AOTC opens with a crawl closer to the kind we’d seen with Eps IV-VI, where there isn’t open warfare yet but it’s on the edge of breaking out and the female protagonist, this time Senator Padmé Amidala, is in the midst of a mission. This time to return to Coruscant to try and put a stop to the creation of an army, which she believes will instigate war with the Separatists. And as with Princess Leia in ANH, violence shortly breaks out afterward.
But before the failed but fatal assassination attempt on Padmé is one of the most awesome visuals in the entire series. It is the only Star Wars film thus far where the camera pans up instead of down after the crawl. And Padmé’s Naboo Senatorial Cruiser appears, then flips upside down (along with Padmé flying her fighter) as it approaches Coruscant. Then the ship gracefully descends into a fog before coming to a landing.
Some fans complained that the pan was “wrong” and therefore Lucas was stupid, but what this visual is saying is, “You think you know Star Wars? I’m going to take those preconceptions and turn them on their head!” AOTC totally messes with your idea of who is on what side. Prior to this film, everyone associated the Jedi and the Republic with good and the stormtroopers with evil. Believe it or not, I was genuinely surprised to see the clone troopers, obviously the forebears of the stormtroopers, fight with the good guys. Count Dooku, the film’s new villain, had once been a Jedi. The GFFA’s underworld is introduced with the likes of Zam Wessel, Jango Fett, and a young Boba Fett. There’s still the mastermind, Darth Sidious, secretly pulling all of the strings right under everyone’s noses.
The descent into the fog tells the viewer this will be a film full of mystery, conspiracy, deception, secrecy, and misdirection. Even Padmé, an idealist, knows she has to use a decoy in her return to Coruscant, which turned out to be a smart move. Her poor handmaiden decoy dies after a bomb set by Dooku’s hires goes off. Given that AOTC was initially released less than a year after the 9/11/01 attacks, this scene had an unintentional contemporary relevance. Padmé says farewell to her handmaiden and there’s a great pause as she realizes what her mission has already cost, before Captain Typho hustles her along and reminds her of her duty. Nice subtle bit of acting from Natalie.