The thing that I admire most about Attack of the Clones is its focus on Palpatine’s machinations. It, more than Phantom Menace or Revenge of the Sith, shows Palpatine carefully manipulating the Jedi Council, Amidala, Anakin and finally the Senate into giving him power.
Such a subtle character is quite absent from the original trilogy; either among the heroes or the villains. It’s also not the sort of thing that appears in most action/adventure epics. Ian McDiarmid does a splendid job not only subtly showing the Emperor-to-be’s devious side, but also at showcasing his charisma. He seems like a a fine fellow, as when he says to Senator Amidala “The thought of losing you… is unbearable.” But even so, we simultaneously see a glimpse of Darth Sidious, just for a moment, in the pause.
But McDiarmid’s performance is one of the few aspects of the film which has in fact drawn widespread praise, so I shan’t dwell upon it here. The major theme of Attack is mysterious goings-on and subtle things, as emphasized by Obi-Wan’s search for Zam Wessell’s killer in the first half-hour. This part of the story was rather overshadowed by the concurrent romance between Skywalker and Amidala, but I feel that it merits more attention than it gets. Obi-Wan is shown to be genuinely puzzled, as are all the Jedi. This is rather important, as it shows the Jedi are losing their grip on Galactic Affairs.
This bafflement is shown in the scene in which Obi-Wan, Mace Windu and Yoda converse in the Jedi temple. Yoda agrees with Obi-Wan that Anakin is “arrogant”, and notes the flaw is growing “more common” among Jedi. And indeed it is, but it may be that Yoda doesn’t realize just how high up it goes…
When Obi-Wan eventually does track down Jango Fett, the ensuing scene is a very tense dialogue–the sort of scene audiences tend to think of as “boring”, but in my opinion the polite veneer over Jango subtly evading Obi-Wan’s interrogation is one of the best scenes George Lucas ever wrote. “I’m just a simple man trying to make my way in the Universe” strikes me as the sort of evasive, yet oddly prideful phrase a politician might use when questioned about a scandal. I can imagine Nixon saying that after “I am not a crook!” But I digress.
If the romance scenes in Attack of the Clones are an example of poor writing–and even I concede that they are–I maintain that the dialogue scenes between Obi-Wan and Fett and later between Obi-Wan and Count Dooku are examples of unusually good writing, at least for this sort of flick. I especially like Dooku’s dry remark before leaving the captured but resolute Obi-Wan: “It may be difficult to secure your release.” The whole scene is quite good, with Dooku amusingly feigning innocence throughout–he seems almost offended at Obi-Wan’s implication he is involved with holding him prisoner.
Count Dooku is worthy of more attention; he’s one of the better villains in the six films. I don’t know how obvious this is, but he’s always seemed to me a little bit like Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee was an older, aristocratic gentleman who had been in the U.S. Army, and then agreed to lead a rebellious Confederacy of States. Dooku is an older, aristocratic gentleman who had been a Jedi, and then agreed to lead a rebellious Confederacy of Star Systems. I like little touches like this.
And now, a few words in praise of the love scenes. The dialogue, as I have said, is poor. They are far from excellent scenes, no doubt. But there is one way in which the love story is better than most in popular entertainment: it does not begin with the lovers-to-be squabbling constantly. This is a technique used far too often, including in the original trilogy, and it’s grating in the extreme, as I’ve noted before. So, even of the film’s weakest point something good may be said.
And again, as with The Phantom Menace, the action scenes around which the film is based and which are essential to a film of this kind all seem to me to be perfectly enjoyable. So, given all this, I again do not understand the overwhelming dislike of the film.