(Foreword: All screencaps courtesy of Starwarsscreencaps.com.)
One thing I noticed about Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was the way it acts as a sequel to The Phantom Menace. The large gap between the episodes makes it a lot more standalone than any of the other films in the series; this is part of the reason why people leave The Phantom Menace out of Star Wars marathons, when doing the “Machete Order” (which goes IV, V, II, III, VI), because Attack of the Clones works well enough without requiring the viewer to have seen it.
However, even with that, Attack of the Clones works as a sequel to The Phantom Menace in some very subtle but powerful ways. What I will focus on for this article is the setting– the planets. The three planets visited in the first installment are all shown once again, and they expand on these worlds, making them feel more alive and diverse.
Coruscant, Naboo, and Tatooine are all shown again and in each case, the movie goes more in-depth into the nature of each planet than in The Phantom Menace. So, having already seen the planets before, the movie is able to explore them without needing to fully re-introduce them.
Coruscant… the entire planet is one big city. It’s so big that, even over the course of three movies (plus its appearance in ROTJ), we still don’t get a full picture of it, despite having the most combined screentime of all the planets in the series behind Tatooine. There’s just so much out there.
In The Phantom Menace, most of what we see are, literally, the top of society; most every shot we see features buildings above the clouds.
We mostly see the prosperous, high-class parts of Coruscant, which makes sense considering the characters’ purpose for being here is completely focused on sending a plea to the Senate. It looks beautiful, and that is all we see.
As the sun sets on Coruscant (and the Republic, since Palpatine is being elected Chancellor during these scenes), we still see these giant city-scapes of the upper-tier of society.
When Attack of the Clones comes around, it begins focusing on the same areas:
For the most part, this area still has that grey-and-white color scheme, focusing on the tallest skyscrapers.
Once Anakin and Obi-Wan begin chasing Zam Wessell down, though, we finally get to see new parts of the planet:
From the first scenes showing Zam, we see this neon fluorescent lighting, which is the first thing on Coruscant that hasn’t looked regal and upper-class. While they are still in the upper levels of the planet, it is a good visual marker that Zam (and Jango Fett over next to her) are illicit underground criminals, without having to directly say it.
As Obi-Wan drops, he enters completely unseen parts of Coruscant, and the physical drop is also a metafictional one since we are suddenly being plunged into this completely new world.
The entire chase is filled with sights we only saw from afar before, which is the speeder traffic. The common people that aren’t a part of the highest levels of Coruscant are shown here, driving and almost getting hit by Zam and Anakin’s speeders.
Later in the chase, they also zoom through an industrial area. The dirt and rust is completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and shows yet another layer of Coruscant.
And of course, we get to see, up close and personal, a lower level of Coruscant, complete with flashy ads and a seedy nightclub filled with all sorts of characters.
Later on in the film, Obi-Wan goes to Dex’s Diner, which once again shows a more common-life aspect of Coruscant that we did not get to see previously.
The colorful buildings and small, quaint diner also contrasts nicely with The Phantom Menace’s single-palette view of the planet.
Finally, near the end of the movie, when Count Dooku and Darth Sidious meet, the movie shows yet another area of Coruscant. This one contrasts with the Episode I view on Coruscant even more directly than the others, with a sort of decrepit anti-Jedi Temple that Darth Sidious inhabits.
Through these all-new locations on Coruscant, the movie casts a new light on the planet, and through it, the Republic as a whole. In the beginning, all we see are the glamorous and beautiful gray skyscrapers and elegant architecture, but by the end, we see that Coruscant through the eyes of those not in power, and we see that it is not as perfect as its surface suggests, with a shady underbelly and entire regions of the planet that are completely abandoned and decaying. It is a dichotomy that serves as a metaphor for the corrupt and dying Republic while also fleshing Coruscant out further.
This is the kind of visual storytelling about Attack of the Clones that is so powerful; without a single bit of dialogue involved, we get a living, breathing world that projects immense amounts of information and story to the viewer.
While the other two planets are not as extensively explored through their second iterations, they still have new elements shown too.
Naboo, the main planet of The Phantom Menace, returns in Attack of the Clones, but with a completely different side shown. Most all we got to see of the planet in Episode I was it under invasion, and the battle to retake it. Now, it is a time of apparent peace, where we can enjoy the planet in all its beauty without having to worry about being shot by Destroyer droids.
Episode I showed us two contrasting areas of Naboo– the human side, filled with rolling hills and beautiful waterfalls, and the Gungan side, filled with swamps, lakes, and forests.
The Gungan side of Naboo was very well-developed, and it was definitely the more shown-off of the two sides in Episode I. It does not appear at all in Episode II, possibly because of this.
The human side, while absolutely gorgeous, is somewhat low-key throughout the first movie. It’s under the control of the Trade Federation for most of the story, and all that we see of it is Theed Palace. The scenery outside of the palace is nice, but doesn’t seem to be much of anything except hills and more hills.
Episode II changes this completely by showing us all over the human side of Naboo.
Once again, the movie begins by showing the familar. Anakin and Padme return to Theed, and we see the same old beautiful architecture.
Once they settle down, they go out to a remote location that Padme knows about, where there is a lake retreat.
The architecture and color scheme looks very similar to Theed Palace, but is in a very new locale.
The new environment is filled with forested mountains and a giant lake, and is generally very good to look at. There’s not that much to say here except whoever location scouted this movie must have had a great time.
Again, while Naboo doesn’t showcase its new locations as much as Coruscant, it still expands our previous knowledge of the planet from Episode I by moving the characters to new places that were only briefly touched upon before. For example, the giant waterfalls in Theed seem to be commonplace on Naboo, because they’re all over the scene in the above picture. It complements the high level of aesthetics in Episode I with even more aesthetics in Episode II.
Now, Tatooine appears in five of the six Star Wars movies, so this one is not quite as relevant when taking the series as a whole, because it revists several locations that are also shown in the Original Trilogy. But taken as a sequel to The Phantom Menace, this new depiction of Tatooine delivers on further expanding the planet from how we saw it before.
Most of Tatooine that we see is contained to the spaceport of Mos Espa. It is somewhat different from the Mos Eisley that we see in Episode IV, but it’s still marked by sand-colored buildings, sand-covered everything, junk-filled streets, and strange lifeforms all around. Anything that isn’t in Mos Espa proper is a deserted (hehehe) sand dune or the Podracing arena.
Like the other two planets, Tatooine is reintroduced by going back to the same location from Episode I, Mos Espa, and see all the weird domed buildings and cool docking bays.
We again see the same sandy buildings, weird droids walking around, and aliens abound. No Podracing, but we do get to see Watto again, if that counts for anything.
Padme and Anakin soon leave Mos Espa, and go to a location very different from anywhere in The Phantom Menace (but not from anywhere in A New Hope!).
It’s the Lars Homestead! It is an extremely long way from any other settlements, and is on a moisture vaporator farm. Comparing Mos Espa to the Lars Homestead is about like the difference between an urban and rural environment, though both are covered in sand of course.
Later on during the movie, Anakin goes on his search for his mother, and speederbikes across a great number of locations before finding the Tusken Raider camp.
This rocky evironment is not one that was very commonly seen in Episode I, outside of the Podrace, so it’s nice to see.
We also get to see the first appearance of the Jawa Sandcrawlers.
And finally, something that wasn’t even in the Original Trilogy– a Tusken Raider settlement. It was always said that they were nomadic herdsmen, but now we get to see their culture up close. After their minor appearances in Episode I taking potshots at the Podracers, we know they are vicious hunters, but now we can see how they live– and watch as they are all slaughtered by Anakin.
Much of Tatooine in Episode II is calling back to and connecting with the Original Trilogy, so it is not that much new material. As a sequel to Episode I, though, it does a very good job at expanding the view of the planet to somewhere with a very wide variation in geography, and styles of living.
As with the other two planets, through Episode II, Tatooine feels even more like a real place, an environment people could actually live in, and do. And it definitely still feels like the armpit of the galaxy.
A good fictional world is one that feels like it could really exist in real life. A great fictional world is one that not only feels real, but already has its own story, its own history. Each of these recurring planets in Attack of the Clones, Coruscant, Naboo, and Tatooine, have their planets developed well enough that you could dream up endless stories for them (and of course spinoff material like The Clone Wars indeed does this). They are the kinds of places you’d want to live in for the rest of your life, even the inhospitable Tatooine.
One of my favorite parts of Episode II over the rest of the Star Wars saga is that it shows “real life” for the galaxy, or a world that seems to be functioning at peace (despite being right on the brink of intergalactic war). Everyday life on Coruscant, Naboo, and Tatooine (though Naboo’s rich-ass palace life can hardly be called everyday, I will count the refugee ship ride over to it) is extremely interesting to see, and no other Star Wars movie really does it on account of, well, intergalactic war. It really does create a vibrant and lifelike world.