With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story heading into theaters this Thursday evening I may never have a better excuse to write about one the Star Wars prequel films. Not one to let such an enthralling opportunity pass me by, I’m going for it! I’m not a hater. I’m not an apologist. I’m just a chill AF bro chatting about some stuff I found interesting in Episodes I-III. Does that make me a hero? I’ll leave that to history to blog about.If The Phantom Menace is a Shakespearean prologue draped over a Star Wars movie, Attack of the Clones is a Star Wars movie draped over film noir.
The second Star Wars prequel follows a single murder that should be a drop in the galactic bucket (that of Padme Amidala’s body double during an attempted assassination, supposedly at the hands of a disgruntled union) down the rabbit hole to schemes and intrigue of unthinkable proportions. Descending into that rabbit hole are our heroes, the calm and collected Obi-Wan Kenobi and his hotheaded young partner Anakin Skywalker, agents of a corrupted, though not entirely rotten, peace-keeping force.
The Jedi are by no means outright villainous in Attack of the Clones, but there is corruption within the order that runs deeper than being on the take. It’s the kind of philosophical corruption that evolves from being unquestioned and beyond reproach. When Obi-Wan maims a bounty hunter in a bar Anakin declares the situation “Jedi business” and the crowd immediately turns a blind eye. Faced with the prospect of a planet not found in the Jedi archive, Jedi librarian Jocasta Nu dismisses the thought outright. It’s this unquestioned, unchecked authority that leaves Jedi like Anakin Skywalker talking about implied mandates.
When we’re introduced to the Jedi in The Phantom Menace these zen badasses are already relegated to negotiating economic disputes, now they’ve immersed themselves even further into the small picture and are essentially acting as cops. The state of the Jedi Order in Attack of the Clones leaves the characters of Yoda and Mace Windu feeling like Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg in The Departed, the beleaguered leaders working as best they can with the organization they have, even though they know it should be better than it is.
In characteristically noir fashion, our cops’ investigation ultimately leads them to a crooked cop, or in this case a crooked retired cop – Count Dooku, the fallen Jedi turned secret Sith Lord. Further illustrating the arrogance of the Jedi order, Padme surmises Dooku’s involvement in her attempted assassination like five minutes into the proceedings and is immediately disregarded. But alas the previously unquestionable Jedi are proven wrong. Count Dooku has turned on the Republic and is wielding the Separatist political movement like a red lightsaber.
Count Dooku’s Separatists are replete with the sort of moral ambiguity that is a staple of noir. They are undoubtedly our antagonists, but they’re also side effects of the crippling political gridlock showcased in The Phantom Menace. We learn that Nute Gunray’s crimes in the previous film have gone entirely unpunished and as a result he’s been allowed to commit further crimes, like the attempted assassination that sets the events of Attack of the Clones in motion. Nute Gunray and the Separatists’ ability to achieve what they do is a testament to the righteousness of the cause they cloak themselves in. The Republic is fundamentally broken. The government does not work. For whatever seedier ties the Separatist leadership boasts, the desire to succeed from the bloated, crippled husk of the Republic is rational, prudent even. No one is punished for the Invasion of Naboo and the lives lost because of it. If I’m a Republic citizen and I watch a precedent be set for unchecked aggression against other Republic citizens by an economic entity, I’m looking for an exit. There’s a whole other blog post to be written about Episode II and private interests hijacking the judicious desires of the masses for their own nefarious purposes. The weirdos we see cahooting about on Geonosis may be no good, but the political ideals they claim to represent are beyond reproach.
The Jedi Order proves no better. Anakin Skywalker boasts a similar moral yin and yang. He’s our hero. He saves the day. He slaughters a village of men, women and children in a fit of unchecked rage. In Anakin Skywalker we can see notes of the sort of monstrous protagonists that inhabit William Friedkin’s crime films.
All this ambiguity and mystery takes place in the shadow of war. Unlike the post WWII Los Angeles of many noir films, Star Wars Episode II takes place in the pre-Clone Wars Galactic Republic, but the effect is similar: like the L.A. homicide detective who never stopped being at war when it ended, Anakin Skywalker feels like a man who’s shown up for war before it’s even began.
And if I’m going to get really on the nose about it all, even the lighting is reminiscent of black and white noir film. Padme’s apartment and the Jedi meditation chamber are imprisoned in bars of light and shadow. Kamino, with its brutal fluorescent interiors and harsh gray climate, is basically a black and white planet.
But the noir heart beating at the center of Attack of the Clones is its plot: flawed heroes solving a murder and brushing against something vast and sinister in the process, a larger evil that ultimately eludes them.
Attack of the Clones may not be Blade Runner, but it’s noir elements are unmistakable, and they set Episode II apart from the other films in the Star Wars saga. Assuming there isn’t a grizzled detective in Rogue One.