Star Wars: Episode II – A Study in Pacing (or What Not to Do)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

(2002, George Lucas, USA)

When Attack of the Clones (“AOTC”)  came out, I remember there being a collective sigh of relief among movie goers.  Every place where Episode I went wrong seemed to have been righted.  There was less of a cartoonish feel, no child actors, and (almost) no Jar Jar.  But once it had beat initial, and admittedly lowered, expectations, an examination of the movie reveals a structural problem responsible for its failure to meet its potential – the movie’s pacing.

When you break AOTC up in pieces, you’ll find some of the best action sequences in all of the Star Wars movies: the chase through the skies of Coruscant; the fight between Obi Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) in the rain on Kamino; and the Battle of Geonosis at the end.  However, the movie never feels as exciting as any of the Original Trilogy or it’s successor, Revenge of the Sith (2005).

The movie begins promisingly enough with an assassination attempt on Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whom the audience was introduced to in Episode I.  The movie then slows to a crawl as her Jedi protectors are assigned (Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewen McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen)).  After that there is a tremendous chase scene.

Let’s compare this chase sequence from AOTC to one of the most exciting sequences from the original Star Wars (1977) to demonstrate.  The chase scene on Coruscant is preceded by heavy exposition and slow pacing.  Now, it is okay to shock the audience with a chase scene, raising the stakes and speeding up the film.  However the movie returns to its pre-chase scene pace immediately afterwards.  The movie follows this pattern for its remainder.

Now, take a look at the escape from Mos Eisley in Star Wars.  The Stormtroopers are closing in on Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), and when they are found out the movie escalates immediately.  However, unlike AOTC, the movie never returns to its pre-Mos Eisley pace, and every action sequence continues to build on the sequence that preceded it.  Likewise, every post-action slow down never returns to the pace of the slow-down that preceded it.  You can’t say this about AOTC.

If it were up to me, AOTC would be shown in every film editing class as the best example of what not to do when setting up the pace of a movie.  It isn’t a horrible movie by any means, but it never quite lives up to the potential of its bits and pieces because of the disjointed way that they are put together.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe