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Much Ado About Star Wars: Episode Two, Part Two

The release of George Lucas' two prequels to the original Star Wars films has prompted a lot of criticism from self-described fans, who accuse him of "ruining" Star Wars. I myself find it amusing, and in a way, the best barometer for Lucas' success. He has created a fantasy world so compelling, so seductive, and so immersive that thousands of its fans believe very strongly that it is as much their world as his-- that it is, in fact, something independent of him that he is capable of "ruining" to their detriment.
However, viewing the two recent prequels does give rise to a few basic questions that makes one wonder who reviews scripts and gives final approvals for things. Some of these questions are on minor issues, and others are so large that they cause the plot of the first three films to collapse into dusty debris.
Most of these problems start in Episode Two. The events of Episode One are significantly removed from the events of the original trilogy as to have almost no effect on them. The only real question that arises here is how Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, apparently is a Senator from the relatively unknown planet of Naboo, and is apparently not a Jedi nor had any Jedi training. While Lucas may have ruled out doing the final three films of what was originally envisioned as a nine movie sequence, perhaps he could do a few pre-prequels to explain the genesis of the Sith in the first place. But as we'll see, the very idea of what the Sith is and where they came from cause a plague of problems in Episode Two that will need to be answered in Episode Three.
Episode Two starts out nice visually, with Senator Amidala's shuttle coming in for a landing on Coruscant. However, it quickly jars the viewer out this reverie with a bit of lackadaisacal throwaway dialogue. The shuttle explodes, a victim of an assassination attempt. The Senator's body double, Corday, is killed. She blurts out, dying, "I've failed you, Senator."
That line right there makes you ask "Huh? Isn't that her job?" The body double is SUPPOSED to get killed instead of the Senator. It's the whole point. The Senator flew in a Starfighter precisely BECAUSE an attack was suspected. Corday did her job perfectly, deflecting attention from the Senator. She hardly failed.
The next thing she does, however, IS a failure, and a rather silly one. She addresses the Senator on the platform as "Senator". If the assassins were still on the platform-- as seems likely, as it exploded from what looked like an internally-planted bomb, and not a projectile fired from elsewhere-- Corday has now exposed the Senator to danger by identifying her, negating whatever protection she offered by giving up her life as a decoy.
This is only a couple of lines in the film, but it's the first exchange of any significance, and to ruin the experience for this viewer this early makes no sense. There's no reason for this dialogue to be the way it is-- it seems as if someone was just not paying any attention, or evaluating the consequences of the dialogue at all.
Conspiracy Theories
Perhaps Lucas ought to spend some time hanging around with Oliver Stone in order to get some tips on how to write political intrigue. Some critics faulted Episode One's political plot elements as simply boring, but in Episode Two, it becomes downright contradictory. There are a number of holes in the conspiracy plot that I suspect will be wholly impossible to address in Episode Three, and instead will probably just be ignored.
By way of synopsis, this is supposedly what happens through Episodes 1 and 2:
Senator Palpatine of Naboo, who is really Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord, enters into an alliance with the Trade Federation. The apparent justification is a dispute over taxation. This is mentioned once in the opening crawler, and alluded to later, but never adequately explained. The upshot is that the Trade Federation, emboldened by Sidious' promises that his influence over the Senate will legalize their actions, first blockade Naboo and then attack it. What they hope to gain through this is never explained. Why they trust Sidious is also never explained. Whether or not they know that Sidious is Palpatine is never addressed, but it appears that they do not-- Sidious always appears with his cloak disguising his appearance.
Since the audience already knows that Emperor Palpatine is Senator Palpatine is Darth Sidious, this concealment is not for the sake of the audience-- it must be for the sake of the Trade Federation, who are merely pawns here and not the real enemy at all.
Amidala, Obi Wan and Anakin then defeat the armies of the Trade Federation, and Palpatine is elected Chancellor of the Senate, apparently a result of "sympathy" for Naboo over the blockade, which the Senate apparently is unable to reach a consensus on.
Why is there enough consensus to elect Palpatine, but not enough to take action against the blockade? We don't know, this is never explained. The only place it is addressed is when the old chancellor is described as being immobilized by "baseless accusations" of corruption, and is in essence held powerless by representatives of the trade federation. This may or may not be true, it is completely unclear. However, one assumes that if the Trade Federation in fact had such influence at that level of the Senate, there would be no need of deals with Darth Sidious. Either that, or Palpatine himself has created that situation, which makes one wonder why he needs to make himself Chancellor in the first place.
