Rose Tico once said that we’re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love. That wisdom is pertinent for Star Wars fans; amidst seemingly incessant criticism, I want to spend time actually liking Star Wars. I love all Star Wars, so in this series, I’ll walk through each of the films identifying five things I love about it. That’s not to say there are only five, but I’m limiting myself to five here. One note: because I think John Williams’ work on every Star Wars film is fantastic, I’m going to essentially assume that would make every list, thus I’m leaving it out intentionally. But without Williams’ music, we don’t have Star Wars as we know and love it.
We continue today with Attack of the Clones.
1. The Mystery and Intrigue
More so than any other film in the saga, Attack of the Clones has the undertones of secrecy, mystery, and intrigue. I love it. Right from the beginning, we read in the opening crawl that systems have seceded from the Republic and joined the Confederacy of Independent Systems, which is under the leadership of the “mysterious Count Dooku.” And then there’s an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala, and we don’t know who is behind it. And then there’s another assassination attempt, this time perpetrated by the bounty hunter Zam Wesell. She is killed before she talks, but a saber dart is retrieved. Obi-Wan Kenobi begins investigating, consulting his friend Dexter Jettster for help. Dex tells Obi-Wan that it’s a dart from Kamino, but that planet doesn’t appear in the Jedi Temple archives – because someone deleted it. This sends Obi-Wan to Kamino, where he discovers that a Jedi Master named Sifo-Dyas had ordered the construction of a clone army for the Republic, taking after the bounty hunter Jango Fett. Kenobi tracks Fett to Geonosis, where he meets Count Dooku.
There are plenty of questions throughout the film that aren’t immediately answered. Who is this Count Dooku? Who’s trying to kill Padmé? Why was Kamino deleted from the archives? What’s the deal with this unknown Jedi creating an army for the Republic? So on and so forth. This film is in many ways shaped by mystery, and Obi-Wan gets to be the detective searching for answers. I think it makes things far more interesting, and it shows the arrogance of the Jedi. Early in the film, Yoda remarks that the arrogance in Anakin Skywalker is a trait more and more common amongst young Jedi – and yet the entire Council is marked by arrogance too. They think the Sith couldn’t return without them sensing it (as articulated in The Phantom Menace), and that Count Dooku isn’t capable of murder because he’s a former Jedi, that they don’t want to admit their weakness and blindness, and on and on it goes. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the mysteries in this film – the ones that Kenobi slowly begins to unravel, but that aren’t all fully answered in the movie – perhaps should give them reason to pause when thinking about this mysterious army?
The mystery works really well in this movie, and it makes things far more interesting than they otherwise would be. There are so many questions, and the viewer isn’t given too many answers too soon – I think that George Lucas handles these mysteries well. For example, we get a little hint about Dooku – that he was once a Jedi – but nothing more, so we’re left wondering about him. Dooku doesn’t show up for a long while in this film, and then it’s a bit after that when we finally come to understand a bit more about him. That’s just one example, but I think it all works.
And part of the reason the mystery works is because the Jedi are too arrogant and blind to take it seriously.
2. Count Dooku is a new kind of Star Wars villain
Star Wars is known not just for its heroes but for its villains. Darth Vader, for example, is considered by many to be the one of the greatest bad guys in movie history. Vader was a ruthless and ‘faceless’ Dark Lord, but who was ultimately redeemed in the end. Emperor Palpatine (in the original trilogy) is the master of this great villain, less forgiving than Vader. And then Maul in The Phantom Menace really received zero characterization – but looked evil and acted evil. My point in saying all of this is that Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones is a kind of villain that we had not yet seen in Star Wars.
Like Vader, he had once been a Jedi; and like Palpatine, he could shoot lightning from his hand. But where Dooku is different is that he’s presented not as a crazed madman with a hideous heart but as a noble politician. He’s not evil for evil’s sake. He’s not the brute force that Maul was in the previous film, and he’s not the faceless villain that Vader was, and he’s not the cruel evil that the Emperor was (plus, he doesn’t have the ‘Sith eyes’). He’s a former Jedi, the Count of Serenno, the leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. He’s a political leader. In many ways, we see that he’s actually right for identifying the corruption in the Senate, something that his apprentice Qui-Gon Jinn also noticed. Dooku grew disillusioned with the Jedi and the Republic and thought that the Sith and the Separatists would right those wrongs. None of this is to say that he’s a good guy – he’s not. But he is a more complex villain than we’re used to.
He is powerful with the Force, he’s an expert duelist, he was the apprentice to Yoda and Sidious and the master to Qui-Gon (all of which was a brilliant decision by George Lucas), a noble politician, and a brilliant leader. His conversation with Obi-Wan while the latter is imprisoned shows how Dooku is open to reason and not rash with his judgments, while still being the bad guy. And his one fatal error won’t become evident until the next film: he’s simply been a pawn all along.
3. Padmé Amidala at her best
Padmé is the one of the main prequel trilogy, and of course was the noble queen of Naboo in The Phantom Menace, but Padmé is at her very best in Attack of the Clones. And much of the plot of the film is driven, at least initially, by the plot to assassinate her. Now a Senator rather than Queen, Padmé at the beginning of the film spearheading the opposition to the Military Creation Act (which would give Chancellor Palpatine the authority to commission a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the rising threat of the Separatists). This places a target on her back, and she is the target of multiple assassination attempts that ultimately fail in killing her. This leads Obi-Wan Kenobi to hunt down the attempted assassin, and Anakin Skywalker to protect Padmé. Much of the film’s plot is dependent upon Padmé.
