Like The Phantom Menace before it, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones occupies a non-committal middle ground that strangles any possible hint of enjoyment. Anakin Skywalker's slow metamorphosis from a nasty, entitled, brat into a nasty, entitled, murderer is played at arm's length. Writer-director George Lucas unwilling to really spend time and engage with who, or what, Hayden Christensen's hero is becoming. Therefore Skywalker's story is bracketed off from the usual derring-do, told to us in embarrassed gasps.
Finally let off the Jedi's leash to protect / harass Natalie Portman's Senator Amidala, Skywalker conjures up a reason to return to Tatooine and visit his mother. In a profoundly sterile film that centres around the soulless reproduction of an entire race, Anakin's uncomplicated - even childlike - desire plays refreshingly human. Once home, Skywalker follows a harrowing breadcrumb trail, eventually finding his mother bound and brutalised in a Tusken Raider camp. He reacts as Ethan Edwards, the bigoted cowboy from The Searchers, might have - he slaughters each and every one of the Sand People.
Now while this reaction is neither moral nor heroic, it is emotionally coherent, especially coming from a venomous, supernaturally powerful teenager. Again, self-serving wickedness just seems so much more understandable than Master Yoda's desire to scoop up the galaxy's Force sensitive children, separate them from their families and cultures, then rechristen them Younglings. Lucas, perhaps mindful of revelling in such knee-jerk violence in a PG rated film, keeps Skywalker physically and emotionally detached from the audience. We're never allowed to occupy the same head space as this murderous Jedi. Anakin's poison is kept at a discreet, revolted, distance.
Shmi Skywalker's fate is a crucial moment in the Star Wars prequels, indicative of an alarming disconnect between what we're being told and what we're actually being shown. That Shmi was consigned to slavery at all voids any moral high ground the Jedi presume to hold. All the money and resources at their disposal and they couldn't buy out Shmi's contract then place her in some apartment on Coruscant? Is the emotional and spiritual well-being of their messiah so unimportant to them? Lucas makes the Jedi a monastic cult of Knights who kidnap and brainwash the vulnerable, demanding they measure up to a set of ideals that prioritises emotional remoteness. These are the people we're supposed to root for?