Where things really start to break down is in the defeat of the Trade Federation's droid army. This happens because Anakin, in a sequence reminiscent of both the trench sequence in Episode 4 and the Death Star interior sequence in Episode 6, fly into the structure of the Federation's control ship and destroy it, rendering all the droids useless. (Apparently droid armies long long ago in a galaxy far away are still using centralized computing architecture, the personal computer not having yet been invented.)
Palpatine couldn't have foreseen this-- there's nothing that indicates he knows anything about Anakin before they meet at the end of the film. Without Anakin's actions, it seems unlikely that the droids could have been defeated. What, then, would Palpatine have done?
With Naboo under the control of the Trade Federation, Palpatine would either have become a Senator in exile-- representing a government that no longer controlled his own planet-- or the Trade Federation would have had to confirm his representation to the Senate. It seems difficult to imagine a set of circumstances under which the Trade Federation could get what it supposedly wanted-- control over Naboo-- and Palpatine could get what he wanted, the office of Chancellor with the full confidence of the Senate. To parley with the Trade Federation after the invasion-- the very event that earned him the sympathy that put him in office-- would raise suspicion in the Senate.
Perhaps Palpatine planned to deal with the situation much later. But this also doesn't seem to make sense. It makes hollow his promise to the Federation that he would "make their invasion legal", and doesn't address Palpatine's need for the Federation in further conspiracies. To be viewed as responsible for the Federation's downfall on Naboo would cause him to lose their support, support he needs to further his larger agenda in Episode Two.
In short, Palpatine needs the Federation to lose in a way that seems unexpected and unrelated to him, which is exactly what happens. But he himself has no role in that defeat, and it does not appear as if he foresees it. Why not? In short, Palpatine's conspiracy with the Trade Federation in episode 1 makes no sense, as there is no conceivable way in which his overt actions lead toward the desireable result, which appears to happen as if by accident.
This problem is only exacerbated in Episode Two. The previously mentioned scene, where Amidala's body double Cordé is killed, introduces the first plot thread, which is the ongoing sequence of assassination attempts against Amidala. Later, these are revealed as being carried out by bounty hunter Jango Fett and his associate, Zam. Fett is apparently in the employ of the rather amorphous groups known as the Separatists who want to secede from the Republic. This group includes the Trade Federation as well as several newly-introduced groups, such as the Banking Clan and the Techno Union. This group is spearheaded by Count Dooku, who despite his status as a rogue Jedi is viewed as a "political idealist" who is beyond suspicion. His reasons for leaving the Jedi order are never examined at all; nor is it explained why this does not put him under suspicion.
Amidala is appearing on Coruscant for a vote on an important issue; the formation of an Army of the republic to counter the Separatists. She is described as the "leader of the Opposition". It is never explained what she is in opposition to, and no matter what guesses you make, this description makes no sense.
Traditionally in parliamentary forms of government, there are multiple parties. Sometimes one is dominant, sometimes multiple parties enter into coalitions and share control. Usually the leader of the party or parties that is not in majority control is referred to as the Opposition, or the Minority leader. This description does not describe Amidala. She is the Senator from Naboo, the same planet as the Supreme Chancellor. It is not plausible that she is opposed to the Chancellor, nor that the Chancellor's political alliances are so weak that he is in the minority of a group he heads. (In addition, the fact that after Palpatine is elected Chancellor, Naboo gets to elect a new Senator-- Amidala-- is never explained. Naboo apparently gets double representation in the Senate, as it is not believable that the Chancellor could be expected to purge himself of any bias or partiality towards his home planet. Of course, the audience knows who and what Palpatine really is, and so nobody expects him to act in Naboo's interest. However, as a representation of a believably political system, this arrangement fails horribly.
Perhaps we are given to believe that what Amidala is in opposition to is the creation of an Army. Her own political views, despite her experience as the leader of a planet invaded by the Trade Federation and unable to defend itself without the help of the Jedi, the Gungans and a small boy from Tatooine, seem to run to the pacifistic. So perhaps this is it.
However, this assumption also makes no sense in light of later revelations. After Amidala flees Coruscant for her home world, and the Separatists' droid army is revealed, Senators meeting with Palpatine mourn the fact that Amidala is not there to take the bold step of proposing emergency powers for Palpatine, in order to authorize the army immediately. If Amidala was the leader of the opposition to the Army, it hardly seems plausible to assume that she would change her directly so drastically. Perhaps this is said to deceive Jar Jar Binks into taking this action on Amidala's behalf, but this also seems unlikely unless we assume that all the other Senators in the room are either in on the conspiracy themselves, or are irretreviably stupid, Bail Organa included. As Organa is supposed to become a part of the Rebellion later on, shielding Anakin's daughter Leia from Vader and the Empire, it seems unlikely that he is privy to Palpatine's plans.
Perhaps Amidala is in Opposition to the Separatists; this makes slightly more sense, as she would be sure to continue to oppose the Trade Federation and its allies. However, in this case, it's just a mistake of nomenclature. A group in majority political power, against a group seeking to secede, would hardly define itself as the "opposition" and allow their opponents to control the semantics of the debate. Despite several opportunities, Amidala never expresses outright opposition to the formation of an Army, only alluding to it by saying to the current Queen of Naboo that she does not believe the Separatists can be negotiated with peacefully if they feel threatened, implying that the formation of an army would be perceived as a threat. However, she does not say that such a peaceful solution is the desireable course. Given that she is a politician, the film's only love interest, her character and views would seem to be germain to the plot, but for some reason she never actually vocalizes them-- instead, the audience is left to guess at something that should be quite basic.
So who is behind the assassination attempts? Who hired Jango? Overtly, it appears he is working with Dooku. The trade federation viceroy, Nute Gunray, states quite clearly to Dooku that they will not pledge support to his cause until Amidala is killed. And Dooku, as is revealed at the end of Episode Two, is the other Sith lord, working in concert with Darth Sidious/Chancellor Palpatine. So either we're forced into a more complicated situation, where perhaps Dooku is trying to execute a coup against Palpatine, and his enlistment of Obi Wan Kenobi in that cause is honest, or we must believe that Palpatine is aware of the assassination attempt on Amidala. To a certain point, this makes sense. If she is leading the opposition against the formation of an army, which Palpatine wants and has, in fact, been working on for over ten years, then it makes sense that Palpatine would want her either killed or removed from the scene under the pretense of protecting her. This is supported by the fact that no assassination attempt occurs against her while she is on Naboo or on Tatooine. Certainly Palpatine, aware of where she has gone and for what reasons, could have passed this information to Dooku and Jango Fett; however, it does not appear as if this was done. Fett, instead, returns to the "hidden" world of Kamino, which conveniently allows Kenobi to link the clone army to the bounty hunter. Of course, if the conspiracy had wished to hide this connection, it could have been done easily, simply by using any other bounty hunter besides Fett to attempt to kill Amidala. If Fett hadn't been on Coruscant to try and kill Amidala-- or, if he had fled to anywhere else besides Kamino, the plot would never have been discovered. This is not to the advantage of Palpatine, as the Senate has to be aware of the fact that the clone army exists before they can vote to approve its use. That creation has to be accredited to another Jedi long since dead-- Sifo-Dyas-- to avoid it being traced to Palpatine. Perhaps this Sifo-Dyas was Darth Sidious' counterpart prior to Dooku, we don't know. Lucas' own audio commentary on the Episode 2 DVD suggests this question will be answered in Episode 3.
However, if Palpatine is complicit in the attempts to kill Amidala, then the later exchange makes no sense, where they bemoan the fact that she is not there to propose emergency powers for Palpatine. If he was counting on her to propose this-- and not Jar Jar, as it happens in the film-- then it makes no sense to either kill her or exile her to Naboo to get her out of the way. If he is counting on Jar Jar to do this, it would make more sense to try and reveal this more explicitly. It also seems hard to believe that during the past ten years Palpatine has not created any other allies in the Senate who could propose that step. Lastly, whether it was undertaken by Amidala or Jar Jar Binks, the entirety of the Senate would have to have undergone lobotomies recently not to have at least some concern over this proposal-- but no one even flinches. Here a replacement Senator from Naboo is suggesting what are supposedly broad emergency powers for the Chancellor-- also from Naboo-- and there is no reaction at all. Politicians in Star Wars are anything but the wily, corrupt figures that Kenobi warns Anakin about-- they appear, instead, to be simpletons.
