The Phantom Menace gets kind of a bum rap for being the worst of the prequels. While not being a good film or even a mediocre one, it’s still miles better than its follow up Attack of the Clones. In fact, I strongly believe that the much belittled Star Wars Holiday Special is the stronger entry in the franchise. What? you might say, that’s crazy; the Holiday Special is a cheap cash in forcing the original cast and seventies celebrities to act out the worst made for TV fare ever, where’s Attack of the Clones is a legitimate film that was nominated for awards and stuff. To that I respectably disagree.
For the most part, both films are unwatchable, contain gaping plot holes and performances that no one should be proud of. There are some talented people involved in these films too, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney and my personal hero Bea Arthur, on the Holiday Special side. While Attack of the Clones is star-studded with Ewan MacGreggor, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee and Ian McDiarmid. Based on those casts alone, these movies should me phenomenal, but they’re not. Both of these movies are examples of everything that’s wrong with film making, on both a made for television and theatrical level.
Picking the better of the two is like asking which was a more pleasant experience, dysentery or an appendicitis. So why bother? Because I like to talk about silly things and I’m waiting to put my thoughts down on the Force Awakens once I’ve seen it five times. So here we are at the crux of awfulness.
For all of the special effects, top tier actors and over the top lightsaber battles, I’d argue that Attack of the Clones is the worst thing that bears the Star Wars name. Yes the Holiday Special is atrocious in its own special way and is hated by fans and Lucas alike, but it tells a story that’s more in line with what Star Wars is all about. In short, the Holiday special kinda feels like it belongs in the Star Wars Universe. Where’s Attack of the Clones, with all of its political mumbo jumbo and forced love story is creepy and kind of boring and doesn’t fit with the world established by the original trilogy.
Still don’t think the Holiday Special is better? Here are a bunch of reasons why.
1. The Plot
Attack of the Clones is the story of a young Anakin as he stalks and eventually tricks Padmé into falling in love with him. It also spends an unreasonable amount of time on politics and voting. Seriously, the opening crawl talks about voting. You only get six sentences in that crawl, that is a huge waste. There is also a subplot about a clone army, a chancellor who is probably a sith lord and some more political stuff involving a trade federation.
The Holiday Special is about the Empire trying to ruin Life Day, the wookiee amalgamation of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a simple plot, but its not really all that bogged down by anything heavy. It further shows that the Empire is awful and oppressive and we get to see a little into Chewbacca’s home life (as irritating as that can be). Now there are a lot of pointless parts and the direction is very unfocused, but it sticks with the themes present in the original Star Wars.
2. It serves as a better origin story for Boba Fett
Attack of the Clones gives us child Boba Fett as we never wanted to see him before. Part of what makes Boba Fett (and any iconic villain) is that we don’t know a lot about him, we don’t see a human side to him. He’s a cold, calculated badass, we don’t need to see his face, we don’t need to know about his daddy issues and we certainly don’t need to know why he’s a bounty hunter in the first place.
In one of the better parts of the Holiday Special, the budget for live action becomes too large and the whole thing shifts to animation. This is actually one of the more watchable parts of the special because it’s a little more coherent and the animation isn’t all that bad. Here we meet Boba Fett for the first time; he befriends Luke by saving Han’s life and if it weren’t for those meddling droids he would have found the Rebel’s hideout for the Empire. The Special frames Boba Fett as a true deceiver willing to do anything to get his bounty. It’s also the most Boba Fett has ever done in any of the Star Wars Films.
3. The Love Story
Attack of the Clones and I’d even argue the Clone Wars after it, has one of the most convoluted, passionless and down right creepy love stories ever put on film. Anakin peruses Padmé as though he’s written the MRA handbook. Every action that Anakin has towards Padmé is super creepy, restraining order creepy. The M’lady scene alone makes me want to shower in bleach. I don’t buy that the determined and for all intents and purposes protagonist from Phantom Menace would behave this way or fall for Anakin. Yes, he is an old friend, but he’s also grown up into a whinny twit who does nothing of note, save for making audience uncomfortable. If Anakin had stuck the the Jedi principles that the prequels had set up, he might been a colder, more mysterious and desirable character. There could have been subtle moments where he fights his feelings towards Padmé because of his Jedi bonds and not only would there have been more romantic tension, but the end pay off would have had a bigger impact.
