Part I. Only What You Take with You

Jocasta Nu “If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.”

— Jedi Archivist Jocasta Nu,
Attack of the Clones

As is the case with the episode that preceded it, Attack of the Clones has a depth of meaning and resonance that only a viewer with a thorough knowledge of Star Wars mythology can appreciate. The uninitiated can enjoy the movie as an action-packed thrill ride and follow the surface details of the story, but they can't grasp the full significance of what unfolds. So it's no wonder the prequels are criticized for being thin on plot by those who lack an adequate grounding in the elaborate backstory.

I have to be specific in my definitions here, in light of the tiresome debate in the fan community as to what constitutes "canon" in Star Wars mythology. Lucasfilm has granted licenses for novels, comics, games and other materials collectively known as the "Expanded Universe," which tell stories going beyond what is depicted in the movies. Some fans embrace the Expanded Universe as making valid contributions to the mythology, while others reject and despise it.

Personally, I fall into the anti-Expanded Universe camp. Just because Lucas authorizes these, um... products, that doesn't mean they reflect his vision of the saga. I know a lot of fans enjoy this stuff, and I say more power to them. But for my money, I consider these stories entertaining apocrypha at best, and soulless hackwork the rest of the time. Of the Expanded Universe books I have read, I thought Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy was fun, and James Luceno's Cloak of Deception offered a masterful portrayal of Senator Palpatine and the Republic's political climate before Episode I. Other than those rare examples, I find the Expanded Universe to be lacking the genuine Star Wars spirit, overrun with "transparisteel" and character names full of apostrophes, and certainly not worthy of canonization or vital for one's appreciation of the movies.

The Final Duel But by the same token, there are other non-movie sources of Star Wars mythology that are entirely authoritative and essential. My favorite example of this phenomenon is the near-universally known legend that Obi-Wan Kenobi knocked Darth Vader into a volcano or lava pit during a lightsaber battle, and the injuries left Vader dependent on his life-support armor. I remember talking excitedly with my friends about that incident on the elementary school playground, over 25 years ago! I now know that the source of this mythic meme was interviews Lucas gave at the time, like the famous 1977 conversation with Rolling Stone where he said, "...Ben and Vader have a confrontation, just like they have in Star Wars, and Ben almost kills Vader. As a matter of fact, he falls into a volcanic pit and gets fried and is one destroyed being. That's why he has to wear the suit with a mask, because it's a breathing mask. It's like a walking iron lung."

So even though the lava pit thing has never been referred to in the movies (yet), it has been an integral part of my concept of Star Wars mythology since I was eight years old. I think it should be obvious that this sort of long-established "fan folklore" of Star Wars possesses an entirely different level of significance than the exploits of Han and Leia's Jedi twins in some Expanded Universe novel.

There are countless instances of Star Wars mythology that have been present since the very beginning without appearing in the movies themselves. Thanks to books, toys, and merchandising, we learned that Darth Vader was "the Dark Lord of the Sith" back in the '70s, even though the term "Sith" appeared nowhere in the classic trilogy, and we never had any idea exactly who or what the Sith were until Episode I. Lucas told interviewers of the first film's abandoned end sequence on an arboreal Wookiee planet, which would eventually be reimagined as the battle of Endor. Every ten-year-old who attended the opening of The Empire Strikes Back could identify Boba Fett by name, even though the script only referred to him as "bounty hunter." The Emperor's given name is never mentioned in Return of the Jedi, but the official documentation (including the Journal of the Whills) had told us years before that it was "Palpatine."

This is the kind of stuff I mean when I talk about the Star Wars mythology that fans have the benefit of knowing, though it eludes the casual viewer. Not that manufactured Expanded Universe fluff, but the real, meaningful tidbits culled from Lucas interviews, early script drafts, novelizations, the fan media, Kenner action figure packaging, wherever, and cherished as a sometimes vague but satisfyingly coherent backstory for this grand cinematic saga. This "true" mythology is of monumental importance in considering the prequel movies, because after all, the prequels are nothing more than that long-imagined folklore being made concrete.

