Seven Things I Love About Attack of the Clones
By Jeff Bond
If there's one thing I've learned about just about everyone, score-collecting
nerds or not, it's that they're all trying to recapture whatever it was
they liked when they were 12. Star Wars (which I saw when I was
16 -- but I was about 12 emotionally and have been ever since) had an incredibly
lasting effect on a whole generation of kids and would-be kids, and it
would be stating the obvious to say that John Williams' score got a huge
percentage of us hooked on film music. So when The Phantom Menace
arrived in 1999 it wasn't all that strange that people were camping out
for months to see it -- after all, wouldn't you sleep on cement for a month
or two for the chance to feel like you were 12 again?
Unfortunately, for some of us, the movie was more like Childhood's End.
Was the 1977 Star Wars really this lame and boring? Some revisionist
Phantom Menace fans insist it was and that anyone who prefers George
Lucas's original to TPM is just wallowing in their own nostalgia.
Not many people remember that the original Star Wars was named The
Year's Best Film by Time Magazine in June of 1977 -- and that it
was one of the most critically praised films of the decade. In fact, I
keep reading letters insisting that the legend "Episode IV" was always
seen at the beginning of Star Wars (it was actually added for the
reissue of Star Wars that preceded the 1980 release of The Empire
Strikes Back -- after George Lucas realized that he would actually
be able to make Episodes 1-3). For me, the dissatisfaction with
Episode One extended to John Williams' score. Sure, it sounded like
a Star Wars movie score, but despite a few memorable set pieces
there seemed to be no there there. The score was largely ambient, failing
to drive or anticipate the action, seemingly as aware as the critics were
that there was no drama onscreen. It was a movie that seemed to lack a
protagonist and a definable plot, and that seemed to make things tough
for Williams to sink his teeth into the score.
I haven't seen Episode Two: Attack of the Clones yet, and for
all I know I might dislike it as much as I disliked Episode One
-- but something in its story certainly inspired John Williams this time.
From the opening post-crawl moments of the score it's clear that something's
actually happening in this movie -- Williams' score is motivic, driven
by shifting, rhythmic patterns and some impressive new themes (as well
as more-than-welcome reprises of many of the old ones). It's sweeping,
gorgeous, romantic and exciting as hell. I've seen a few gripes that this
score isn't "thematic" enough -- don't you believe it. The themes are there
to be found, and part of the fun is seeing how they emerge out of dauntingly
complex passages or suggest themselves before their full-blown orchestral
statements appear. This is the kind of writing I like best from Williams:
rich and thoughtful, clearly fully-engaged by the movie in front of him.
Here are just a few of the things I've noticed after listening to Attack
of the Clones more than half a dozen times:
1. Main Title -- Could Lucas actually be opening the film with an action
scene this time? After the slow unfolding of TPM and Return of
the Jedi, the sweep of AOTC's opening cue is most welcome --
although to be fair, TPM's initial album treatment was a red herring
transposition of one of his later Coruscant cues.
2. Across the Stars -- Man, is this theme beautiful. Yeah, maybe it's
Nixon according to some -- to me it sounds more like a nod to Nino
Rota's star-crossed Romeo and Juliet theme. I love the intervening
section of dark, brooding rhythms -- this is a love theme that has something
3. Zam the Assassin and Chase Through Coruscant -- this is one of those
cues that has people complaining because there's no theme hitting them
over the head. But it's also the most vibrant action showpiece Williams
has presented in the SW universe since the highlights of Return
of the Jedi, and I'd argue it's actually better than a lot of the writing
in that score. This smacks more of The Empire Strikes Back (there
are many elements of Williams' stupendous "Battle in the Snow" cue here),
and there's some ingenious development here, from the hint of the tail
end of the love theme heard early on (see, Anakin isn't quite in love with
Padme yetÖ) to the way those staccatto Crouching Tiger stick rhythms
build into that electrifying tutti "news theme" arrangement. And speaking
of electrifying, I knew I'd turned the corner on this score when I actually
accepted and began to enjoy the electric guitar riffs that have every Williams
fan around declaring that the world is about to end. However, I enjoy it
with this caveat: I think if it's a motif for the chaotic threat posed
by Zam the Assassin, it's brilliant -- it's such a disruptive influence
in the SW musical universe that it's perfect for this. If it's music
for angry punk-haired Anakin or if (as some have suggested) it's inserted
as quasi source music for the chase leading through a bar, than I'm not
really having it.
4. Yoda and the Younglings -- This opens with a beautiful little theme
for woodwinds before Yoda's theme reappears -- it's a little bit on the
Harry Potter side with its delicate celeste, but that's okay. We
also hear the Force theme and the first full underscore statement of the
love theme here.
5. Anakin and Padme -- Another important theme introduced by flutes
that may either be a "mature Anakin" theme or one for Padme, later showcased
in "The Meadow Picnic."
6. Leaving Coruscant -- not a standout cue, but notable because of the
motivic approach that drives a lot of the score -- Williams introduces
a five-note motive played by woodwinds very gently until the final, swelling
statement of the mini-melody from the full orchestra as some spaceship
7. Jango's Escape -- Williams launches quite a powerful action motif
here -- I don't know if there's any relationship to his earlier Boba Fett
theme from Empire but this cue is impressively linear and exciting,
and an added bonus is the beautiful little Arabian Nights-style caravan
theme that finishes off the piece...
The most dangerous thing about this album is that it actually makes
me want to see Episode Two. I might even see it opening day now.
Damn you, John Williams! Damn you all to hell!
This article was originally titled "14 Things I Love About Attack
of the Clones," but we're saving the sevenother things...and even deeper
Star Wars insight, for FSM Vol. 7, No. 4 (we've just finished No.
3). Hold your breath until then...