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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 at stake.

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 takes off.

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...

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