If anything, the mythology is more crucial to an appreciation of Attack of the Clones than to The Phantom Menace, since Episode II has more responsibility to tie the two trilogies together. To cite a fairly trivial example, consider the appearance of Bail Organa in Attack of the Clones. His name is not even spoken in the movie, and if it were, the average viewer would still think he's just Jimmy Smits playing some senator guy. But we fans know who Smits is playing, because we learned about the casting from the fan press two years before the movie was released. And we know that Bail Organa will become the adoptive father of Anakin and Padmé's daughter, and Obi-Wan Kenobi will serve under him in the Clone Wars, and he will send Princess Leia to find the old general on Tatooine, because we know the Star Wars mythology. So we fans get a tremor of excitement upon finally seeing this legendary senator from Alderaan, even though he doesn't really do anything yet besides stand around in his frilly turtleneck. But you have to be a Star Wars geek even just to know that Leia's adopted last name is Organa, since it's never spoken in the movies, either.

So there's this whole wealth of detail that Lucas has embroidered into Attack of the Clones that remains invisible to the general audience. Some of it is strictly fanboy fodder of no consequence, like knowing that the "border dispute on Ansion" that Obi-Wan and Anakin have returned from at the outset is chronicled in the cheesy Alan Dean Foster novel The Approaching Storm. Other details are more substantial, such as recognizing who young Boba Fett is and how he will grow up to inherit the armored suit and disreputable profession of his "father."

But some of these subtextual plot points are completely essential to gaining a proper understanding of what happens in Attack of the Clones. I believe the crucial question the movie examines is the division between right and wrong. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this story? Are decisions made in the interests of good actually serving sinister purposes? Is it acceptable to compromise integrity and virtue in the face of demanding circumstances? What are the consequences of blind allegiance? These are complex issues for an action-fantasy film to tackle, and they probably zoom right over the heads of viewers who either don't know Star Wars mythology or don't apply their knowledge correctly.

To kick things off, let's look at the big picture beyond the narrow window of events that are portrayed in Attack of the Clones. Let's get down to the nuts and bolts of what Star Wars is really about.

Contrary to popular belief, Star Wars is not science fiction. Even though it's got aliens and robots and spaceships that follow the conventions of science fiction, Star Wars undeniably belongs to the genre of fantasy. The element that places the saga outside the category of science fiction is, of course, the Force. The Star Wars universe differs fundamentally from our own because of the presence of beings with supernatural powers. Star Wars is a fable of a world where supermen are real.

In this imaginary place, some people have the inborn ability to use the Force to do amazing feats, but most people do not. That is a recipe for trouble. The normal people will tend to be jealous, suspicious and fearful of the strange magicians who can do such extraordinary things. And the Force-sensitive people will be tempted to exploit their abilities for personal gain. George Lucas's galaxy isn't just another sci-fi milieu that happens to have super-powered wizards running around with laser swords. It is a place whose governments, cultures and interplanetary psychology have been profoundly defined and influenced by the presence of those chosen few who can use the Force.

Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art The Star Wars galaxy is a very old place, and it has taken thousands of centuries to arrive at the particular social conditions seen in the movies. You can easily imagine a long and troubled history of Force-sensitive individuals and their impact on civilization. Ordinary beings would instinctively be inclined to lash out against them in fear and distrust — ancient Force-users were undoubtedly burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. In other cases, normal folk would have worshipped the gifted few as gods and started new religions around them. And some Force-users would have been corrupted by their great powers, selfishly seizing wealth and glory and setting themselves up as local dictators. There must have been millions of different Force-based religions and anti-Force factions and splinter groups and rogue warlords, all fighting and killing each other like crazy over the millennia. These would be the natural consequences of having a minority of superior beings introduced into societies where the majority suddenly finds itself inferior.

