast its appeals. Sometimes, they come in a four-minute timespan; but however plentiful these moments may be, then surely this is the day to celebrate rather than criticise them.
Is there an obscure moment in Star Wars that you love? Do you have a memory of the films that keeps you coming back? Let us know in the comments below, or on our Twitter and Instagram. There’s a whole lot more content coming today from a galaxy far, far away, so make sure you’re following us on social media, and keep an eye on the Kernel App for each and every article released!