You knew this was coming.
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens being released tomorrow, fans are bound to revisit the previous six films to prepare themselves for what’s to come. Which means your inbox is going to get filled with a ton of hate mail.
I grew up with prequels. I was a kid addicted to action, and your CGI action sequences were my bread and butter. All that boring old man stuff in the original trilogy didn't interest me. What did interest me was the all-out war at the end of Attack of the Clones—droids, clones, and Jedis, oh my! When the Jedi reinforcements rescued Padme, Anakin, and Obi-Wan from the gladiator dome and proceeded to charge into battle against the droids, I lost my shit. It was so cool.
But when I re-watched Episode II the other day, I had to face a harsh truth: the movie I loved as a child is actually just a clunky mess.
It shouldn’t’ surprise me. Attack of the Clones is touted as the worst of all the Star Wars films. This is due, in large part, to the shocking amount of green screen used throughout the two hour span. When the original trilogy came out, the visual effects blew people’s minds; a thing as relatively simply as the beam of the Death Star’s superlaser left moviegoers in awe. In Attack of the Clones, that awe was replaced by disgust. Fans were in an uproar about the blatantly fake landscapes, sticky character movements, and the digitized characters and sets. It kept fans from being immersed in the beautiful world of Star Wars. In short, they weren’t transported to a galaxy far, far away.
But bashing Attack of the Clones is beating a dead horse. Everyone at Lucasfilm and Industrial Lights and Magic—a subdivision of Lucasfilm and the studio you work for—has learned from it. It’s not like you didn’t know what you were doing. What ended up onscreen is exactly what George Lucas was aiming for: he wanted the world’s first all-digital film (a lofty goal in the yesteryear of 2002). It must have been hard work, and I have to give you and your team serious props for being able to bring things to life with the tech you had available at that time.
That being said, the animation work on Attack of the Clones – which used to be my favorite thing – is now my biggest complaint. The interactions between actor and green screen are flat and lifeless, almost as if the actors had to move slowly enough to keep pace with the rendering of the backgrounds. Whenever we have a shot of an actor walking next to a computer-generated character, there’s a sluggishness which is hard to shake.
The slightly-off movements of digitized characters is a blatant distraction, too. Such is the case when Obi-Wan mounts the Reek. The transition when Obi-Wan jumps and sticks the landing is just cartoonish. He practically flies. There’s no struggle—you know, the kind of struggle you’d expect when someone tries to climb on top of an angry alien rhinoceros.
But the best example of the shoddy animation work has to be when we get our first glimpse of the clone army marching into formation. Their walking has no weight. The small subtleties of the human body in motion are completely missing. It’s the stuff you just can’t capture without advanced mocap suits, which you didn’t have, and which make the clone army look like they’re gliding across the ground into the Republic Gunship. If you’ve seen The Force Awakens trailer, you’ll agree that the snippet of Stormtroopers stepping into position (real human extras in costume) already feels more authentic than what we saw with the clone army.
I understand you did your best. You’ve gotten a lot more slack than you deserve. Attack of the Clones was a digital breakthrough, and paved the way for many of the digital advancements that have been made since. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Your effects stripped away any sense of realism, and a with a film featuring Hayden Christensen in a lead role, believability is already a concern.
May the Force be with you,