Roughly speaking, there are four possible outcomes if a such a universe is to arrive at some semblance of equilibrium and order:

  1. The Force-using minority assumes control over the normal beings.
  2. The normal beings use their numbers to overwhelm and exterminate the Force-users.
  3. The Force-users voluntarily submit to the will of the normal beings and agree to coexist under strict terms that limit the Force-users' power over others.
  4. The Force-users go into hiding and live in isolation from the normal beings.

In the era of the prequels, neither of the first two scenarios has occurred. Force-users and normal people continue to share the galaxy without one group having conquered the other. Over the ages, one organization of Force-users has emerged from the tumult as dominant: the Jedi Order. The Jedi have survived and succeeded by choosing the third option. They have gained their position of prominence in the Republic not by exercising their magical powers, but by restraining them.

A variety of self-disciplinary factors contribute to the success of the Jedi. The foremost is their adherence to temperance and restraint. They have avoided the destructive temptations of the dark side, and convinced the general populace that they wish only to serve peace and justice in the galaxy, and not to rule it.

Second, the Jedi are an equal opportunity organization, having members of countless species and planetary origins. Force-users appear in just about every system with intelligent life, as far as we know, and the Jedi welcome them all to their ranks. Any isolationist society consisting of Force-users of one species would be a target for suspicion and attack, from the normal people of their planet as well as offworlders. The Jedi give the normal beings of the galaxy some assurance that no single race of Force-users is going to try to take control. The Jedi will be working to police each other and maintain a peaceful balance of power.

So far, so good. But the Jedi have adopted further measures of self-restraint that will ultimately lead to their undoing. Their biggest mistake is that they have surrendered themselves wholly to the authority of the Republic. The Jedi do not work autonomously to keep the peace in the galaxy; rather, they bow to the decisions of the Galactic Senate and take their orders from the Supreme Chancellor. Centuries ago the Jedi entered this agreement on the grounds that the Republic was a fair and just democracy, and that by serving the Republic they would be serving the people of the galaxy. But this puts the Jedi in the position of serving two masters: the will of the Force and the will of a government. When the Jedi end up disregarding what the Force tells them in favor of the Republic's marching orders, major problems arise.

We also have to consider another stipulation in the Jedi code that was never revealed until Episode II: the Jedi are celibate. This is the most significant new wrinkle in Star Wars mythology to be found in Attack of the Clones, the closest thing this episode boasts to an "I am your father" moment, even if it's not so dramatically unveiled. The disclosure of Jedi celibacy is hugely significant because one of the fundamental premises of the entire saga is that the ability to use the Force is hereditary. Vader's children being hidden from him is, after all, the whole basis for the classic trilogy. Now we have to reexamine that old familiar story with the understanding that Luke and Leia's parentage was not only a secret, but a forbidden violation of the Jedi code. The two lead heroes of the old Star Wars trilogy should never have been born.

But returning to the larger historical perspective, since Force sensitivity is a genetic trait, the galaxy's history must be rife with dynasties of tyrannical rulers and crime syndicates passing down their brutal power from father to son. The Jedi, on the other hand, have agreed to forswear marriage and remain childless. The explicit reason for this practice is the Jedi rule against emotional attachment, but their celibacy also assures that the Jedi Order will not be run by self-interested families. The Jedi will recruit their numbers from the Force-sensitive children born to the general populace, and each Jedi individual will constitute a genetic dead-end. This arrangement would seem equitable to the public, as a measure to keep the Jedi's power in check. But again, it seems that the Jedi are defying the will of the Force by denying themselves family life. If the Force didn't intend for Jedi children to inherit their parents' abilities, Force sensitivity wouldn't be hereditary. The resolution of the classic trilogy proves the inestimable value of a Jedi having a son and a daughter.

