by Adam Riske
Last week, I watched all three of the Star Wars prequels in a single day for the first time. After finishing The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I intended to continue the night chronologically with Rogue One. I turned off Rogue One after about twenty minutes, not because I was tired, but because I was still carrying the prequel trilogy with me. I wasn’t mad. I was moved. How the hell did this happen? I’m supposed to dislike the prequels. In fact, except for Sith, I did dislike the prequels up until this most recent viewing. What changed was when I watched them back-to-back-to-back, the Anakin Skywalker saga came together nicely.
Attack of the Clones more than before, but I will not say that it’s good. It’s just that I was removed from the disappointment factor in 2017. Star Wars (due to the sheer quantity of output from the IP nowadays) doesn’t feel as precious anymore. Not as much is riding on any single entry and I think that benefits Attack of the Clones in a way. Prior to last week, I don’t think I had seen Attack of the Clones since 2003, so this time out I was enjoying just how goofy the whole movie is more than anything. For example, I forgot that Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) goes to the Jedi Archives and asks a Jedi librarian for help with research like it’s a teen horror film. I forgot he also goes to a diner and gets a hot lead from a CGI short-order cook. I forgot the scene on the conveyer belt in the third act where Padme (Natalie Portman) falls into a bowl like one they have for a guacamole making station at a restaurant and has to avoid a spigot pouring hot Chile con queso. There’s a lot to enjoy here if you’re in the “fuck it” kind of mood. I liked the gladiator battle, even though it looked fake. I thought for the first time how I would love to vacation (and fall in love) by a lake on Naboo. It turns out in the ensuing fifteen years, I’ve grown to have a lot of affection for Attack of the Clones. I’m as surprised as you are. When compared to a 2017 blockbuster, a 2002 blockbuster looks kind of good. Plus, it made me super nostalgic about a time in my life where I would go with friends to the megaplex to see a new blockbuster on opening night, followed by late night breakfast at IHOP. Now I couldn’t pay my friends to meet me at IHOP at 11pm and it makes me want to take a depression nap. BTW, I’m pretty sure I witnessed the “go ahead” for a mob hit one time at an IHOP, but that’s a story for another day.
Revenge of the Sith. The Phantom Menace was still bad (not a surprise) and Attack of the Clones ended up being fool’s gold, but Revenge of the Sith was the one I always liked since the first time I saw it back on opening day in 2005. I’m not saying all people did this, but I think there’s a lot of revisionist bashing of Revenge of the Sith, where people lump it in with the Phantom Menace and Clones and rule it a failure. Wasn’t Sith (especially the final hour) sort of liked initially? Am I misremembering that? I still think Revenge of the Sith is a success. I’m sort of in awe that it lands with the emotional resonance it does while still hampered by the aftertaste of two previous underwhelming movies. I am very aware of the film’s problems, namely some of the acting, dialogue and overreliance on CGI (which is much improved since The Phantom Menace), but the last hour of this movie is a fucking emotional powerhouse for me. When Obi-Wan is chastising Anakin for turning to evil after their great lightsaber battle on Mustafar, I can feel the betrayal, devastation, sadness and tragedy. I think Revenge of the Sith really does works a great tragedy in the way George Lucas envisioned. It’s almost enhanced in a weird way by how much of a turn it is from these characters in The Phantom Menace. You think of young Anakin (Jake Lloyd) yelling “Yippee!” and then cut to him almost burning to death yelling “I hate you!” to his mentor.
You think of Padme as a very young queen and senator and then cut to her lying dead in a coffin at a Naboo funeral because she gave up her will to live. The desperation of Anakin’s actions that leads to his aligning with Emperor Palpatine is worthy of pity. How close Anakin was to sticking to the right path and turning Palpatine over to the Jedi Council is agonizing. It’s really sad shit! The score by John Williams near the end when Yoda and Obi-Wan are marooning themselves into isolation because they lost everything they stand for is heartbreaking. Revenge of the Sith is a good action movie filled with emotional weight. I don’t know why it hits me so hard, but it does.
You’ve Got Mail that she (I’m paraphrasing) just wants to send these thoughts out into the void. As I revisit all the live-action Star Wars films before The Last Jedi, I expected to grit my teeth and bear the prequels and I’m shocked that I ended up having two-thirds of the trilogy click for me more than ever before.
Note: I also secretly enjoy the acting stylings of Hayden Christensen (he has a unique energy all to himself, like Steely Dan) but there’s only so much I’m willing to cautiously champion in this article.