Attack Of The Clones: Stolen Moments and A Splintered Soul

No man has ever outrun his fate, and no protagonist either. Anakin Skywalker is young, charming, hopelessly in love, dedicated to his commitment to protect the galaxy and its inhabitants, and is an earnest, loving son. He’s gifted with a lightsaber, vivacious and sweet, with a kind heart not often found in such a harsh galaxy. But he is also Chosen.

No matter who he may want to be, what life he may choose for himself, Anakin’s fate is inescapable. It’s wound around his neck like a noose, choking the light, the love, and the happiness out of him as each second passes. With blood and betrayal and death, he will one day bring balance to the Force and thereby bring to an end the warring, unbending factions of the Sith and the Jedi, with their holier-than-thou dogma and uncompromising restrictions. The Force is neither light nor dark, good nor evil — it is the balance of all things and it demands balance in return, and the cost will be nothing less than Anakin Skywalker’s heart and soul.

It all sounds dramatic as hell, but this is a soap opera in space – if the stakes weren’t truly monumental then why would we even care. And we do care, because despite what he becomes later on, we all can relate to Anakin as he is now – young and in love, full of naïve hope that life can truly be all that he wants it to. It’s heartbreaking watching someone strive to do the right thing and make a difference in their environment knowing that no matter what they choose to do, one choice will never be theirs to alter.

AOTC opens with an attack on Senator Padme Amidala’s life, an act that brings a nervous and frantically excited Anakin Skywalker, now a Jedi Padawan-learner, back into her life. He’s older, more mature and handsome, and she’s as beautiful and defiant as ever. Immediately we all know where the story is going, but there’s a catch: one day, however far in the future, Anakin will become Vader… He will fall to the dark side and although we don’t yet know how or why or what the scope of that actually looks like yet (back in 2002), we know eventually he ends up alone, deep in space, scarred and mutilated, and encased in machinery. So, we’re left wondering… what happens to Padme? What happens to this love we see blooming? How can it all go so wrong?


“I’ve thought about her every day since we’ve parted…” — Anakin Skywalker

It’s hypnotic and disturbing to fall in love with a couple knowing that their future cannot possibly be bright. Their days in the sun are numbered and they don’t even know it yet. Every look, every thought, every gentle touch is one less that they had a moment ago – but we can’t help but to fall for them, just as they fell for each other. In the cool and isolated lake country of Naboo, Padme and Ani are given a handful of beautiful moments and memories before the twisting of the knife begins anew and Anakin is drawn further down the path of fate, this time unleashing his hate and destruction upon a limited populace in retribution for his mother’s stolen life. It’s only a taste of what’s to come but it’s a stark contrast to the waterfall picnics and candlelit dinners of just moments ago. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and it’s there to remind us – and Anakin – that his life is not his own. No matter what we may want for him, Anakin is not ours to save, and he is not his own to govern.

“You’re not all powerful, Ani.” — Padme Amidala
“Well I should be. Someday I will be. I will be the most powerful Jedi ever — I promise you. I will even learn to stop people from dying!” — Anakin Skywalker

The truth is Anakin was born a slave, and although he escaped physical bondage on Tattooine after the events of The Phantom Menace, he remained a slave to the will and desire of the Force until the day he died. And no Star Wars film better encapsulates the inevitability and inescapable nature of Anakin’s destructive fate than Attack of the Clones because in the end, the entire film is a love-letter to a life that could have been, to a love that could have lasted. It’s a collection of beautiful, haunting memories of a life that never truly got the chance to choose and a love that was doomed before it even began.

 

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Attack Of The Clones: The Last Rays of Light

With one month down and The Phantom Menace now behind us, I settled in to re-watch Star Wars Attack of the Clones yesterday afternoon. It had been a little while since I had seen this one and in some ways it felt like I was watching it again for the first time.