Extrapolating the origins of the Jedi Order and the Jedi code in this "man vs. superman" context, we can understand that the Jedi are not simply an altruistic band of wizards sworn to do good deeds. They are a sect of superbeings who have curtailed their own free will and influence in order to coexist with normal people. The strictures of the Jedi code revolve around avoiding the dark side, but the larger implication therein is the Jedi's social pact that they will not use their powers to dominate the galaxy. We've always thought of peace and justice as being the Jedi's primary motivations, but it's also true that they are driven by self-preservation. The Jedi code is a compromise that allows Force-users to live in society without arousing unchecked fear and persecution. If the Jedi code were more lenient, at some point things would have likely gone wrong and the normal people would have destroyed the Jedi Order in retaliation. The Jedi have survived for a thousand generations by promising the rest of the galaxy that they'll stay on their best behavior.

Of course, we also know that the Jedi Order is not the only group of Force-users that remains in existence. The Sith is a rogue sect that embraces the power of the dark side, and their objective is the first of the four scenarios I outlined above: they want to use their superior might to rule the galaxy, without regard for the rights of normal people. A thousand years before the time of the films, they failed in this effort. The Jedi fought them in fierce battles, but ultimately the Sith Lords were defeated because they betrayed each other and killed off their own numbers. Every Sith Lord wanted to lead and none wanted to follow. Infighting caused their self-destruction.

Legend has it that the sole survivor of the sect was a Sith Lord called Darth Bane, and he realized the only solution was to have only two Sith Lords at a time: a master and an apprentice. And they went into hiding, provisionally choosing the fourth option I mentioned, letting the galaxy believe they were extinct. Through secrecy and their reduced numbers, they were able to survive and concoct a devious strategy for reemerging and taking control at last.

From the Sith perspective, there really is no such thing as "the dark side," even if they do use that term from time to time. They think of themselves as using the full power of the Force, unlike the cautious and self-restricting Jedi. You can see how they would think of the Jedi Order as callow and weak, bowing to the will of ordinary people and keeping their powers in check rather than asserting themselves as the superior beings they were born to be. The Sith want to change the galaxy from a Republic where the Force-users are obedient servants to an Empire where the Force-users are in command.

I will take a closer look at how the Sith intend to do that in Part III of this dissertation. At this point, I just want to establish the fundamental difference between the Jedi and the Sith that we can extrapolate from Star Wars mythology. It's not simply that one is good and the other is evil; more specifically, the difference is that one group uses the Force under a vast weight of self-imposed restrictions, while the other uses the Force to its fullest extent with utter abandon. Despite the Jedi's noble intentions in adhering to their careful self-discipline, this distinction is what will lead them to fail.

Now let's move from a historical overview of Force-users to examine the political climate that the galaxy faces in the time of Episode II. The perfect place to start is the text of the opening scroll: "There is unrest in the Galactic Senate. Several thousand solar systems have declared their intentions to leave the Republic."

Okay, why is this happening? Is it because these separatist systems are evil, out to inflict their lawless misdeeds on the peace-loving Republic? No. Count Dooku and his cronies may have unsavory motives as the self-appointed leaders of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, but the reason for the unrest and dissent in the galaxy is that the Republic has grown corrupt and ineffective. The Republic has become indifferent or hurtful towards the interests of many of its constituents, and they want out.

Early Concept Art of Coruscant The corruption of the Republic is dealt with in The Phantom Menace, when Queen Amidala finds that Supreme Chancellor Valorum and the Senate are incapable of acting upon the invasion of Naboo. As a candidate to replace Valorum, Palpatine campaigns on a platform of stronger leadership for overlooked systems like Naboo. "He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic," to quote the Journal of the Whills.

