Scene Dissections: The Picnic Love Scene in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

All right, here we go: it’s St. Patrick’s and time for an appropriately themed post. That’s right, let’s talk about Star Wars! Oh, you’re saying: not Irish enough? Very well, we’ll focus on Episode II: Attack of the Clones. You have to be stereotypically Irish to enjoy the scenes in that movie. Maybe not every scene, some of the action and effects shots are really well done. It’s just the other stuff… the stuff with the people doing something… it isn’t lightsaber fighting, it’s something else… TALKING! Yes, the scenes with the people talking are frankly, well they’re awful in that movie. And never does the quality sink lower than when Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) are on screen together. I could talk about any of their scenes at length but, let’s just pick at random and go with this one:

Did you watch it? Are you so turned on by love that you can’t sit still anymore? If you’ve never seen the movie: there are all like that. EVERY. SINGLE. LOVE SCENE.

But anyway, bashing Episode II is nothing new. By doing this I simply join the dark side of internet geeks trashing a movie they, for some reason, can’t stop talking about. The above scene is a failure, no question, but let’s talk about why. I’m going to break it down by story, acting/direction, and scenery/effects/music. I’m not going to do this in context with the rest of the movie (I might a bit but I’ll try to avoid it). I just want to talk about that sequence, as it is. What went wrong.

STORY: Two people are talking at a picnic. The dialogue isn’t horrible. It’s not riveting either. They’re talking about her crush… from when she was twelve (before the wonders of Star Wars puberty) and Anakin makes it clear that he doesn’t like politics. To be fair, he does this like a typical 19 year old, in the sense that he sounds incredibly naive and dismissive (like 50% of most democratic populations). Here is the first failure: Padme is not put off by this exchange. She is a senator. Someone who has devoted their whole life to the government.

Let’s try an experiment: next time you’re with a politician (or even a political science major) just say: “yeah democracy is a load of crap, people just bicker and stuff. We should totally just have someone in charge who just does right.”  That is para-phrased dialogue from Episode II. Say that to your political friend and see how often they laugh and come onto you (granted there has to be ZERO flirting beforehand… you have to be as cold as they were in that scene… so looking bored in grass).

ACTING/DIRECTION: God do they look bored. There isn’t one second of natural warmth between them. Padme laughs a little and Anakin laughs a little but what are they laughing at? Anakin’s jokes aren’t clever, not to a senator (or anyone) in their early twenties anyway. They act like teenagers at the prom: too scared to make a move and too awkward to look comfortable. Problem: He is 19 and she is 24. It’s okay for him to be awkward because he has spent the last ten years as a sexless monk-knight, but she grew up with luxury: no way she would find it that charming.

Natalie Portman has won an oscar. Hayden Christensen has disappeared. I never saw him in anything else so I don’t know that he’s horrible, but given how unnatural Academy Award-winning, Natalie Portman is acting: this is not a scene to blame on the actors. George Lucas clearly had a vision here: the mono-myth picture of ideal, innocent love. Two children in a field, just enjoying each other’s company. That’s the scene, that is an accurate description of the scene. He directed it like two children, problem is he wrote it for two young adults. Second problem: this isn’t just writing. One of the beauties of film is that it breathes with living performance when done well. When it’s done poorly… it looks like the above scene.

SCENERY/EFFECTS/MUSIC: This goes back to George Lucas’ vision. It is the idyllic field in a land of (at this point) scientifically explained magic and whimsey. Star Wars is no stranger to fantastical backgrounds but both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi brought a sense of realism to their worlds. The people acted like people. thus drawing attention away from the scenery. No such luck here. The visuals may look impressive (at least until Anakin tries riding one of those… alien cow pigs) but they carry too much of the scene. It’s not good.

One thing truly works here and that is “Across the Stars“. “Across the Stars” is the love theme, composed by the great John Williams. Yes, it is over-the-top but this is Star Wars. The music has never been subtle. In my opinion, this piece is beautiful and captures a brief image of the idealized love that Lucas was going for. Does it sound grounded: nope, but it is the one thing that absolutely doesn’t have to be.

So there you have it: fantasy gone wrong. I guess that sums up the prequels in a nutshell. At least we got some funny Robot Chicken sketches out of it. Like this one:

And this one:

Good times. Anyway, for those out there wondering why I didn’t write an article on St. Patrick’s Day (and the wonderful “political correctness” of Irish stereotypes), I was in the mood to rant so I did something stupid to rant on. The Irish article is coming so… we’ll enjoy that at a later date.

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