I had considered saving this topic for Valentine’s Day, but as it’s a major point that I somehow left off of my “Truth” post, I felt for completion’s sake I needed to go into it.
That’s right; I’m going to defend the romance between Anakin and Padmé explored primarily in “Attack of the Clones”.
Common insults hurled at this subplot include such charming epithets as “Lame,” “Cheesy,” and especially “Awkward.” Like much of the Saga’s dialogue, they aren’t wholly wrong. However, again like much of the Saga’s dialogue, this isn’t a bad thing in the least. In fact, as far as the romance goes, the pure fact that it can at times be on the painful side makes it one of the most realistic love stories that I’ve ever seen on film.
I dare you to think back on any relationship you’ve had, or tried to have, whether it lasted or not. Who here can honestly say that they have never in their lives sounded like Anakin Skywalker when trying to flirt? You can’t, it’s impossible. Everyone goes through a phase (and for some people their entire lives) where, when attempting to chat up a girl, your brain shuts down and you don’t realize until later that your big smooth poetic act basically amounted to you babbling about how much sand sucks. Anakin’s redundant “I wish I could wish these feelings away”? I’m pretty sure I’ve said something that redundant in every relationship I’ve ever been in, more than once.
And the thing is, whether they want to or not, some people find that stuff oddly endearing. It’s why Padmé eventually falls for the guy. It’s how some of us geeky-and-fringe types, myself included, actually find themselves married. We’re awkward as hell, we always were. We were just lucky enough to find someone who thought that was cute. Some people aren’t as lucky, but there you go.
The fact that they might seem stilted to some is merely the characters trying and failing to find the right words through overwhelming emotion. This is great! This is REAL!
Let’s compare it to the other big romance in the Saga, the one between Han and Leia. Feel free to disagree, but I think Animé (heh) beats out Haia (Leian? Can’t make a good one there) by a country mile. For one thing, Han and Leia never seem to have a whole lot of chemistry until near the end of “Jedi.” I know some people say the same about Anakin and Padmé, but I would argue that there’s plenty of time spent showing those two having fun together. All Han and Leia do is snark at each other, until there’s an altercation in the bowels of the Millennium Falcon that frankly makes me feel Han needs a lesson in “No Means No,” then back to more nastiness between the two until the iconic ad lib “I love you,” “I know.” While I understand the story thread where Leia doesn’t want to let anyone in and Han isn’t falling for it for a second, it doesn’t come through as much for me, especially in repeated viewing.
But I think this is what marks the fundamental difference and why the criticism was so vocal. It’s similar to a theory I read that stated that a big reason someone like Han Solo is a fan favorite and Jar Jar Binks is decidedly not is because while Han is who we all want to be, Jar Jar is closer to what we actually are. Many of us, especially men, grow up with the ideal that we can act tough and cut through the bullpuckey, and we’ll be rewarded with the girl. That’s Han and Leia. Anakin and Padmé, on the other hand, emphasize how courtship really works. You stumble over your words and make a fool out of yourself. And only in rare cases does it actually work, or at least not completely sabotage your chances. That Anakin was lucky in a way so few of us are when we pull stuff like that might also be a point of contention. But the fact that I’m married despite (or perhaps because) my tongue is frequently as tied as a pretzel around the opposite sex should give some of us hope. Hell, the fact that Anakin Skywalker can pull some of those lines and end up siring the greatest heroes in the galaxy should be hope enough.
This is all of course ignoring the fact that Anakin is very emotionally stunted and has a hard time connecting with other beings anyway, which can increase the awkward factor and has a chance to gain sympathy from the object of your desire (if it doesn’t just scare them off. It’s a 50/50 shot, really, but those are the only two outcomes).