A viewer with rudimentary knowledge of Star Wars may understand that Supreme Chancellor Palpatine will later become the Emperor, but appearances suggest that Palpatine is still a good guy in Attack of the Clones. He has not yet declared himself Emperor, and the Republic still stands, so one might think that Palpatine, like Anakin, isn't going to "turn bad" until Episode III. But the truth is that the Republic is not going to turn into the Empire overnight. It has been a long and gradual process of decay that was already in motion long before Palpatine's election as Chancellor. "Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside."

The Republic's sorry state is more fully delineated in James Luceno's novel Cloak of Deception, a "prequel-prequel" set directly before the events of The Phantom Menace. This story explores the inequities between the rich and favored worlds of the galactic core and the disadvantaged systems in the outer fringes of the Republic. Coruscant and its neighbors are the fat cats of the galaxy, hogging the political influence in the Senate, while the distant outlying worlds are neglected and left to deal with their hardships on their own. Luceno describes how Republic systems near the Outer Rim are besieged by pirates and oppressive corporate entities like the Trade Federation, but the Senate ignores their problems because they're too far away and too inconsequential. The motions the Senate passes are by and large determined by money and power, rather than by justice and equal rights.

The Senate's shoddy representation of the "smaller" systems is actually the very circumstance that elevated Senator Palpatine to the office of Supreme Chancellor. A sizable faction in the Senate were losing patience with the Republic's blind eye cast toward the outlying worlds, and they were ready for a new leader who would show them more attention than the Valorum administration. Cloak of Deception further explains that Valorum belongs to a wealthy Coruscant family, a political dynasty with ties to corporate interests. Even though he was basically a good man, Valorum was painted as the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the Republic. As a well-regarded senator from the overlooked fringe system of Naboo, Palpatine was perfectly poised as the reform candidate to sweep out the corruption in the Senate and make life better for "the little man" in the Republic.

Of course, during the ten years of Palpatine's term between Episodes I and II, the political injustice in the Republic has only gotten worse. The growing discontent of the Republic's disenfranchised constituents becomes a force that must be reckoned with. Palpatine knows it would be foolish to ignore it, lest the angry and abused masses unite and pose a threat to him and his government. So he has shrewdly turned the unrest to his advantage. As he systematically steers the gradual transition from democracy to dictatorship, Palpatine has managed to keep the heat off himself far more deftly than Valorum did. Part of his strategy as the Teflon Chancellor is to brand the dissenters who wish to leave the Republic as a treasonous threat.

Count Dooku has enlisted "several thousand" systems to secede and join his Confederacy of Independent Systems. Palpatine has made them out to be a band of conniving traitors who must not be allowed to split the Republic in two. But let's think about this. Could that many systems really have dark and sinister motives for rising up against the Republic? Are thousands of systems signing up to join a violent new regime pledged to lawlessness and bloodshed?

No, of course not. These worlds are facing terrible problems and the Republic has shown that it doesn't care. Along comes Count Dooku, offering them an alternative to their ineffective government, and it sounds like a pretty sweet deal. As a charismatic renegade famed for leaving the Jedi Order in protest of the Republic's corrupt leadership, Dooku would easily capture the sympathy and trust of the disenfranchised systems, offering them a new hope.

But the Republic isn't ready to accept this declaration of independence. These are the main reasons Palpatine and the loyalists give for opposing the separatist movement: the Republic must be preserved; war must be avoided; the separatists have made it difficult for the Jedi to keep the peace; and Dooku and his allies can't be trusted. But these arguments are never really fleshed out or contested. No one asks, is the Republic really worth saving? If it is a free democracy, and some member systems feel that they are not being adequately represented, shouldn't they have the right to leave? Should they be forced to remain against their will, just because this Republic has stood for a thousand years and it ought to stay that way?

While the nature of the conflicts that are currently overwhelming the Jedi is not detailed, we can assume that most of the secession-related conflicts would not represent direct threats to the integrity of the Republic. Any fighting would probably involve either civil unrest (especially if the system's citizens are divided on the issue of secession) or reprisals issued by the Republic. Dispatching Jedi to quell civil wars would be justifiable in many cases, but sending them to coerce a system from standing up for its civil rights is another matter.

