Star Wars: Tears of a Clone

A lifetime Star Wars fan learns to let go.

Sandy Starr

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It can be hard letting go of Star Wars.

For many of my generation, the original Star Wars trilogy was a kind of religious text. First watched (and memorised) during childhood, the trilogy’s cod philosophy, sage wisdom and heroic struggles offered unparalleled escapism. To watch a Star Wars movie was to leave the confines of this world for two hours, and enter another one with its own rules and characters.

When a work of fiction assumes that kind of status in your mind, your expectations for further instalments in the series become impossibly high. Fans were appalled in 1999, when the first part of a new Star Wars trilogy failed to meet these expectations. The spell had been broken.

Reeling from the shock, some fans decided they had wasted their lives and money on their dedication to Star Wars. Others made half-hearted excuses for the failings of the new film, in an attempt to convince themselves as much as anybody else.

To be fair to the fans, these failings weren’t entirely down to unrealistic expectations. The plot of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was at the same time too infantile and too convoluted. Half of the movie dealt with the adventures of an irritating eight-year-old child, and contained abominations such as the first ever fart gag in a Star Wars movie; while the other half dealt with ‘trade federations’, ‘senates’ and ‘embargos’, resembling a fancy dress re-enactment of a dull trade union conference.

The Phantom Menace also committed the cardinal sin of rewriting its fictional world’s rules. The Force – the mystical power that unites all life and can be controlled through rigorous training, according to the original trilogy – was explained away as a byproduct of microorganisms in the bloodstream. The Jedi Knights, originally a noble meritocracy of skilled warriors, were reduced to a eugenic caste where warriors are bred for perfection.

With the release of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, fans are angst-ridden once again. Will the film reaffirm their faith in Star Wars – or will it be further evidence that faith in Star Wars was always misplaced?

It does both. Attack of the Clones is evidence that the Star Wars films were never as profound as we believed them to be, but it also proves that the films are top-notch entertainment. The Star Wars films continue the 1930s tradition of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers: space opera adventure serials, unashamedly intended for mass consumption.

Attack of the Clones is really three films clumsily stuck together. The first of these films is a continuation of The Phantom Menace’s ‘trade union’ thread. The theme this time is ‘separatists’ and the ‘emergency powers’ required to deal with them – and once again is dull as ditchwater. The only thing that makes these bits watchable is Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the scheming Supreme Chancellor Palpatine.

The second film shoehorned in is a cheesy love story between the annoyingly brooding Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and the annoyingly earnest Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman). Anakin is basically a sulky Goth teenager in space (you can picture him stomping off to his bedroom to listen to Tool albums between scenes), but the romance is at least watchable, in an old-fashioned Flash-Gordon-and-Dale sort of a way.

The third film in Attack of the Clones is where the movie’s heart really lies: a big, dumb, monster/battle movie, of the kind rarely seen since the 1950s. Giant fanged creatures and swordfights abound. You know what kind of movie you’re watching when one-time Count Dracula Christopher Lee (now 80, and still hamming it up) appears as the bad guy, chewing up the scenery. The children in the cinema, who had spent the past two hours of love scenes and galactic politics rustling their crisp packets, suddenly sat up spellbound.

By the time the final Star Wars movie comes out, in 2005, series creator George Lucas will have spent about 30 years of his life making what is effectively a 13-hour adventure serial – the biggest and best the world has ever seen, but an adventure serial, nothing more.

I can think of better ways for a man to spend his time. But when, on a rainy day, I decide to watch the lot with a six-pack of beer, I know I’ll feel grateful to him.

Sandy Starr is a contributor to Spreading the Word on the Internet: Sixteen Answers to Four Questions, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2003 (download this book (.pdf 576 KB)); From Quill to Cursor: Freedom of the Media in the Digital Era, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2003 (download this book (.pdf 399 KB)); and The Internet: Brave New World?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA))

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