The Phantom Menace, despite what people said about it, actually did well at the box office. This is why I say Star Wars can do no wrong. They can make a movie that is almost universally considered one of the worst movies ever, and it can still make great returns.
In the original trilogy, Empire Strikes Back was darker than A New Hope. Temple of Doom is the darkest of the Indiana Jones movies. That pattern continues here as well. And it seems George Lucas learned from his mistakes in The Phantom Menace. I could see why he wanted total control over these movies. Even though his name was still associated with the original trilogy, Lucas had people that would tell him if his ideas didn’t work. Here, he doesn’t have to worry about that. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but I’m saying I can see his reasoning.
One thing I like about this movie is that Jar Jar Binks is barely in it. He’s not the overbearing klutz he is in the previous movie He still makes mistakes, but it’s more frightening because Emperor Palpatine doesn’t even have to use Jedi mind control to coerce him. In fact, a lot of the deception that Palpatine weaves is done through his own charisma, not mind control. That’s why he’s such a great villain. He knows when to use his powers and when not to.
I like that the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin has matured to the point where they’re now trading witty banter. I especially love the scene where Kenobi laments to Anakin “Why do I have the feeling you’ll be the death of me?”
Amidala is now a queen and I can see in her the woman her daughter will become. A royal woman who is not content to just sit in her palace or attend Senate hearings. No, she wants to be on the front lines. She wants to see the evil that is threatening her subjects for herself. I will admit some of the dialogue between her and Anakin is cringe-worthy, but for the most part, Natalie Portman makes up for Hayden Christiansen’s whiny delivery.
I enjoy the intrigue behind the development of the Stormtroopers. Jango Fett is a crafty man, and I can see what Boba Fett will imitate when he becomes a mercenary. I like that the Stormtroopers seem useful, despite Yoda’s misgivings. (Although that doesn’t stop him from using some to rescue Kenobi and Anakin.)
Count Dooku is a much more realized villain than Darth Maul was. While I do like how Darth Maul can have so little to say and let his actions speak for him, Dooku is even better because he has more of a personality. He’s constantly toying with his enemies, as if he knows something they don’t.
This movie is the beginning of Anakin’s descent towards evil. The death of his mother stirs fear within him, which Yoda had foreseen in the previous movie. His line “I will prevent people from dying” foreshadows his motivation in the final installment. I also like that we meet Owen and Beru, who will become Luke’s guardians. These subtle nods to the original trilogy give the prequels purpose. I see them like The Magician’s Nephew in The Chronicles of Narnia, hints to the bigger story that you discover early on. Anakin even loses his hand in the final battle, as his son will in Empire Strikes Back.
Attack of the Clones is a great improvement over The Phantom Menace. Next month, I conclude my discussion of the prequels with Revenge of the Sith. We’re almost ready for the Disney movies!