But that’s not why I’m mentioning her here. The reason why I’m mentioning her is because this is where, in my opinion, she really shines as a character. She’s a bold politician (we saw as much in the previous film too), she’s not afraid to fight for what is right, she can hold her own and doesn’t need help or protection, she’s a skilled fighter, and yet we also see a more personal side of her – most significantly in conversation with Anakin, with whom she develops a romantic relationship.
She’s the one who takes the lead, even when Anakin’s protecting her. She’s the one who decides to go rescue Obi-Wan. She manages to free herself from her chains in the Petranaki Arena. She rallies troops to go help Obi-Wan and Anakin. And as Anakin says, Padmé would do her duty. She’s compassionate, smart, a leader, and a skilled fighter. She’s committed to a cause greater than herself, and she doesn’t mind putting her own life in danger for the greater good.
4. The Battle of Geonosis is Epic
We first heard of the Clone Wars in A New Hope, and in the final act of Attack of the Clones we finally see the beginning of it. Obi-Wan is imprisoned while investigating mysteries (as mentioned earlier), and then Padmé and Anakin are arrested when coming to rescue him. The three of them are placed in the Petranaki Arena, chained to pillars, while creatures are unleashed on them (a Reek, a Nexu, and an Acklay). Without lightsabers or blasters, the heroes are able to get the better of these creatures, but are then surrounded by battle droids. But that’s when Mace Windu arrives (with “this party’s over” and a great introduction), and we see that there are Jedi all over! We’ve never seen a group of Jedi enter battle like this before! In the ensuing battle, Mace Windu kills Jango Fett, and the Jedi are rescued by Master Yoda arriving with the clone army. The Clone Wars has begun. The new Republic army rescues the Jedi and then launches attacks outside of the Arena on Geonosis, mounting offensives to strike against the droid army. Kenobi and Skywalker pursue Dooku, tracking him to a hangar, where they duel.
In the end, the Clone Wars has begun. And it is introduced to us for the first time with a battle the likes of which we’d never seen before, with dozens of Jedi fighting against the battle droids of the Separatists, then being aided by the clone army. It’s thrilling, and yet the mystery of the film tempers that excitement a bit. Why? Because we’ve learned that the clone army wasn’t sanctioned by the Jedi and was created completely unbeknownst to them. There is something sinister at play here. That much is confirmed in the aftermath of the battle, when Dooku reports to his master, Darth Sidious, about how their plan has been enacted. And even Yoda, when Obi-Wan talks about the victory on Geonosis, responds, “Victory? Victory, you say? Master Obi-Wan, not victory. The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun, the Clone War has.”
In all of this, then, Lucas is teaching us something important that we must not miss: even though the Jedi ‘won’ on Geonosis, they lost by getting involved in the fight in the first place. Yoda doesn’t see the battle as a victory, and Sidious sees it as following his plan. This is a premise that carries on throughout Star Wars: Luke’s ultimate victory at the end of Return of the Jedi was in refusing to fight any longer, while here the Jedi’s defeat in Attack of the Clones is in getting involved in the fight. The masterful manipulation of Palpatine is evident throughout this film, because the Jedi actually act with good intentions – saving their own – but in doing so get caught up in a war, something they never should have. As Mace Windu says earlier in the film, they’re keepers of the peace, not soldiers. Yet by the end of the movie, the Jedi are leading a mysterious clone army on the battlefields of Geonosis. And at the end of the movie, as we see the massive clone army on Coruscant beginning to be deployed, the Imperial March plays – an ominous foreshadowing of what we all know is coming.
So not only is it an exciting final act with a battle unlike anything we’d seen previously in Star Wars, but it also is a twist on our expectations in showing how the Jedi had already subtly begun to lose the War as they lost their way.
5. We get to finally see Yoda fight!
While there’s a lot about the Battle of Geonosis to like, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that we finally got to see Yoda fight! In the original trilogy we meet this tiny old Jedi Master, and you might have wondered: how would he fight, exactly? Well, never minding that Jedi don’t have to be warriors, we nonetheless get to see Yoda fight, finally, at the end of this film. He shows up to the rescue of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who had been defeated and were facing certain death at the hands of Count Dooku. There, Yoda faces off against his former apprentice. Their duel begins simply with a display of the Force, and we see Dooku shoot Force lightning at Yoda… which the Jedi deflects and absorbs with his hand!! We’d seen the damage that Force lightning could do in Return of the Jedi, and then again earlier in this very fight, and yet here Yoda is able to deflect and absorb the lightning, seemingly unaffected by it. That’s such a legit move, and it quickly reminds us that we’re not seeing any ordinary Jedi fight here. This is Master Yoda!
After his brilliant display of the Force, stunning us by it, Yoda pulls out his green lightsaber (using the Force to draw it to his hand from his belt), and he leaps – literally – into action. This little green alien begins jumping around, impossible to hit, and puts up quite a duel with Dooku – which the Count must escape by threatening the lives of Kenobi and Skywalker, forcing Yoda to save them instead of go after Dooku. We’re no longer left wondering – we’d now seen Yoda fight, and his display of skill both with the Force and with a lightsaber were most impressive.