We don't know for sure if the Republic is using the Jedi to crush the freedom of seceding systems, but in any case, the Jedi are being stretched thin as a result of widespread dissatisfaction with a corrupt government. The blame for the unrest ultimately rests with the Republic, not with the separatists. In a very real sense, the Confederacy of Independent Systems represents the birth of the Rebel Alliance.

And finally, one more essential element of ancient Star Wars lore that gets dealt with in Attack of the Clones is the one referenced in the movie's title. Along with Vader's legendary injury in the volcanic pit, the Clone Wars are the other grand pillar of mythic history in the saga. Episode I gave us answers to the big questions of where Anakin Skywalker came from and how he met Obi-Wan Kenobi. Episode III will reveal the mystery of how Anakin becomes Darth Vader and how the Empire is born. For the episode in between, Lucas had to give us something comparable to keep us satisfied, and Episode II ostensibly is all about how Anakin falls in love with the mother of Luke and Leia while he begins slipping toward the dark side (which is the subject matter of Part II of this dissertation). That's great and all, but for those of us who have been devoted Star Wars geeks for over 25 years, the real biggie that this installment delivers at last is the truth about the Clone Wars.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi... "General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars..."

"You fought in the Clone Wars?"

"Yes. I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father."

Unlike the volcanic pit legend, the Clone Wars are actually mentioned in the classic trilogy, in three seemingly throwaway lines of dialogue early in Episode IV. And unlike the many extensively detailed bits of trivia and backstory that Star Wars fans have devoured and committed to memory, the Clone Wars were nowhere to be found outside that brief onscreen mention, until Episode II. Lucas never told any interviewers who these mysterious clones were or what they were fighting wars about, and the subject was strictly off-limits for the authors of Expanded Universe materials. All we knew was that the Clone Wars were something important, and George was planning to tell us himself in the new movies, whenever he finally got around to it. Until then, we had nothing. Nada. Zippo. Just three lines of dialogue and our imaginations.

Speculation ran rampant about this galactic conflict the Jedi Knights had fought when Obi-Wan Kenobi was a young man. The only other thing we knew for sure about Jedi history was that Darth Vader and the Emperor had nearly killed them all. It would have taken something like a war, or a series of wars. to wipe out a whole society of warriors as powerful as the Jedi. So it became a popular notion that the Clone Wars were the Jedi's last stand. Maybe the clones were some deadly fighting force that the Empire had used to destroy the Jedi. Or maybe the clones were Jedi themselves.

I remember reading an old Starlog or some such sci-fi magazine, circa 1978 or so, where some guy had this theory that Obi-Wan Kenobi was actually a clone. The idea was that his name was actually the designation "O.B.-1," meaning he was the first clone of some original Jedi Knight having the initials O.B., and his "brothers" Obi-Two through Obi-Six-Hundred-and-Ninety-Seven must have been slaughtered in the Clone Wars. And yes, there were also the more precognitive suppositions that the Imperial Stormtroopers might be identical clones beneath their identical armor.

The Empire Strikes Back stirred talk that Vader wasn't really Luke father — he was just a clone of Luke's father, left over from the Clone Wars. A similar denial of the shocking paternity had it that Luke was really a clone of Vader. Or maybe they were both clones from the same source. As support for such arguments, overly-literal fans pointed to the appearance of Luke's face behind Vader's mask in the cave vision on Dagobah.

A colorful apocrypha was spun around Boba Fett, asserting that he was the last survivor of a group of Mandalorian supercommandos. These armored warriors were reputedly involved in some unspecified way in the Clone Wars. I'm sure that some unbelievably accurate fan variations of the Mandalorian myths guessed that Boba himself might be a renegade clone who survived the wars.

