And, despite what everyone told me, I think it is! In terms of pure, surface-level enjoyment and narrative structure, Attack of the Clones is a far, far better movie than its predecessor.
But what have they done to Padme??
A lot of the problems I had with The Phantom Menace are addressed in The Attack of the Clones, at least on a surface level. Characters actually have personality, and, thanks to Anakin and Obi Wan’s previous relationship with Padme, they’re invested in what’s going on from the start. Anakin and Obi Wan have a delightfully antagonistic but respectful relationship built on love and bickering, and the movie made me laugh a fair few times. Obi Wan may have lacked a personality in The Phantom Menace, but his role of the increasingly exasperated dad character here delighted me endlessly.
Some stuff didn’t quite make sense, like… why did R2D2 try to murder C3PO? Is R2D2 a psychopath? Is that the true enemies to lovers story of the Star Wars universe? But on a pure entertainment level, I think Attack of the Clones provides. The Phantom Menace left almost no impression on me beyond boredom. Attack of the Clones actually elicited emotional responses, so… that’s good. And the landscapes of Naboo and Coruscant are stunning.
But… Padme! What have they done to Padme??
On the good side of things, I am totally in love with Padme’s amazing fashion sense and groundbreaking hairstyles. And Padme as a senator is pretty cool, although the impressiveness of the feat might be slightly reduced by the fact that JarJar is also a senator.
But how the hell does Padme Amidala, one of the youngest elected queens of Naboo ever, senator of her planet, 24 years old, badass and fashion icon, fall in love with the Anakin Skywalker that we see in this movie?
I love a good ship. I love a Titanic-disaster level ship even more. But WHY? This movie’s most important task is to make us believe in Padme and Anakin’s secret, rule-breaking, eventually Force-shattering love. But while Padme is a mature, level-headed politician determined to do all she can for her people, Anakin is a bratty little creep. He is insufferable. In one of their big romantic scenes, Anakin tells the democracy-supporting Senator Padme, “the world would be better with a dictator,” and she just… goes with it? “Don’t be silly, Ani,” she basically says. “You don’t really believe that.” But it’s clear that he does, and Padme would surely be savvy enough to realize that. You could say that she’s been charmed into ignoring his flaws, but how? He has absolutely no charm about him whatsoever.
The big moment of their first kiss literally immediately comes after his famously terrible and endlessly memed speech about not liking sand. But the memes miss the two worst things about this moment. First, Padme has just shared a fond memory of her childhood, and he responds with whining about how sand is terrible. Then he acts like a complete creep immediately afterwards. “Sand is rough and coarse. I like smooth things,” he says, before putting his hand on Padme’s skin and giving her a meaningful look. Please excuse me while I barf.
But it seems to work on Padme, because it has to work. Padme has to fall in love with him, so she does.
There’s nothing compelling or engaging about him at all, and Padme, who is so bright, dims around him. I hope that’s meant to be a tragedy, but I can’t buy into it happening, when he’s a little kid she once knew who starts creeping on her the moment they’re together again. He even claims he’s thought about her every day for the past ten years. Is that flattering, beyond being an “aw cute, little Ani had a crush on me?”
After putting Padme into a position of power and influence in the first movie, The Attack of the Clones sets up the fact that Padme basically exists to be Luke and Leia’s mom and eventually die. She is one of the tragedies of Anakin Skywalker’s fall, even if it makes no sense for the character we saw before to be caught in this drab, emo kid’s downward spiral.
Blink twice if you need help, Padme. Please.
They movie uses a lot of damsel imagery around her, and of course she’s the one who gets injured in the final battle so her top tears and shows off her stomach. And although I’m not going to complain about getting moments of badassery, the final fight scene is… weird. She manages to climb up a very tall pillar and fight off a giant monster using only a single chain. That is some damn impressive upper body strength for a politician. She must do a LOT of pull-ups.
But I did have a lot more fun with Attack of the Clones than with The Phantom Menace. Even reacting to Anakin’s creepiness was at least somewhat entertaining. And the movie has some thematically interesting stuff going on. Its exploration of the start of the fall of democracy, started by democracy itself, because they find themselves in desperate times, is theoretically interesting, and feels pretty damn relevant right now.
Plus, as I said, increasingly-fed-up Dad Obi Wan is delightful.
But Attack of the Clones makes clear that Padme isn’t really a character in her own right. She’s a plot device. Someone get her her own movie, please, and leave Anakin to self-destruct alone.