The Strange Legacy of Attack of the Clones

Young Boba Fett in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Photo:
Young Boba Fett in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Photo: /

“The shroud of the dark side has fallen. Begun the Clone War has.”

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed, a whole generation since those words were uttered by a sullen and defeated Master Yoda.

In a saga of films that’s known for its “weirdness” in the form of bizarre alien races and blended sci-fi opera elements; Attack of the Clones is a particular oddity. For those of us old enough to remember the marketing and fanfare surrounding the film’s release there was this strange feeling of trepidation.

It came to us at a strange time both in terms of what was occurring in the film industry and broadly in the world at large. Being the sequel to The Phantom Menace meant the film always had a lot riding on it. Episode II was the first major film to be shot entirely on digital, (not the very first but certainly the first that mattered) and in doing so changed Hollywood forever.

The film is also very much the awkward middle-child of the prequel trilogy, not just because it’s the second of a three-part series (and of a nine-part series) but also because of the place in culture it occupies. That being between the divisive yet hugely profitable release of Episode I and the dramatic magnitude of the “final” entry of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith. By comparison, it seems that Attack of the Clones is overshadowed by its older and younger siblings. In a strange way, this makes it notably less visible than it ought to be.

This may seem like a curious thing to consider seeing as it was the fourth highest grossing movie of the year. However, this meant it was also the first time that a Star Wars film didn’t take the #1 spot for the year.

When we look at the movie from an in-universe perspective, its importance cannot be overstated. The Clone Wars was the first major war since the formation of the Republic and would ultimately bring about its end and the rise of the Empire. The conflict that began in Episode II would also form the centrepiece of Star Wars content for over a decade, especially the time between the end of the prequel’s era and the start of the Disney age. The Clone Wars spawned not one but two major animated series. One in traditional animation, the beloved Cartoon Network mini-series Star Wars: Clone Wars from Genndy Tartakovsky, and later the long running 3D series The Clone Wars that was blessed with a final season in 2020, six years after the show’s cancellation. All of this traces directly to the events of Attack of the Clones.

Star Wars has always been political but perhaps it had never been so bureaucratic as it was in the prequels, particularly Episodes I and II. I spoke earlier about how Attack of the Clones was released in a strange time for the world and that’s because it was. Half a year prior to the film’s release were the September Eleven attacks, permanently altering the world and the film industry along with it. For the next Star Wars film to conclude with the dawn of a galactic war would make the film seem like a reaction to contemporary history. But the truth is that principal photography for the film concluded before the attacks, meaning that George Lucas was, in fact, being prophetic.

Attack of the Clones
Natalie Portman as Padme and Hayden Christensen as Anakin in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002). Photo: /

The ever-moving pendulum of Star Wars has, in recent times, very much swung in favour of the prequel era. Possibly more so than any other time in the past twenty years, including when the film trilogy was in production. The return of The Clone Wars, the rising popularity of Ahsoka Tano and now the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series, featuring the return of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, means it’s a darn good time to be a 90’s kid.

It’s fortuitous that the 20-year anniversary of the prequels’ middle chapter comes to us now. At a time where we might reflect on how fans’ perceptions of older content have evolved over time. Whilst promoting his new series McGregor remarked that “they [the prequels] weren’t written very nicely about by critics… We now meet those people that really loved our films, but it’s taken 15 years for us to hear that and its so nice. It’s changed [my] relationship with Star Wars.” Similarly, Christensen stated that “It’s been so heart-warming for Star Wars fans to truly embrace me.”

It would be fair to say that recent times have been increasingly charitable towards the prequels and it looks like that won’t be slowing down any time soon either. Even older fans who may have been initially disappointed by the direction of the trilogy are beginning to change their tune. The story has changed in the hearts and minds of Star Wars fans, old and new alike. It’s now less of a case of “the prequels are bad, end of story” but is now leaning more towards “I don’t like how The Phantom Menace made me feel at the time of release.” One day even this too can change.

It’s my belief that this anniversary will further solidify the new narrative around the trilogy and that its forgotten child, Attack of the Clones, might glean a bit more of the recognition that it sorely deserves.

Attack of the Clones was first released on May 16, 2002 and is available on dvd, blu-ray and streaming on Disney+

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