Years after Return of the Jedi, the comics series Dark Empire resurrected the Emperor using a clone of Palpatine, and introduced an evil clone of Luke. The cautiously vague implication was that these plot developments were possible thanks to Imperial cloning technology left over from the olden days. Timothy Zahn's novels portrayed a deranged old Jedi Master who turned out to be a defective clone, and also mentioned "Spaarti cloning cylinders" that were kinda sorta relics from the Clone Wars, maybe. These tentative references were the closest the Expanded Universe was ever permitted to veer into the forbidden territory of the Clone Wars, and the readers hungrily lapped it up.

I mention all this by way of illustrating how important the Clone Wars had become to us fans over the years... and to give some impression of my reaction when Lucasfilm announced in 2001 that the title of Episode II would be Attack of the Clones. I was elated. As I wrote at the time, "For 24 years I've been dying to know what the hell the Clone Wars were, and now the clones are the titular subject of the next movie. Not only that, but the movie is about all those clones ATTACKING! Hell, yeah! Bring it on!"

Of course, not everyone agreed with me. It seemed that the majority of fans hated the title, even those sharing my anticipation to learn about the Clone Wars at last. I have no interest in chastising these fans or arguing against their incomprehensible opinions. I will only note that it is much easier for me to understand why a non-fan would think that Attack of the Clones sounded like a stupid and baffling title. Most casual viewers would naturally have long forgotten about the trivial Clone Wars reference in the original film. If you have no idea why one of the new Star Wars movies would mention "clones" in its title, you are already at a disadvantage to understanding the story of Episode II.

As a title, Attack of the Clones plays on our preconceptions about the mythical galactic conflict. The prevailing theory has been that the clones were an enemy, and the Clone Wars a battle of clones versus Jedi. The title indicates that the clones will be the aggressor, affirming our assumption that they will be fighting against our heroes.

Tantalizingly, the movie's plot gets well underway without touching upon the subject of the clones. It's not until half an hour in, when restaurateur Dexter Jettster informs Obi-Wan about Kamino, that clones are first mentioned. "They're cloners," Dex grimly intones. "Damned good ones, too." The link between the cloners and Padmé's would-be assassins further suggests that the clones are going to be bad guys.

The movie leaves us waiting a while for further information, until Obi-Wan arrives on Kamino. The Kaminoans and their world are spooky and disturbing, intensifying the dread surrounding the clones. When Lama Su tells Obi-Wan that the clone army is for the Republic, we get the first indication that our expectations about the clones are in for a twist. Obi-Wan's tour of the cloning facility reveals that these multitudes of human clones are being transformed into white-armored soldiers that are plainly the progenitors of Imperial stormtroopers. Even casual viewers can make that recognition, so the audience as a whole knows more about the true nature of these clones than Obi-Wan does at that point. For the informed fans, everything is still following our preconceptions. Palpatine secretly ordered this clone army that he will eventually use as muscle against the Jedi and install as his stormtrooper battalions. Okay, cool.

When the Senate gives Palpatine the authority to create an army, Yoda announces that he's going to Kamino to see the clones. Knowing what a pacifist Yoda is, "Wars not make one great" and all that, we more or less assume that he intends to condemn the army and bar its deployment. We figure he's going to take a stand and say, "Wrong would it be for the Republic to accept this army. Wage war on our behalf, they will not." Surely Yoda must see through these schemes and understand the sinister threat that the clones truly pose to freedom and justice, just as we do.

Attack of the Clones So we get into the arena battle on Geonosis, and Mace Windu and his Jedi squadron come to the rescue of our three main protagonists. Then the Jedi get overwhelmed by Dooku's fierce battle droids. Just when all seems lost, here comes the cavalry. And even though everything in the movie has been telling us that this moment was going to happen, it still comes as a surprise. In my estimation, the shot of Yoda leading the, well, attack of the clones is the single most alarming and memorable image in Episode II. Yoda and the clones are swooping down to save the day. The clones are fighting for the Jedi. And that's not right.

