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Star Wars: Episode 2, Attack of the Clones

Reviewed by Eliza DoLots

"Star Wars." Wow. Simply a life changing experience. Those of us who were old enough to go WITHOUT our parents when the original movie was released in 1977 know it was unlike anything that came before. "Star Wars" played for over a year at one of the largest (800+ seats) theaters in San Diego. The summer of its release, I saw it 13 times. We would go whenever we had nothing else to do ("What should we do today?" "I don’t know." "Okay, let’s go see ‘Star Wars’." "Okay.")

Standing in line was a delight! There were entertainers, vendors, and of course, other fans to talk with. I probably spent a combined 2 days standing in line for "Star Wars" that summer. Over the course of the school year, I must have seen it at least 18 more times (there was a second flurry of activity when they got a - get this - 35mm print! Yuppers, our theatre was showing a 16mm print and when they upgraded to 35 oh, my GAWD, was it wonderful!).

Of course, there had to be sequels. ("The Empire Strikes Back" in 1980 and "Return of the Jedi" in 1983) Sequels are both blessed and cursed by their predecessor. Cursed, because they RARELY live up to the expectations of the audience. What was fresh and surprising in the first movie is trite and repetitive in the second. Blessed, because character recognition gains audience support. There is no need to explain characters and situations that are well known and loved. As sequels, they faced the fairly straightforward task of carrying the story forward. Very little had been DONE in Star Wars to cause story line confusion. True, explaining away the reported death of Anikan Skywalker provided the single dumbest Jedi moment ever ("what I told you was true……from a certain point of view……" crap!). The fact that the Luke and Leia romance had not progressed past one kiss was helpful……had it gone further the news that they were twins would have caused some major plot turmoil. While both fine movies, the sequels did not equal the impact of Star Wars. Nothing did. Very likely, nothing ever will.

George Lucas’ grand vision of STAR WARS grew to encompass, at one time, nine movies. While this has been scaled back to six, it is still an ambitious concept. Six full length movies that tell one tale. Patterned after the serials of old, STAR WARS, the series covers much wider ground, clothing religious and political commentary in a "shoot ‘em up" action format. Old time serials were SHORT, filler before the REAL movie, they told tiny bits of story at a time. Lucas is making full length movies, each telling its own full story, but all connected.

Lucas’ revised six-movie vision meant telling the story of what came "before" (a longer time ago……in a galaxy even further away……). This meant prequels. Prequels face the EXTREMELY daunting task of setting up the known story, while telling an exciting, interesting story of their own. They get NONE of the "character recognition" bump of sequels. They, in fact, are going up against the audience's idea of how the characters came to be, those the audience knows at least. That this is difficult should be obvious. If not, simply look at the approach used by the creators of "Enterprise"…they have surrendered the idea of setting up the original series. Yes, there will be technology that alludes to the technology of TOS, but there will also be, as needed, technology that seems more interesting to today’s audience. Yes, there will be aliens we know from TOS, but they will be crafted to mirror the dramatic needs of THIS series.

George Lucas has set himself the task of remaining TRUE to the events and characters of the original three movies, a far more difficult approach. The first prequel, "The Phantom Menace," had to introduce us to the entire universe. Clearly, some assumptions could be made; we knew what the Jedi were and how they used the force, we knew there was a central Senate. Beyond that, we knew very little. Phantom, was one of the most highly anticipated, most thoroughly despised movies in decades. Having to "set the groundwork" for the existing movies seems to have made it difficult for Lucas to focus on making a GOOD, FUN movie. Particularly, the blatant, ill conceived attempt to attract a "young" audience with the horrid Jar Jar Binks made "Star Wars" fans question that Lucas could ever create another good movie. Clearly Lucas had a difficult problem, the young audience had made "Star Wars" a hit, and he wanted to target THAT audience, but the youngsters who had stood in line for HOURS to see "Star Wars" were now adults and were not satisfied with the cartoonish Jar Jar and the cloying boy hero Anikan. In addition, Lucas seemed to have lost track of what was appealing in the original movie.

Space battles (always a highlight!) were minimal. When silly, poorly acted, young Anikan blew up the droid control ship, it was an accident. Far less involving than the tense, dangerous corridor runs that blew up the first Death Star. While the light saber fights were much cooler than the trite, dialogue filled, anti-climactic Kenobi/Vadar duel, they were not enough to make people say "INCREDIBLE action!".

"Attack of the Clones" is in a unique position. To be honest, I can’t recall a movie ever being BOTH a sequel and a prequel. It seems to have helped. "Clones", benefitting strongly from the character recognition factor, is getting a far more favorable response than "Phantom". We now know and care about these characters. There is INTEREST in seeing how the characters have grown and changed. Even seeing Watto 10 years older is interesting.

While the anticipation for this movie was tempered by near universal hatred of the title, it was still high, reaching a peak a couple of weeks prior to release when the early reviews began to appear. This, we were told, was possibly the BEST movie of the bunch. We were told that Lucas was, indeed, "back".

Lessons were learned from the response to "Phantom". Barrels full of unwanted Jar Jar action figures seem to have made an impression on Lucas. The cross marketing has been far less intense. As a result, we are less "tired" of this movie. While Lucas may have counted on "Phantom" to sell itself AND a gazillion collectibles, "Clones" has been one of the BEST marketed movies in recent years. The television ads are well scripted, tight, even funny at times. