Episode II: Attack of the Clones
or, "O Brother, There Thou Art--and There, and There, and There..."
Episode I was about culture and diplomacy, and concludes with a peace celebration that both echos and foreshadows the celebration on Endor from the close of ROTJ. The festive tone is undercut, however, by the closing shot of Palpatine which reminds viewers that all is not well in the Galactic Republic. Episode II is about war and technology, these two themes being combined in the ominous images of the clone army. It is also about the burgeoning love between Anakin and Amidala. Ten years have passed since the events of TPM, and Anakin is coming into his own as a promising young Jedi. Amidala is now a Galactic Senator, and Palpatine a popular head of the Galactic Senate. But plots and intrigue abound. Someone is trying to assassinate Amidala, and the search for the culprit leads Obi-Wan Kenobi to the distant planet of Kamino where he discovers that the first batch of soldiers are ready for a massive army of clones mysteriously commissioned ten years previously by a long dead Jedi knight.
The plot thickens as Obi Wan discovers that Count Dooku, a former Jedi, is involved in rallying a body of separatist star systems who are attempting to break away from the old Republic. When the separatist threat becomes known to the Senate, Palpatine is able to invoke emergency powers, and wouldn't you know it? he just happens to have at his disposal the army that the Kamino cloners have been breeding for the past ten years. The first flexing of the government's new military might occurs on the planet of Geonosis, where the Trade Federation has installed their own factories for producing battle driods, and where the Jedi counsel finds itself in a sticky situation when an attempt to rescue Obi-Wan from Dooku's clutches goes wrong. The Jedi are saved from destruction in the nick of time by the clone army, at the command of Yoda, and in the ensuing battle the separatist droid forces are overwhelmed and neutralized.
In this movie we are given further evidence of the growing ineffectuality of the Jedi counsel. Their weakness seems to stem from what in a Jungian sense could be called blindness to their own shadow. When Obi-Wan suggests that Dooku may be behind the assassination attempts on Amidala, Mace Windu, one of the strongest Jedi on the counsel, responds that, "It couldn't possibly be Dooku. He's a former Jedi; it's not in his character." Anakin is having a hard time assimilating himself to the disciplined lifestyle the Jedi require, and his master, Obi-Wan, seems only to make things worse. Whereas Qui-Gonn was down to earth and compassionate, Obi-Wan comes across as an arrogant snob. Even Yoda is unable to see through the complexities surrounding the Jedi, confessing that "the dark side clouds everything".
The forces of good and evil have become polarized and disassociated from each other; this is the meaning of the "imbalance in the force" from the prophecy related by Qui-Gon in TPM. The Jedi counsel's own shadow has taken physical form in the Sith lord Palpatine whose position grows stronger under the oblivious watch of the Jedi. No longer capable of effectual independent action, the Jedi are only saved at the critical moment by an army of clones, themselves bread to mindlessly obey orders. Anakin Skywalker, the most promising Jedi of his generation, is barely even recognized by the counsel, who see him more as a potential threat than an ally, and who alienate him more and more with their cautious approach to the situations in which they are embroiled. The Jedi are benevolent, but the thousand years of peace has led to a kind of hubris that leaves them vulnerable to the machinations of the scheming Palpatine. So while the movie ends with an apparent victory for the Republic, Yoda recognizes that it is, in actuality, a defeat for the Jedi: they have always been the guardians of peace, but now find themselves as generals in a war that seems to have been orchestrated by unseen and sinister forces.
The operant principle here is the Jungian idea of the shadow. According to Jung, those aspects of our being that are unrecognized by consciousness comprise the "shadow" of our personality and manifest themselves in our lives in destructive ways until they can be effectively integrated into consciousness. Because new elements are constantly arising from the unconscious, integration of the shadow is an ongoing process of growth. The Jedi counsel of the old Republic in the three Star Wars prequels represent a consciousness that has become stuck or ossified. The newly emerging shadow elements appear as destructive forces in the person of the Sith lord and his apprentices. These shadow forces ultimately overthrow the governing bodies of the old Republic and force them into hiding and exile, but the abilities the survivors are forced to cultivate in fighting the Empire facilitate the growth of consciousness into new wisdom and knowledge.
I believe that this is the myth of Star Wars in a nutshell: the falling of the hero into the shadow realm leading to a momentary reduction of the level of order in the galaxy, and the subsequent redemption of the hero and society to create a renewed world where expanded possibilities and knowledge are operant. As Lukas has admitted to being a great student of Joseph Campbell's Jungian approach to mythology, it is not surprising that this pattern should be apparent in the Star Wars films. There are, of course, other noteworthy aspects and readings of Lukas' masterpiece: it is a complex work or art akin, I believe, to the Greek epics of Homer or Virgil's Anniad. But it is the centrality of myth to Lukas' oeuvre, his sensitivity to the great and timeless themes of the human spiritual imagination, that will prove his work to be one of the great American epics for future generations.