Possibly Amidala's death, if blamed on the Separatists, would have had the same effect, building support in the Senate for the formation of an army. However, if this is the case, it makes little sense not to follow through and eliminate her. As privy to details of where she was fleeing to, Palpatine easily could have done this. Instead, he does not. She imperils herself, first by following Anakin from Naboo to Tatooine, and then later leading the rescue attempt of Kenobi on Geonosis. However, again, there's no hint that Palpatine foresees this. And as Amidala is the genesis of Leia, who becomes the core of the Rebellion, as well as Luke, who eventually turns Anakin/Vader agains Palpatine, causing his death and fulfilling the prophecy that Anakin is the one who must "bring the force back into balance", it is only logical to assume that Palpatine does not foresee this. If he did, he would have made sure Amidala was killed. Instead, after the first two attempts on her life in Coruscant, no further attempts are made by Palpatine.
In fact, Palpatine's later actions, which bring to fruition with the start of the Clone War-- assure Amidala's survival, and offer yet another opportunity to get her out of the way, which Palpatine and Dooku fail to take advantage of. As in the first film, for Palpatine to get what he wants, the forces of the Separatists and the Trade Federation again must lose. They exist only to pose a threat which he can counter with the Republican Army, which he can later convert into the Imperial Army. Once they have served that cause, they are no longer necessary. The Jedi and the clones converge on Geonosis, eliminating the combined droid armies, smashing the Separatist movement, and ini the process rescuing Anakin, Kenobi and Amidala. If Dooku had chosen outright to execute those three, rather than using the arcane arena mechanism, most likely they would not have been saved. In fact, Dooku himself seems to deliberately delay the the droid armies from finishing off the last of the Jedi, perhaps to give the clone army a chance to arrive and precipitate the war that fulfills Palpatine's prophetic warnings.
But the way in which he creates that delay also engenders certain contradictions. He offers a truce with Mace Windu if the Jedi will surrender. Windu, rather illogically, refuses the offer, saying the Jedi will not be prisoners to be ransomed. This conclusion seems based purely on pride and ego, supposedly traits that are atypical of Jedi.
We know that Palpatine will later order the extinction of the Jedi. So why does Dooku offer them a parley now? They were clearly losing the battle against the combined droid armies, and were saved only by the arrival of Yoda and the clone armies. If Dooku does not offer the truce, or if Palpatine engineered even a slight delay in Yoda's arrival, this objective would have been achieved. Instead, a remnant of the Jedi are preserved, along with Kenobi, Anakin and Amidala. Again, the result apparently desired by Palpatine and Dooku is achieved by an apparent failure to achieve their overt aims-- and this failure is achieved through apparently unforseeable means. If Palpatine's aims at this point were to eliminate the Jedi, it could have been done easily, and yet it was not.
In fact, about the only interpretation of this scene in which Dooku offers a truce is if we believe that he's trying to engineer a coup against Sidious and become the Sith master himself, instead of the apprentice. In fact, this is about the only thing it makes sense for him to do. Yoda has already said that there are always two Sith-- never more or less. In this case there are only two ways this unstable power balance can be resolved-- either the apprentice will be killed, requiring the recruitment of a new apprentice (Jinn kills Darth Maul, who is replaced by Dooku) or the apprentice kills the master, usurping his place, and taking on his own apprentice. If Dooku has any idea about what Palpatine is doing with Anakin, he should be worried about his place in the scheme of things. In fact, there's precedent-- or antecedent, depending on how you look at it-- in the original trilogy, where Darth Vader offers to Luke to join him on the dark side, to overthrow Palpatine and rule the universe together. I think most viewers looked upon that offer as a hollow promise, just another trick to get Luke to lower his guard. But the position of Sith apprentice is one that has advancement in only one direction. Darth Vader is never going to get more power except through Palpatine's death, and it is likely that he would need the support of another to achieve this, assuming he isn't willing to wait for nature to take its course. Given that Yoda is supposedly over 900 years old, this doesn't seem like a good course of action. In short, the survival of any other Jedi threatens Dooku far more than it threatens Palpatine. It makes no sense for Dooku to offer any of them a truce unless he honestly wants to recruit them (or at least one of them) to rebel against Palpatine, since after that any one of them could be a candidate for replacing Dooku. In fact, this brings to light the essential instability of the "only two" Sith arrangement. In Episode 5, Palpatine instructs Vader to "turn" Luke, which he does so with the offer of combining forces against Palpatine and ruling the universe together. If there are supposed to be "only two" Sith lords, why would Palpatine knowingly create a situation that might give Vader hopes of turning against him and unseating him as a Sith lord? Or, if that threat is not real, and it would be possible to convert Luke into an ally for Vader and Palpatine without him becoming a Sith lord, what does it mean to be a Sith lord, anyway? If three powerful dark Jedi can be allied on the same side, with two of them being Sith lords and one being an also-ran, then what does it mean to be a Sith lord, anyway? What's the appeal, the cool costumes?