When it first premiered in May of 2002 I was in the soaring upswing of my complete and utter adoration/fascination/obsession of all things wildly romantic – I was about to be 13 and dramatic flair was my middle name. All these years later I’ve never really come down off that high of loving impossible romances. Yes, they’re unrealistic ideallic fantasy-dreams that don’t exist in the real world, but there’s still something about them that sucks me in. And at 13 everything seems possible – and plausible – so the more dramatic and impossible the love story, the more I adored it. Needless to say, when episode II hit theaters, I was MESMORIZED.

Attack of the Clones was everything I needed Star Wars to be at that time of my life, it was lush and beautiful, with sweeping scenes of waterfall picnics and sunshine-drenched lake houses. Padme’s clothes were to-die-for and the addition of a purple lightsaber just was sheer perfection. Add to that, Anakin was suddenly attractive – something I didn’t even know to expect – and he was in love with Padme and it was a forbidden love, which just made it all the better! My young heart beat to the tune of the Anidala theme my friends, and I never looked back. I was a shipper before I knew knew what shipping was and for me this installment was a love story plain and simple, and love stories were my bread and butter.

But watching it now almost twenty years later, what really struck me this time first and foremost wasn’t the actual love story –although it is still epic – but rather Anakin’s attitude during the first half of the film. When I think of Ani now, having seen the entire saga, I often picture the Jedi Knight in episode III, the closed-off, near-drowning man who can’t find the light to save himself. Or maybe the happy little boy winning the big pod-race and believing that all his dreams will come true. But this Anakin, this teenaged AOTC Anakin, struck me this time around as such a forgotten gem of a person. He comes across as sullen and argumentative and is therefore automatically panned as being a classic teenage whiner but that’s only when he’s in the company of Jedi. He’s spent the last ten years being told to contain his nature, to submit to the Jedi’s way of life and for someone who is so emotionally mature and expressive, it’s no wonder he chafes at such restrictive and harmful instruction. But the moment Padme enters his life again, all that meaningless chatter and chastisement visibly melt away and he is again that boy from the desert who can’t help but speak the truth.

“Ani? My goodness, you’ve grown.” — Padme Amidala
“So have you, grown more beautiful…” — Anakin Skywalker

Anakin has always been portrayed as highly emotive, especially in the previous film, what he thinks and feels he says, and he has no qualms about expressing to someone that they’re important to him. His honesty and openness are originally commendable but now set against the restrictive nature of the Jedi code – with their aversion to attachment and expression of emotions – is suddenly portrayed as wrong as we see it that way as well. He is chided and ridiculed by Obi-Wan for his display of obvious feelings, but it’s not in Anakin to lie. Not yet. There is still too much of his mother in him, too much of her teachings and love and wisdom to be beaten down completely by dogmatic rhetoric.

That’s why very time Anakin is with Padme he finds himself speaking his most inner absolute truths – things that most people would blush at or feel too embarrassed to speak aloud. Because she is not Jedi, and because he knows that somehow she understand him and he needs her to know the truth while he can still say it. He explains his love for her, his admiration and respect for Obi-Wan as well as the crippling frustrations with his Jedi training. It’s like he cannot help himself. Every time he speaks to her, the truth overwhelms him. After ten years of being encouraged to lock his old self away, and not give in to emotion or his own instincts, the real Anakin is dying to be recognized, to be understood. Even at his darkest, he hides nothing.  It’s incredibly beautiful to watch, but painful at the same time. Painful because honesty is actually frightening for most people and because it’s as if Anakin’s spirit is trying to purge itself of the last ten years of repressed emotion. He’s unconsciously attempting to shake off the shackles of Jedi mentality, but it’s too late, he’s completely surrounded, his fate is already sealed, and this is the last time we truly get to see Anakin as he was before. His time as Anakin Skywalker is fading fast, and it’s almost like some part of him knows it.

