On Wednesday night, while watching the press screening of Total Recall, I couldn't help but get the feeling that I had seen this movie before. Now, considering there was already a popular movie titled Total Recall that was released in 1990, perhaps this statement on its own isn't too surprising. The thing is -- even though there are some similar tropes to the original -- it wasn't the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall that I was reminded of ... instead, it was Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. This is not a compliment.
Attack of the Clones, if you don't remember, is the fifth Star Wars movie (the second, sequentially), which you most likely hate today (but perhaps liked at one point in your life). In Clones, Chancellor Palpatine is the democratically elected leader of the Republic, which is in the midst of skirmish with an organization referred to as the Separatists -- a group that, on the surface, wants to break away from the corrupt Republic.
Now, in the new Total Recall, Bryan Cranston plays a Chancellor, too, named Cohaagen -- the leader of an area called the United Federation of Briton. He, too, is in the midst of a skirmish with a group of rebel forces who, too, are fighting for their separation from the corrupt government.
Something tells me that Chancellor Palpatine and Chancellor Cohaagen, if they ever had the chance to meet, would become fast friends, because, boy, they sure do come up with very similar diabolical plans.
Chancellor Palpatine, in an effort to strengthen his already immense power, helped create the Separatists as a way to manipulate the public through fear. (And, as Yoda warned us all, "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.) Now, Chancellor Cohaagen didn't invent the rebels, but he might as well have. From most accounts, the rebels in Total Recall don't have much power and operate in an area of the world that is uninhabitable due to chemical warfare. They have so little power, in fact, that Cohaagen himself orchestrates terror attacks on his own city to, yes, create fear amongst the public -- which, as a result, strengthens Cohaagen's power.
Now that both Chancellors have acquired all of this extra power, what will they do with it? If you guessed, "Pretty much the same thing," you are correct.
In Attack of the Clones, Chancellor Palpatine spends his newfound capital on a secret army of clones. Obi-Wan Kenobi discovers this entire operation on Kamino, going as far to take a tour of how the whole process works. These clones become instrumental in an invasion of the planet Geonosis, where the Separatists have been hiding.
As a direct result of the (self-inflicted) terror attacks plaguing his city, Chancellor Cohaagen uses the extra funding allotted to him to build an army -- not clones, but robots. Doug Quaid (before he discovers that he's a spy) actually works on the assembly line at a factory that makes these robots -- becoming, just like Obi-Wan, familiar with how the whole process works. The robots eventually lead a successful assault on the rebels' strongholds in the contaminated areas of the city.
And, look, both stories obviously are statements on how public support for war is built. But, the building of mass-produced armies by a corrupt Chancellor had to make someone on set think, "Hm, this is a lot like Attack of the Clones. (I mean, good grief, both movies even involve a high speed chase involving flying cars caught in rush hour traffic.) So much is made out of this part of the story that the whole plot of Quaid as a man who may be a spy or may be a man who had a memory implanted into his brain almost becomes an afterthought.
And what's the end result for both Chancellor Palpatine and Chancellor Cohaagen? SPOILER Both Chancellors meet their respective ends while falling down a shaft, eventually exploding in flames. (Yes, for Palpatine this didn't happen until Return of the Jedi. Semantics!) I mean, seriously! What are the odds of that? That is such a specific way of dying. Regardless, if your plan was to skip the new Total Recall and just watch the 1990 original, perhaps you should watch Attack of the Clones instead. Or, you know, not do that.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He likes Star Wars a lot (but not Attack of the Clones). You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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