After my previous rewatch of The Phantom Menace helped me to appreciate that movie in a way I never have before, I was very excited to get into Attack of the Clones to see what new and enlightening messages I could take from it. Much to my dismay, there is vastly less substance to this movie than TPM.
Even though it doesn’t land at all, cinematically, there is a very obvious attempt at something meaningful here. At the center of the film is a love story that, no matter how well it actually works, is meant to be the source of so much conflict throughout the rest of this saga. Something of this magnitude is simply poised to have some huge ramifications, as well as heavy ideas woven inside of it.
Pressure and Anxiety
The core of this movie’s tensions comes from the way Anakin is perceiving the world around him, now having been a Padawan for 10 years. From his introduction in this film, we learn just how much he is starting to become disillusioned with the established Jedi system around him. He is unhappy that the orders given to him and Obi-Wan amounted to, “be Padmè’s bodyguard,” instead of, “find out why someone wants to kill Padmè.” This pressure for Anakin to not do what he wants to do right off the bat sets a very specific tone regarding his attitude for the rest of the film.
This is all causing a great deal of anxiety and mixed emotions within Anakin. He wants to follow the Council’s orders, but he also has a great deal of affection for Padmè, so he wants to make sure she is kept safe. But the sort of budding affection that he has is forbidden for a Jedi, which causes exponentially more inner conflict. This all comes to a head when he tells Padmè that he is in agony because they aren’t allowed to be together.
Even with Obi-Wan’s repeated urges for patience, Anakin struggles with the pressure coming at him from every direction. In the most basic human way possible, this is totally understandable. The one thing that Anakin wants to do is to keep the people closest to him safe. He doesn’t want Padmè to get hurt, and he wants to go home and free his mother – both of which are noble and pure motivations. But due to an inefficient Jedi system and the unfortunate death of his mother, Anakin is caught by the whims of fate, which starts to drive him mad. “Anger leads to hate…”
Much of what will motivate Anakin in Revenge of the Sith comes from what happens in AotC. His quest for ultimate power will come from this anxiety-induced rage. Anakin has tunnel vision, and that is unideal, and it also leads to the next major theme.
Perspective and Truth
All that Anakin can see is his desire for his mother and Padmè to be kept safe. He doesn’t process all of the outside influences on these two things. Perspective is important, and Anakin largely lacks it. Again, from the very beginning, Obi-Wan urges him to learn his place among everything that is going on. Obi-Wan understands why Anakin wants to investigate the plot against Padmè, but he also knows that they were assigned to do a specific job.
In fact, both Obi-Wan and Anakin could greatly benefit from use of perspective. Anakin insists to Padmè that he is grown, powerful, and learned and that he is ready to face the Trials, but Obi-Wan refuses to see this. Padmè, though, notes that those with more power and perspective than what we have are better able to see our faults and help us to grow.
Oftentimes, we think we are doing great. We’re self-absorbed and only see the positives in what we have been doing. But we can also greatly benefit from an outside pair of eyes – we could use an Obi-Wan to our Anakin to put us in our place where we can continue to learn and grow.
Similarly, on Obi-Wan’s quest for truth throughout the movie, he seems to be too close to it all to crack what exactly is going on. Unsurprisingly, a piece of wisdom from Yoda reminds him that sometimes it is best to take a step back before the truth will be abundantly clear. The perspective that he needed is what helped him to uncover the truth.
As with every one of the Star Wars prequels, there are heavy political themes. This one possibly deals with them the most of the three. It shows George Lucas’ general disdain for politics and politicians overall, because again, from the very beginning, Obi-Wan warns Anakin of how politicians are not to be trusted.
Just like last time, to not name names, there is a plot brewing under the surface that tends to mirror some modern political situations. Chancellor Palpatine has a large hand in the changes that the Republic goes through in this film. In fact, all of his influence is a way to better position himself politically. Obi-Wan tries to warn Anakin about the Chancellor because he can sense something off about him, but Anakin is wooed by how the Chancellor believes in him. This is the only person to give him his full trust, and it makes Anakin easy to manipulate.
When the Chancellor is given full emergency power over the government, it just goes to show the corruptness of government overall, as well as the ineptitude of the Jedi, who are supposed to be the peacekeepers. It is very easy to see this as a modern parallel, even with its minor fleshing out.
The Power of Love
Even though this is supposed to be the main crux of the film, it is pretty weak, which is why it lands among the smaller themes. But it is present nevertheless.
In a classic story of forbidden love, this film shows the power that unselfish and romantic love has over two people. Anakin knows that this could cost him being a Jedi, and Padmè knows it could cost her political power, but they both still decide to go through with their secret forbidden love.
On one hand, this makes you wonder about the Jedi rules regarding attachment. If Anakin’s love for Padmè had not been stifled, who knows what may have happened? Allowing their love to be out in the open could have changed a lot. Even so, the love of these two characters is put on display as having true transformative power.
Prescience and Trusting Your Gut
One of the signature lines in all of Star Wars is, “I have a bad feeling about this,” and AotC seems to be that line, The Movie. Obi-Wan makes a comment to Anakin where he says, “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” Obviously, one day this will come true when Darth Vader strikes down Ben Kenobi. But at this moment, it manifests as a bad feeling that Obi-Wan doesn’t act on.
Yoda says that the future is impossible to see, but the Jedi love to talk about how they are sensing darkness. With all of these senses, they fail to act on any real threat, and still allow evil to rise. By the end of this movie, Yoda comes to say that there is no victory in what they have accomplished due to the shroud of the Dark Side falling. In the long run, this failure of the Jedi to heed their feelings will lead to the rise of the Dark Side and bad times of evil.