“From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m with you again… I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you — I can’t breathe.” –Anakin Skywalker

So after watching AOTC again for what is probably the hundredth time, what I see now is a boy who hasn’t yet been broken. What is often read as awkward and argumentative behavior, is in reality just Ani desperately pushing back against the Jedi’s restrictive nature and seeing Padme again immediately reverts him to his old self. He speaks the truth to her with no shame hampering him and for a short time becomes the person he wants most to be — someone capable of great deeds, and great emotions. Ultimately, he is still the Anakin we met on Tattooine, he is still Shmi’s son – but now time is running out, and the Anakin we know and love is coming nearer and nearer his final fatal destiny.

 

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The Journey Continues: Attack of the Clones

It was a year chock-full of Harry Potter hysteria, marching band performances, swoon-worthy new crushes, and general over-the-top middle-school histrionics when Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, finally soared into theaters in May of 2002. Three months shy of my thirteenth birthday and with the end of seventh grade looming on the horizon, I was in that dreamy/dopey stage of life where everything was epic and larger than life and I didn’t understand half of what my peers were talking about, but it was fun just being in the conversations. It’s easy to look back on this time of my life and cringe at the ridiculous nature of how everything was so dramatic and completely larger than life all the time, but in reality that’s what made it so great. And the same goes for the movie itself. Yes it’s cheesy and over-the-top and I spent half the movie cringing from second-hand humiliation but my God that’s what makes it so amazing.

My biggest (and most awkward and therefore embarrassing) memory of AOTC releasing happened a few days after seeing the movie in the theater. A fellow classmate mentioned how many times Anakin and Padme “made out” and as I had the completely wrong idea of what that phrase meant, I was horrified and vehemently denied it, like what movie did you watch?! I know, I’m still getting red-faced thinking back on it now, but I was a Harry Potter obsessed band-geek walking cliché, I wasn’t up on all the dating terminology. Suffice it to say, I was completely confused and then epically embarrassed to discover that it just meant kissing…

Sigh, don’t you just miss middle-school?!


Anyway – despite my lack of dating knowledge, I was and always have been a sucker for romance (the more extravagant and angsty the better) and this movie with its idyllic picnic sequence and forbidden love tension just fed my melodramatic pre-teen soul. Han and Leia had a love that burned bright and true in the original trilogy, but Anakin and Padme’s suppressed desire rattled the damn stars. This is the type of drama I LIVED for, and between AOTC and Moulin Rouge, it was a damn fine time to be alive. If at any point Anakin had sung a ballad to Padme declaring his undying love and devotion like Moulin Rouge’s Come What May, I may have actually perished.

In a lot of ways this second movie – and especially the characterization of Ani – encapsulated who I was when I watched it for the first time – endearingly awkward and sweet, full of hope for the future and the promise of adventure. But beneath the surface, there’s the churning of fate and the inescapability of time as the first tugs of destiny pull you toward the path of adulthood. There’s fear and resentment and anger but it’s tempered with the brightest of joys and the thrill of experiencing so many life-altering firsts. First love, first solo trip, first time making decisions for yourself, and of course, the first true dose of epic humiliation.

Overall, Attack of the Clones was a whirlwind, wild ride of all out emotions and danger and drama, and frankly some of the most gorgeous fashion statements I’ve ever seen in my entire life. (I’m looking at YOU lake dress!!!) I laughed, I cried, I cringed, and almost twenty years later, I’m still enraptured by the beauty of it all, of the forbidden love between a Jedi and a Senator that couldn’t be denied, and the tragic-and-yet unbreakable bond between Anakin and Obi-Wan that runs just as deeply. It marks the end of Anakin’s youth, the end of his innocence, and sets the stage for the inevitable enactment of his destiny. And as someone transitioning into adulthood at the time myself, I could totally relate. This is the phase of life where everything is possible, where you’re invincible and at your most vulnerable, and every emotion is a torrent that threatens to consume you. This is middle school my friends, and damn wasn’t it a magical time to be alive.

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