Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This Will Begin To Make Things Right

Continuing my defense of Attack of the Clones ...

To watch this movie correctly, you really have to pay attention to the implicit storytelling. You have to listen to the things Anakin says and the way he talks about Chancellor Palpatine. Although we don't see them together much during this film, there are lots of hints dropped that Palpatine has Anakin firmly under his wing already. And it's very heavily implied that the chancellor is manipulating young Skywalker's attitudes while also teaching him to be manipulative himself.

Keep an ear out for the way Anakin talks to others about Palpatine -- always with respect and admiration, often with quotes of the man's ideals. Contrast this with how he talks about Obi-wan: a mixture of perfunctory praise and much more intense criticism. How has Anakin decided that Obi-wan is holding him back, that "in many ways" he's already ahead of Obi-wan? His phrasing is almost always very precocious. Is this because he's a precocious young man? It's true that he is. Is it because Lucas hasn't got that great an ear for age-appropriate diction? Possibly. But in every case, the wording sounds like exactly the kind of thing a manipulator such as Palpatine would tell Anakin in order to slowly alienate him from his mentor and from the Jedi in general.

Watch carefully in the scene where Anakin and Padme debate the nature of politics. Pay attention to his borderline fascist sentiments, and the way he deflects into humor when Padme disapproves. Is he really just teasing her? Or is he testing the waters and then retreating when they prove inhospitable to his ideas? Either way, it's a calculated steering of her emotions. And again, Palpatine's name explicitly comes up in this exchange.

Think also about what Anakin accomplishes by pulling his prank with the weird fat-bodied grazing beasts on Naboo. On one level, it's a whimsical bit of fun. But at the same time, he's deliberately yanking on her emotional strings, making her fear for him -- and drawing her in close where he can initiate physical contact.

If we look, it's very easy to see that Anakin's entire courtship of Padme is riddled with hints of the chancellor's hand guiding and subverting our young Jedi into habits of deceit, trickery, and manipulation.

All of this comes to a head outside the Lars homestead just before Anakin rides off to find his mother ... and exterminate the sandpeople. The dialogue between the two of them paints Anakin as the steadfast hero and Padme as his earnest supporter, but in such stilted and cliched terms that it's easy to dismiss it as bad writing on Lucas's part. But the scene is literally shown as a shadow play. We don't see the two characters expressing these things directly, as people, but as manipulations of fading sunlight. And of course, Anakin's shadow clearly presages the helmet of Darth Vader.

At this point, Anakin has snared Padme. When he returns, she's willing to console him despite the fact that he admits to mass murder. Very few Star Wars fans buy that he's pulled this feat off through his awkward, stilted teenage attempts at seduction. But even fewer bother to ask the critical question: If his romantic skills clearly weren't good enough to win her over, how did he do it? 

My answer is that he's been subconsciously projecting his own emotions onto her with the Force ... and even implanting in her some of the words he longs to hear. Certainly, we can blame Padme's stiff delivery of her lines on bad acting or bad direction ... but in story terms, her unfeeling expressions of affection and love are perfectly explained if they're not really her expressions at all, but things Annakin is willing her to do and say. That's why we get the shadow play: because by this point, Anakin has found the right hooks to make her at least partially his puppet.

Wouldn't this be a good reason for Jedi to have the rule about avoiding emotional attachments? If the constant danger exists that they might unconsciously insinuate their own feelings into those around them?

If you hate the lame romance in Episode II, I challenge you to try watching it again from the perspective I've spelled out above. I think what you'll see is that Natalie Portman's performance suddenly makes complete sense, and that all the hackneyed dialogue falls into place as the wishful teenage projections of an obsessive young man.

Don't fight against it just because you think George Lucas is an incompetent storyteller. Sure, maybe you're right. But even if these things all came about accidentally, the fact is that they make for a highly coherent and multifaceted plot -- if you just choose to see them as story elements instead of mistakes.

Give it a whirl. I think you'll find it's a great improvement.

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