The Holiday Special gives us a look into Chewbacca’s home life and the strain that his life of adventuring and saving the galaxy has put on his marriage. There are no subtitles for the wookie dialogue, but you get the impression that Mala is miffed that Chewbacca is always away and that his actions can sometimes bring danger and Jefferson Starship into their home. Yet she’s shown to be deeply concerned for Chewbacca’s well being; her worry is even an excuse to bring the rest of the cast into the movie. Their marriage may not be perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot more believable than anything we’re given in the prequels.
On a side note, Itchy (Chewbacca’s father) is given a weird fantasy chair as a Life Day Gift, which contains Diahann Carroll. It’s implied (or maybe even stated, its kind of hard to watch) that this is a fantasy of his creation and it’s a human woman singing about how much she wants a wookiee…CREEPY! Yet not as creepy as the courtship of Padmé and Anakin. There’s also a man at the not quite Mos Eisley Cantina who relentlessly hits on the amazing bartender Ackmena, but still doesn’t get his creep on like Anakin.
4. The Setting
Attack of the Clones spans the Galaxy through several CGI worlds that never quite feel tangible. The best scene is night club on Coruscant when Obi-Wan mind tricks some poor schmuck into giving up his life of petty crime. the reason this is one of the few scenes that really work is because most of it is real and it’s a little reminiscent of the cantina scene in a New Hope. It’s also one of the few scenes that feels organic to its setting, everything else is CGI and politics, but that bar scene is pretty Star Wars.
Most of the Holiday Special is centralized on Kashyyyk, the wookiee homeworld, in Chewbacca’s home. I’m not going to lie, this gets grating. Wookiees aren’t the most eloquent of creatures and without subtitles, it starts to feel like an awkward family dinner. However, in one of the watchable parts, it cuts to a cantina on Tatooine (I’m not sure if it’s Chalmun’s Cantina, but it’s likely in Mos Eisley, given the bar fly’s). The cantina looks and feels like something out of a New Hope and even allows us to see what some of the cantina have been up to since a New Hope. Ponda Baba can be seen on the dance floor grooving out with one arm. We also get to see the grim reality of the empire enforcing curfews on pirate space ports and why it sucks.
5. The Characters
The prequels contain some of the most wooden lifeless performances that you’ve ever seen and it is 100% not the actors fault. The prequels have amazing actors who are great in everything else they’ve ever been in, save the prequels. However, it’s these off performances that make it hard to form any sort of connection with the characters. The only character, in my opinion, that makes an impact is Obi-Wan and even then the only emotion we really get out of him is exasperated.
The Holiday Special sees the return of the original cast and even though Harrison Ford doesn’t seem happy to be there, Mark Hamill had recently been in a bad accident and Carrie Fisher seems a little out of it, they’ve got great chemistry together and are still playing the characters we all know and love. The wookiees can be irritating, but a lot of the new characters that we run into are fun or at the very least wacky. I’d personally like to see more about Ackmena the bartender, I wish there was a comic or a short story about her. If someone out there wants to prove me wrong, you will have made my year.
6. It’s less annoying
An hour or more of wookiees grumbling at each other is far less annoying than ten seconds of Jar Jar Binks doing anything.
7. The Villain
The Villain of the Holiday special is ultimately Darth Vader, even though he’s seen very little. If that’s not enough, there is still plenty of Empire dickery to go around. Attack of the Clones has Palpatine, but it’s still pretending that he’s not the Sith Lord everyone’s so scared of. There’s also the trade federation and Count Dooku, but it’s all so muddled it’s hard to care. Give me Vader any day.
8. It’s Tangible
Because of the time it was made in the Holiday Special, other than the animated portion, everything is tangible and likely recycled from a New Hope. It looks low budget, but everything is real, could have been touched at one point. Nothing in Attack of the Clones is real, there wasn’t even a single piece of clone armor made. It feels like an animated picture with people spliced in, which would be fine if it were charming, but it’s not. Say what you will about the quality of the Holiday Special, but it does have that made for TV charm.
There’s a lot more I could go into, but I think that pretty much sums it up. Yes, the Holiday Special is so bad its good, but Attack of the Clones is so bad its bad. If you have the patience, give them a watch back to back and you might just agree with me.