The battle of Geonosis made me realize that I had been in denial through the entire movie. Lama Su tells us right up front that the clone army is for the Republic, but I didn't let myself think that through. When Palpatine talks about using the army against the separatists, and Yoda says he's going to Kamino, what's about to happen is all spelled out. I just didn't want to acknowledge it. I was not going to believe that the Jedi and the clones were on the same side until the Republic gunships descended on Geonosis under the command of Master Yoda. At first you think, "Oh, look at that, the clones are actually the good guys!" But then the dark truth sinks in. The reality is that the Jedi are actually the bad guys. Or at least, they've let themselves wind up on the wrong side.

This moment of terrible realization would not have had the merest shadow of the same impact had I not been anticipating the Clone Wars for all those years. I'd always wanted to see the Clone Wars, and always been denied — and now that the mythic event was finally unfolding before my eyes, I didn't want to see it. Not this way. The clones were supposed to be the enemy. They're the great-grandaddies of the stormtroopers. The Jedi are supposed to be fighting them, not leading them. I wanted Anakin and the gang to get out of this tight spot, but not with the aid of the bad, wicked clones. (Bear in mind, I am here relating my initial gut reaction to the movie's plot developments. I will take on a broader perspective of the clone army's implications in Part V of this dissertation.)

Something was wrong. The inaugural Clone War wasn't just some cool, exciting space battle that was fun to finally see splashed across the big screen. It was a horrible turning point when things in the Old Republic really went to hell in a handbasket. This wasn't a fun spectacle to watch, it was a painful one. The Clone Wars are the result of a situation that is hopelessly screwed up and is going to end very badly.

Now that I've outlined these key backstory elements a viewer needs to know in order to appreciate Episode II fully, some might find fault with Lucas's storytelling ability. If these plot elements are so crucial, why has Lucas made them so cryptic and inaccessible? Couldn't the films offer more explicit information on the history of the Jedi and the Sith, and the corruption in the Republic, and the true nature of the clone army?

I think the answer to this criticism is that Lucas wants to tell the Star Wars saga on a personal level. While all these grand galactic events are transpiring in the background, Lucas is more concerned with the story of the extended Skywalker family and their close associates. The intimate drama of these characters is obviously the primary source of the saga's appeal, and the mythological backdrop serves to give it additional depth and flavor.

Lucas puts deliberate effort into balancing the "big story" of galactic conflicts with the "small story" of character relationships. He often remarks on how he values the saga's trademark lightsaber battles, because they take the big conflict and reduce it to a personal struggle between two (or sometimes three) characters. Lucas's main priority is these small stories, but he works to keep us aware of the big picture so that we maintain the proper context for the personal events. What's more, I believe Lucas sometimes deliberately withholds backstory information as a tool for heightening the intimate story.

There's no better example of this "non-disclosure" strategy than our introduction to the three central characters of A New Hope: a sinister villain dressed all in black; an innocent captive princess wearing white; and a simple farmboy who longs for adventure. This is a trinity of archetypal figures seemingly thrown together by chance events, interacting on an impersonal story level. But as we learn by the end of the saga, these three characters have always been related as father, son and daughter. The generic archetypes are transformed into real individuals united by a family bond. We can now watch the original Star Wars movie with a deeper understanding than audiences did in 1977, knowing the true personal relationships left unrevealed at this point in the narrative.

So you see, the things that Lucas doesn't tell you can be just as important as the story developments presented explicitly. The Star Wars universe he has imagined is far too big and complex for him to show everything in the movies, and they would be unbearably cumbersome and overwhelming in detail if he tried. For those of us who make the effort to put together all the extra pieces of the puzzle that Lucas has offered outside the scope of the films themselves, the rewards are tremendously satisfying.

Sometimes it's good to be a geek.

II. A Jedi Craves Not Such Things
Anakin's journey toward the dark side.

The Shroud of the Dark Side