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Underlying the three strains of action, romance and character is a sense of political drama, prefigured in Phantom Menace. If that movie had a message, it was: Take a meeting. The film often went logy from all its earnest senatorial harrumphing, which was every bit as compelling as a lazy committee hearing on C-SPAN. Politics is important in Clones too, but as a running three-cornered debate: Padme's idealism colliding with Obi-Wan's cynicism and Anakin's budding realpolitik.
Obi-Wan echoes John McCain on campaign-finance reform: "It is my experience that Senators focus only on pleasing those who fund their campaigns...and they are by no means scared of forgetting the niceties of democracies in order to get those funds." Padme, in a scene cut from the film, sounds like Kofi Annan pleading for Palestinians when she tells the Senate, "If you offer the separatists violence, they can only show us violence in return! Many will lose their lives. All will lose their freedom." Anakin, like Brutus just before the Ides of March, says if the Senate cannot resolve its differences, "then they should be made to." By whom? "Someone wise," he says. Padme muses, "That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship to me."
So where does Lucas stand in this political polemic? "I'm more on the liberal side of things," he says. "I grew up in San Francisco in the '60s, and my positions are sort of shaped by that...If you look back 30 years ago, there were certain issues with the Kennedys, with Richard Nixon, that focused my interest." Lucas' own geopolitics can sound pretty bleak: "All democracies turn into dictatorships--but not by coup. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it's Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler. Ultimately, the general population goes along with the idea...What kinds of things push people and institutions into this direction?"
In Clones, Lucas goes a way toward answering that question. "That's the issue that I've been exploring: How did the Republic turn into the Empire? That's paralleled with: How did Anakin turn into Darth Vader? How does a good person go bad, and how does a democracy become a dictatorship? It isn't that the Empire conquered the Republic, it's that the Empire is the Republic." Lucas' comments clarify the connection between the Anakin trilogy and the Luke trilogy: that the Empire was created out of the corruption of the Republic, and that somebody had to fight it. "One day Princess Leia and her friends woke up and said, 'This isn't the Republic anymore, it's the Empire. We are the bad guys. Well, we don't agree with this. This democracy is a sham, it's all wrong.'"
Lucas describes the Empire as if it were the oppressive, white-on-white Formica fascism of his first feature, the boldly bleak THX 1138. Back in 1970, Lucas and his mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, were in the vanguard of the Film Generation. They were film-school grads who hoped to remake the movie business into the art of film. Surely these kid revolutionaries would create an adult, audacious post-Hollywood cinema.