Anakin Skywalker returns home to Tatooine to find that not much has changed, except that his mother has been tortured to death, and he takes that rather personally. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi does some super sleuthing on Geonosis and uncovers an evil plot.
Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones (01.11.19-01.23.08)
Watto was able to find the bill of sale for Shmi Skywalker which helpfully included the address to the Lars Homestead: somewhere in the desert on the other side of Mos Eisley. Anakin is reunited with his droid friend, C-3P0, as he approaches the familiar homestead, but as with everything and everybody in this scene, Anakin does not care. He appears to be consumed with finding his mother, but really he is consumed with himself: his pain, his anger, his insecurities, his frustrations, his desires. This theme continues through the next segment and into Revenge of the Sith, but it is begun here. Notice: Anakin descends into the Lars homestead and is introduced by Threepio, and Owen in turn introduces himself and Beru, but Padme is left to introduce herself while Anakin glowers around at everything, barely acknowledging anyone’s presence.
I find myself wanting to find fault with Anakin’s behavior while at the same time excusing it. He has a terrible premonition that something bad is happening to his mother, but at the same time he doesn’t know anything concrete. I compare this to Luke’s vision about Cloud City from Empire Strikes Back, since this is obviously the same exact sequence (for the most part) and while Luke was tormented by his vision, tight lipped, and conflicted, he was ultimately able to function. Anakin barely functions, but that fits his obsessive, brooding nature. Still, not introducing Padme and not engaging with people who have invited you into their home (especially when they are family) is the purview of a jerk.
Cliegg Lars, Anakin’s stepfather, then appears and tells the sad tale that Shmi was kidnapped by the local Tusken Raiders. (Aside: given Lucas’s out-of-control copying of himself, it is rather shocking that Beru is not pouring blue milk for her guests.)
I like the fact that the Tuskens are involved in this tragic little sequence: they move from minor antagonists in A New Hope to a group of people that have some sort of culture, place on Tatooine, and a back story. Lucas establishes that the Tuskens are people: savage, maybe, but people.
A few more homages later (“Where are you going?” and Anakin staring at the suns – 01.13.48) Anakin takes off to find his mother, following some internal Force compass. Again, I like the quick scene in which Anakin seems to be getting directions from a group of Jawas: it reflects back to A New Hope while flushing out the Jawas just a bit more.
But, this is where things get bad: Lucas has built the tension, the mystery, and the agony of Anakin knowing his mother is in some sort of danger, having those fears confirmed, and then racing off into the night to find her in a desperate, hopeless journey and then Lucas just kills it by arbitrarily cutting to Obi-Wan on Geonosis. The audience has connected with Anakin’s mounting anxiety and fear, and is on the edge of their seat (sort of) wondering if Shmi lives and if Anakin will find her when all of that investment is cast aside.
Obi-Wan looks around, sneaks around, and eavesdrops on Count Dooku and his posse of Separatist collaborators. This scene is slow, expositional, and political all of which equal: boring mood killer. Besides which the political stuff is confusing. It is something about pledging support, signing some undefined and never mentioned again treaty (I wonder if this treaty includes a clause that legalizes the Trade Federation’s occupation of Naboo?), and putting together an army of battle droids to overwhelm the Jedi, thereby forcing the Republic to capitulate to a series of “demands”. Perplexed? Me too.
I thought the Separatists wanted to Separate from the Republic because they believe (correctly, by the way) that the Republic is corrupt, unable to function, and in need of serious reformation. So, why is Dooku allying with a bunch of corporations? He talks about tens of thousands of star systems joining his cause, but he has not one single political entity on the Separatist council. Why would a bunch of concerned politicians join with a bunch of corrupt and sleazy businessmen? Especially since a major player is Nute Gunray who is still in charge of the Trade Federation and who is still responsible for the largest galactic outrage in the past ten years (who is also still somehow blaming Amidala for his loss at Naboo instead of Sidious even though doing so makes no sense) (but it is nice that someone is remembering that someone is supposed to be trying to kill Amidala instead of letting her picnic in open fields and take a little jaunt over to Tatooine).
You see why this totally kills the Anakin-desperately-trying-to-find-mother-in-distress tension?
But, just as soon as Obi-Wan conveniently hears everything he needs to hear, the audience finally gets to catch back up with Anakin who is sneaking into the Tusken camp to find his mother, which he does, and she dies in his arms having apparently held on to life in order to see his face once more.
And then Darth Vader appears in all of his horrific, evil glory.
This is the moment in which Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader. Sorry, Obi-Wan, he was not seduced: he chose it. Killing Dooku on the bridge of Greivous’ ship is a mere formality. Stopping Mace Windu from assassinating Sidious is beside the point. Slaughtering Jedi children and the Separatist council are just two more heinous war crimes yet to be committed. This is the moment. Right here Anakin closes his mother’s eyes and chooses to punish an entire clan of men, women, and children for the crimes of a few, or perhaps even just one. Anakin chooses rage, passion, wrath, and revenge over serenity, compassion, understanding, peace, and forgiveness. Anakin chooses Sith over Jedi.
Anakin murders everyone. Anakin deliberately chooses to commit horrible evil. Anakin deliberately chooses to become Darth Vader.
(I know that Anakin just tragically witnessed his mother dying. I know that Anakin has unresolved mother issues. None of that excuses wanton murder. At all. Ever.)
That part of this sequence makes sense; it has been building for quite some time. What doesn’t make sense is that George Lucas once again kills all emotion, tension, and suspense by cutting as quickly as possible from Anakin’s unleashing of hell to a completely superfluous and unnecessary scene in Yoda’s quarters where he senses Anakin’s pain. The other horrible consequence of framing Anakin’s murderous rampage this way is that it distances the audience from what he has just done and seeks to excuse it. Immediately the focus shifts from the unjustifiable killing of many to Anakin’s pain, to Anakin. Poor Anakin who has just lost his mommy, not poor Tuskens who didn’t ask for genocide.
And, even if the scene shift to Yoda was for story reasons, for instance, teasing Qui-Gon Jinn’s return from death (“Anakin! Anakin! Noooo!” 01.20.54) and Obi-Wan’s subsequent Force-ghost existence, that is a very, very bad reason to cut because that is a very, very minor technical world-building detail afterthought. Even having Qui-Gon’s disembodied voice in this scene at all is confusing, jarring, and never explained until the end of Revenge. It is a “huh? what was that?” moment that pulls the audience out of the story completely.
Anyway, Anakin’s decent into evil is distanced some more and the emotion is scattered a bit wider when the scene cuts back to Obi-Wan who is fiddling with his CB radio, which he does for far too long boring the audience completely.
At any rate, Anakin is traveling back to the homestead while Obi-Wan leaves a message on his answering machine instead of calling any other Jedi that might be in the area.