Attack of the Clones is generally regarded as the worst movie in the Skywalker Saga.
In all honesty, it probably is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a good movie in its own right.
That all-important Star Wars label is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it will always have an audience due to its part in the saga, but on the other, it’s subjected to far more criticism than your average sci-fi movie would be.
The thing is, even when you look at Attack of the Clones under a microscope, it still holds up pretty well. Yes, there are moments where the acting is hammy (more on that later) and the dialogue is more wooden than a Trojan Horse, but overall, it boasts a solid narrative and more than a few great action sequences.
Given that there’s a lot to unpack and dispel here, let’s break it into sections.
Star Wars as a franchise is built on the ongoing conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force, and Attack of the Clones is filled to the brim with action that can all be traced back to that core conflict.
The early assassination attempts on Padmé were ordered by Dooku in order to secure the Trade Federation’s support for his Separatist cause (all of which was engineered by Palpatine to gain more power over the Senate). Obi-Wan fights Jango on Kamino while investigating the attacks, and the movie’s entire last third is practically non-stop action on Geonosis.
While many complained about Episode I’s politically driven story, Episode II delivered on fans’ wishes of more lightsaber action by showing the outbreak of war, and sadly, that fact is hardly ever acknowledged by fans.
Attack of the Clones displays several pivotal moments in the saga, and it does so without battering its audience over the head with them. Anakin’s ongoing apprenticeship with Obi-Wan and his growing frustration with the limitations of the Jedi Order, the building of the Republic’s clone army and their employment in the early days of the Clone Wars, not to mention the subtle political maneuverings of Palpatine while the action all takes place elsewhere; all of which are vital in helping the audience understand how the galaxy got from where it was in Episode I to how we were first introduced to it in Episode IV.
The truth is, many of the greatest aspects of Star Wars as we know it today were established in Attack of the Clones, including context for the excellent Clone Wars animated series.
Much of the criticism towards Attack of the Clones is directed at one man: Hayden Christensen.
Taking on the role of Anakin Skywalker, Christensen was given a near-impossible task; playing the trilogy’s hero that we all know will become the world’s most infamous villain, making the audience sympathize with a character written to be arrogant and petulant and more powerful than everyone around him.
And, controversial though it may sound, Christensen’s performance isn’t half bad.
Yes, Lucas’ rigid dialogue might be laughable, but when you focus on the actor’s delivery, his expression, and the range of emotions he displays throughout the movie, he actually deserves much more praise than he’s ever received for the role.
Anakin is easily the franchise’s most complicated character, and Christensen pulled off the impossible here: he made us simultaneously love him, hate him, laugh at him, and be somewhat afraid of him.
All in all, Attack of the Clones might not be anyone’s favourite Star Wars movie, and generally speaking, it’s probably the worst of a great bunch. But next time you’re watching the saga through, stop yourself from groaning at Episode II. When you watch it without prejudice, it’s actually a lot of fun.