Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Send In The Clones

Well, the Li'l Cyte has grown to the point that he can watch the Star Wars prequels (except for the last bits of "Sith"; still a mite too intense, those). As a result, I have recently had the chance to re-watch "Episode Two: Attack of the Clones" for the first time in years. Thus am I moved by whimsy to post herein a review I wrote for the movie in August of 2002.

Readers of these pages might be interested by this artifact of a period during which I fancied myself the Leftiest of Lefties, most Transnationalistic of Trasnational Progressives. Curious because, amid the predictable intimations of anti-corporate animus, there are suggestive foreshadowings of my current jaundiced views of bureaucracy, my mistrust of overcentralized political power. It appears that my political transformation may have occurred in soil already fertile for its emergence...

Anyway, it was nice to see this unjustly-maligned film hold up as well as it has.

REVIEW FOLLOWS (Moderate Spoilers)

First, let me speak to that timid, timorous voice of fractured expectations haunting our skulls since TPM. Shush! This is the movie we've coveted in the holiest of holies of dreams since millions of Ewoks (disappointingly) failed to be pulverized by a hail of superheated Death Star debris.

From the first moments after the disappearance of a crisp screen crawl, this film flies directly into its relentless quest to saturate our senses with shockingly delicious imagery. Gods below! What special FX! I can only imagine a wholesale re-staffing (or a group consciousness-raising exercise, perhaps involving some belladonna-like alkaloids) taking place at ILM!

Gone are the super-slick, lovely-but-affected `ILM grays.' This film is textured down to fractal levels of detail. It has grit. It has contrast. It has heat distortion from engine ports, glittering droplets of rain, hypnotically languid waves on a low-gravity ocean, quick, shaky photo-journalistic zooms during apocalyptic battle sequences with chips and scratches on helmets in the far background while hundreds of dust-smeared blaster bolts tear through heavy metallic hides of immense space ships and...


No words...should have sent a poet!

Typical. I had to start with FX. These are what immediately kicked me in the arse and convinced me that ILM had, once again, set the bar to an entirely new place!

What truly gripped me, though, was that there was actually a MOVIE attached to those blazing visuals. A damned good one. Who'd a thunk it?

This is a morally, politically, emotionally, and tactically complex film. Sure, it keeps you bouncing in your seats and yowling like Slim Pickens riding that bomb (short cut to mushrooms? Sorry.). What it also does, though, is tell a rich, layered, sobering, authentically moving tale. It is the story of things passing away.


Christensen's cocky, heedless, impulsive Anakin nails the archetype of the Brash Young Man with surprising subtlety. He's drunk on his power and youth, a True Believer in his myth of personal immortality, Icarus incarnate. He is a Buddhist's (or a Jedi Master's) nightmare! He covets. The pain of his love for Padme is palpable. We feel it in his hungry gaze. This is a boy struggling to find completion, and suffering because he seeks it always from outside himself. Obi Wan won't validate him (one wonders how a certain Middle-Eastern carpenter would have gotten along with his step-dad, Joe...), Padme won't look at him the way he looks at her, while a lost mother haunts his dreams. He yearns, and, when his longings go unmet, he rages. If he is occasionally annoying (and he is!), it is only because we KNOW him. He is an annoying PERSON, not an annoying part, or an annoying performance. We watch as he's maneuvered to the cliff's edge by his own grasping, and feel it, as he is ultimately undone by the strategic fulfillment of his heart's desires. There is characterization here like we haven't seen since TESB.

Mad Props to Ewan McGregor! The subtle, non-verbal homages to Sir Alec, first evident in TPM, are just a bit more prominent in this installment. He manages to convey a transitional stage in the maturation of this character which is never forced, never...impersonation. That young bloke can ACT! Obi Wan is focused, authoritative, and NOT to be trifled with. But, too-soon released from his apprenticeship by a star-struck Qui-Gon Jinn, he lacks the depth and experience to appreciate what is happening to his Republic...and to his apprentice. He is troubled by trends he can sense, but can never seem to divert. His fate is foreshadowed in one bittersweet joke, but also in his naïve declaration of victory at a very dark moment indeed.

As much of a disservice as it is to the many superb individual performances in this film, I need to talk about two doomed characters of a rather more abstract nature: the Republic and the Jedi Order. Their fates are joined, and the feeling of their deterioration pervades the film. They are set in their ways, confident in their power, and entirely blind to the rot growing from within. Only Yoda seems to see it. Imagine the Dalai Lama's rueful resignation as he watched the Chinese advance on his land. That's the sense you get from Yoda's surprisingly unobtrusive CGI face as he contemplates an Order grown so decadent as to declare primly that "if it isn't in the archives, then it doesn't exist." His gradual awakening to the fact of an end-game to whose beginning he'd been completely oblivious is a wrenching sight. He realizes that someone's manipulated the motivations and vulnerabilities of his Order, his society, and even himself, steering them toward choice point after choice point, positioning the players so that the only possible decisions are those which push them closer to their inevitable ruin. And he is sad.

(And he is one bad-ass little green dude with a saber. Nuff said.)

It's been said (Plato? Frank Herbert? Thucydides?) that democracies inevitably deteriorate into oligarchies...and that dictatorship is not far behind. Lest we huff and puff too righteously against such heresy, let us pause and contemplate the French Revolution's fate. Or else, just go see AOTC. Lucas' rumored disenchantment with, and grim prognosis for, the state of modern democracies is in full force here. The viruses which effect this fatal mutation in the Old Republic are the calcification and corruption of bureaucracy, the ruthlessly pragmatic avarice of banking and trade conglomerates, the crushing juggernaut of technocracies...all quietly subverted and maneuvered by the insidious (pardon pun) Will to Power. There is some extraordinarily mature (and eerily familiar) political commentary here, light years from the desiccated, two-dimensionally technophobic sketch of TPM. Machiavelli would be proud of the way in which, bit by bit, even the wise are enticed to give away power, ignorant -until it is too late- of how that power has been channeled into fewer and fewer hands, till the only one left is the one with the leash.

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