It might be tough to remember after J.J. Abrams revived the Star Wars saga with 2015's The Force Awakens, but George Lucas nearly destroyed his own franchise. Lucas' prequel trilogy, which he wrote and directed, was laden with CGI-heavy backdrops, clunky pacing and, worst of all, Jar Jar Binks — who, aside from drawing the ire of an entire fanbase, played into racist stereotypes.
The second film in the second Star Wars trilogy, 2002's Attack of the Clones, which was released in theaters 15 years ago today, is the absolute nadir of the series — plagued by all of the aforementioned problems and then some.
Where 1999's The Phantom Menace and 2005's Revenge of the Sith had some redeemable qualities — a compelling Qui-Gon Jinn and an epic lightsaber battle for the former, and some heartbreaking yet necessary moments to set up A New Hope in the latter — Attack of the Clones is nigh unwatchable. Many fans lay the blame at the feet of Hayden Christensen, who, thanks to his stilted and whiny portrayal of a teenage Anakin Skywalker, is widely considered the worst actor in the entire franchise. But the issues with the film go beyond poor acting.
Here are four reasons why Attack of the Clones stands out as the worst Star Wars film. Fingers crossed director Rian Johnson's upcoming The Last Jedi doesn't miss the mark worse than the average Stormtrooper.
1. The dialogue is comically bad.
Yes, we all know Anakin really doesn't like sand, but that notoriously awful line is only the tip of the iceberg. Laughably bad dialogue chokes the entirety of Attack of the Clones. To be sure, Anakin and Padmé Amidala's romantic relationship is the crux of the problem, and aside from whatever chemistry they don't have, it's tough to buy into their love story because of the characters' dramatic age difference.
"From the moment I met you, all those years ago," Anakin tells Padmé, "not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you." The future Darth Vader is 19 when he's saying this, and he first met Padmé a decade prior in The Phantom Menace. So, exactly how thirsty was that 9-year-old? Can a 9-year-old even be that kind of thirsty?
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan's journey to Kamino doesn't fare much better. It's not a good sign for your franchise if fans are clamoring for dour Trade Federation talk instead of the minutiae involved in scheduling the rollout of a clone army, but that's where we are with this movie. Yoda asks Obi-Wan to track the location of a bounty hunter, so the Jedi Master does some detective work — a generous term for finding the coordinates of a planet, being told said planet doesn't exist, then flying there yourself just to prove you're right and to have an alien race explain the plot to you. It's as uninteresting and predictable as it sounds.
A major character trait of the Kaminoans, the aliens responsible for creating the clone army, is the species' politeness and lack of outward expression. They're basically emotionless, which means they're right at home in Attack of the Clones.
2. The "Clone Wars" is a conflict with no emotional stakes.
War is a central theme in the franchise — couldn't you tell by the name? — and other entries have effectively explored the tolls and scale of intergalactic warfare. We went on missions with everyman Rebel forces in 2016's Rogue One and witnessed climactic battles between Force- and lightsaber-wielding icons in the original trilogy. Simply put, when these blockbusters are done right, emotional stakes and characters are often at risk.
That sense of gravity is another thing Attack of the Clone Wars lacks. It's a superficial conflict led by two completely disposable armies, one made up of clones and the other populated by droids. It's like a game of Battlefront playing in front of you on the big screen: Faceless armies continuously respawn, occasionally interrupted by shots of some major characters we're expected to care about.
The start of the Clone Wars is treated as window dressing to a poorly contrived love story. It's troublesome an entire war feels shoehorned because an older Obi-Wan offhandedly mentioned fighting in the "Clone Wars" in A New Hope. Yet this is how Attack of the Clones is structured.
3. Why are we being left in suspense over Darth Sidious?
To The Phantom Menace's credit, the identity of Darth Sidious is kept under wraps for the entirety of the film. Sure, a Star Wars sleuth could put the pieces together when Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, was cast as an unassuming senator. But nothing on screen would suggest Palpatine was anything more than a friendly face.
However, any subtlety the prequels reached for with Palpatine was thrown out the window in Attack of the Clones, when Count Dooku flat-out tells Obi-Wan a Sith Lord is in control of the entire Senate. And wouldn't you know it, the Senate grants Palpatine emergency powers — amazingly, at the urging of Jar Jar Binks, who's still haunting the franchise at this point — in anticipation of the Clone Wars.
That Attack of the Clones doesn't outright reveal Palpatine and Sidious are the same guy is pretty frustrating, since it should be obvious to even the most casual viewers. Why stall until the next movie? What's even more surprising is that Obi-Wan and the other Jedi don't put the pieces together until Revenge of the Sith. Regardless of whether Palpatine's presence disturbs and disrupts the Force, the Jedi should be able to use a bit of common sense to figure this out before the third movie in a trilogy that spans more than a decade.
We know Darth Sidious is a creepy old white dude, and Palpatine is the only old white dude given any screentime in Attack of the Clones. Why are we still being kept in suspense?
4. There's such a thing as too much fan service.
There are so many callbacks to the original trilogy in Attack of the Clones — the origins of Boba Fett and the Stormtroopers, glimpses at the Death Star plans and some Tusken Raiders, to name a few. That's not inherently bad — this is a prequel, after all, so "Easter eggs" are expected — but Lucas sacrifices crafting an original story for throwbacks that aren't particularly important or revealing. Fans don't need every aspect of the first trilogy mapped out and explained in detail to enjoy a movie. They need a movie that's worth watching on its own merits.
Take the Boba Fett storyline. Did we really need to see the infamous, soft-spoken bounty hunter as a child, let alone learn he's actually just a Clone of another bounty hunter? If anything, a large part of Boba Fett's intrigue — and what made him a cult figure among Star Wars fans — was that we knew very little about him. Fans could project whatever backstory they wanted onto him. Now, thanks to Attack of the Clones, we know he's a bratty kid who once held the decapitated head of his bounty hunter dad, which is equal parts silly and disturbing.
Luckily, 15 years removed from Anakin's notorious complaints about the coarse, rough and irritating sand, the Star Wars franchise is once again in good hands with Abrams. Johnson's The Last Jedi looks terrific and just a bit darker, like a revamped version of The Empire Strikes Back. The upcoming Han Solo spinoff movie has a tantalizing cast, led by Tumblr favorites Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke.
At the very least, with Lucas no longer activity involved in the sprawling universe he created, we're less likely to return to the lowest points we saw in Attack of the Clones. Even the most ardent Star Wars fans would admit, it's perhaps better if this film was wiped from the Jedi Archives.