Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is generally viewed as the worst of the six installments and remembered by fans more for its awful dialogue and confusing action sequences than the mythological nuance of the Padme/Anakin romance, the corruption of Count Dooku, or Obi Wan’s sweet beard-mullet combo. Yet, the film does have its moments, one of which could vie for the most symbolically rich scenes in the entire series.
The moment in question happens during the arena scene on Geonosis, just before the Jedi show up. Padme has just proclaimed her love for Annakin, in typically overwrought fashion, with the words “I truly, deeply love you…” While this exchange is meant to be confessional, it reads about as urgent as the waiting room at an intergalactic DMV.
Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme are chained to large pillars in the center of a large coliseum. The deaths by dismemberment of the film’s heroes via three peculiar alien beasts are to be the entertainment for an eager Geonosian crowd, with Count Dooku moderating the proceedings. Obi Wan and Anakin exchange some banter about the insurmountable odds of their situation, displaying their usual humdrum attitude toward danger, which is an important trope of serial adventures. But soon all dialogue is eschewed for a genuinely exciting and, as it turns out, thematically relevant action sequence.
If one goes so far as to interpret the large obelisks as fertility symbols, which is not a far stretch, then the manner of each character’s planned execution, as well as the individual postures of each character’s escape, draw parallels between the various fleshly temptations each character experiences throughout Episode II and the larger prequel arc.
The symbolism of Anakin’s execution beast is, perhaps, the most easily parsed: According to his Jedi training, Anakin must overcome his anger, in addition to his all-consuming lust for Padme; the animal which is assigned him is a large bull-like creature that furiously rushes on it prey. Anakin confuses his beast via Jedi mind tricks, then jumps on its back and bridles it, harnessing its strength. In this way, Anakin’s mastering of the beast fits his own personal struggle to channel his emotions through his Jedi powers.
But while Anakin’s beast is symbolically evident, Padme’s interactions with her beast achieve a kind of performative transparency almost comparable to pantomime. The execution beast apportioned to Padme is lithe and feline, somewhat feminine. She escapes by climbing and “mounting” the fertility symbol; the beast strikes at her and rips off part of her clothes. This prefigures Anakin’s role in the prequel story arc as a “beast” who wounds her. Reacting to the execution beast’s blow, Padme cries out in pain in a manner which can only be described as orgasmic. She then uses the chain that had bound her to the fertility symbol as a weapon. She fights back and jumps onto Anakin’s mount.
Obi Wan escapes his execution beast, a large crustacian-like animal, by allowing it to destroy his pillar entirely. This is not unlike the way the celibacy enforced by his Jedi training “destroys” his sexuality. Afterward, his hands are still chained, but they are bound together almost in a position of prayer, mirroring Obi Wan’s priestly demeanor. Also, the fact that his beast locomotes by means of an array of spindly legs suggests Obi Wan’s intellectualism, as opposed to Anakin’s emotional approach. Obi Wan escapes only after he has been given a light saber, another symbol for Jedi discipline, and he does so by cutting off the beast’s legs one by one, symbolizing his analytical, point-by-point approach.
The difference in temperament between Anakin and Obi Wan in this scene establishes an important touchpoint of Obi Wan’s character arc over the course of the series. In a previous scene of Episode II, Obi Wan exhorts Anakin to tamp down his emotions, to “think”. But if the arena scene tells us anything, Anakin does best when using his emotions as a conduit for the Force. Obi Wan, thus, seems to be projecting his own Jedi discipline onto Anakin, regardless of their difference in personality, which only adds to the frustrations of the latter. And as anger is a conduit to the Dark Side, well… Obi Wan’s confession in Episode III that he has “failed” Anakin would seem to indicate more than mere survivor’s guilt.
However, Obi Wan much more effectively tutors Luke Skywalker to “reach out with his feelings” in Episode IV. Perhaps his conferences with Master Qui-Gon Jinn from the Jedi afterlife, as described by Master Yoda in the closing moments of Episode III, outlines Obi Wan’s errors in teaching Anakin self control. Qui-Gon, like Anakin, was more tuned in to his emotional side, and Obi Wan’s failure to reach the elder Skywalker begs the question of whether Qui-Gon’s training would have better gotten through to the impetuous Anakin and saved the Galaxy from the menace of Darth Vader.
These considerations only confirm the extreme care taken by George Lucas in expanding upon the story of his original trilogy. That this care was delivered to such cinematic lows is perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of the prequels. Only hard core fans picking up on subplots and thematic threads through repeat viewings would be open to appreciation of such finer points, yet the dopiness of the films’ imagery weakens the prospect of such repeat viewings to anyone else. On the other hand, who better than superfans to determine whether such consideration should encourage a reassessment of the value of the prequels in the Star Wars pantheon or further remind of the prequels’ original failure?