Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It's Coarse and Rough and Irritating

For some reason, people single Episode II out as the worst of the prequels. And for some reason, they especially hate Anakin's line about not liking sand.

Does no one else hear that line like I hear it?

"I come from a planet covered in something I hate."

"Most of my childhood meals were full of grit."

"Every day, I had to sweep the sand out of my owner's shop."

"Whenever I fixed something, the sand would get in it and screw it up again."

When Anakin complains about sand and then says, "Not like here," he's speaking as someone who makes things and is frustrated at whatever causes those things to break. He's implicitly telling Padme that she transports him out of the lousy circumstances of his youth and into someplace better. And he's idealizing Padme as a creature of tenderness and softness, even though we've seen her ability to be cold and harsh, and she's just told him she likes the sand.

In short, those lines encompass three of the major themes of the movie: Anakin's journey from maker to destroyer, the dangers of not having a place you can think of as home, and the compulsion our hero has to make our heroine into something she's not.

It's really a very rich and subtle line, full of backstory, personality, and symbolism even though it also reads as an awkward teenage pick-up line. What's more, Hayden Christensen's delivery is spot on, playing his complaint with an engaging humor so that it doesn't come across as whining, but provides a charismatic, self-deprecating segue into his attempt at seduction.

I think most viewers don't truly understand what it is that they dislike about Attack of the Clones. What dissatisfies them is not what a bad job Christensen and Natalie Portman do in portraying a love affair for the ages ... it's what a good job the two do at portraying two people who really have no business getting together in the first place. But that's the story we have. Anakin is too young for Padme. His attraction is a childhood obsession. And it's arguable that her stiff reaction to him, even when declaring her love, is due to the fact that he's projecting his own affection onto her with the Force. This romance is not just doomed to failure -- it's a linchpin of galactic-scale descent into tyranny and suffering.

Embrace the sand. Stop wishing for the story you want to see and start listening to the story that's on the screen.

It's got a lot in it if you're willing to sift through the grains.

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