So perhaps Dooku is trying to recruit Kenobi to fight against Sidious. However, if this is true, and Dooku is being honest in that scene on Geonosis, he illogically withholds the most powerful piece of evidence he has. He states that the Senate is under the influence of a Sith lord, which is true. He states that this same Sith lord recruited and betrayed the Trade Federation ten years before (also true). However, he does not identify that Sith lord, and does not convince Kenobi. Either he never intended to-- in which case it makes no sense that the scene is even here, except to offer redundant exposition to the audience-- or the character is failing to act in his own best interests in order to better serve a flawed and contorted plot. Dooku makes no real effort to convince Kenobi. If Dooku really wanted to convert Kenobi, he could have laid out the entire plot to date, and it might have been convincing. Instead, he gives just one bit of true, but unsupported information, leading us to believe that the scene is there not to serve the interests of the characters but to provide exposition-- and perhaps a very weak feint at a possible plot twist-- for the audience.
Kenobi's reaction also makes no sense. He states he will "never join " but gives no reason for this. It seems that Kenobi assumes Dooku is behind the assassination attempts, but he does not suspect Dooku of being a Sith lord, even when Dooku broaches the subject. Kenobi denies that a Sith lord is in control of the Senate, but does not even ask Dooku who he thinks it is-- he simply rejects the suggestion out of hand. Despite hearing just recently that a supposedly dead Jedi, Sifo-Dyas, had ordered a clone army from Kamino nearly ten years ago, he rejects the idea that a Sith lord is influencing the Senate. If anything, he should suspect Dooku himself, but if the character thinks that, he does not give voice to it.
None of this even touches on the many myriad small plot holes in the film. Perhaps one of the last of these is the most egregious. After the clone soldiers rescue Anakin, Kenobi and Amidala from the arena, they spot Dooku fleeing on a hoverbike and pursue him. An explosion rocks their craft, and Amidala falls into the desert. Anakin and Obi Wan argue, as the former insists on going back to retrieve her, while the latter wants to continue to pursue Dooku, as he will be unable to defeat him alone. (This last bit does prove to be true, as Kenobi becomes a nonfactor in the Dooku duel rather early, Anakin after a bit longer time, and eventually Dooku even foils Yoda and is able to make his escape.
However, before that happens, we cut back to Amidala, who is discovered lying on a sand dune by a clone trooper. He offers to take her back to the command center, but she refuses. "We've got to get to that hangar", she insists.
Anakin and Obi Wan haven't even arrived at Dooku's hangar, where a ship is waiting to carry him from Geonosis back to Coruscant and his master, Palpatine. Not only doesn't she know where it is in order to get there, but she doesn't know it even exists. Nobody has mentioned it, and even if they had, they wouldn't have had any way to communicate this to her. It's such an obvious inconsistency that it's almost unimaginable in a film that took as much money, time and effort to make as this could go unnoticed all the way from scriptwriting, through shooting and postproduction into release. Didn't George wonder how she knew about the hangar when he wrote the scene? Didn't Portman wonder how she knew when she spoke the dialogue? Didn't an editor wonder what was going on when the scene was stitched into its final place in the film as a whole?
Even so, why was this bit of dialogue here? It isn't important at all that Amidala arrive at the hangar at all; she arrives just in time to take potshots at Dooku's fleeing ship. Perhaps the whole point of this is to evoke memories of Leia's scene in Empire where Boba Fett's ship Slave I retreats, Han Solo on board, while she fires uselessly at him. Even so, you could still have that as long as the words she spoke were slightly different-- anything like "we have to help Anakin" or "we have to catch Dooku" would have worked just as well. Instead, she specifically mentions a "hangar" that she can't possibly have any knowledge of, and for no darn good reason one could think of. The only conclusion that can be reached is that this is just sloppy-- that either nobody noticed, or no one felt it was worth fixing. And unfortunately, that's the attitude that seems to pervade both of the entries so far in the trilogy of prequels-- that everything is about the digital effects and the cutting edge technology, and that characters, story and dialogue are at best secondary concerns.