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.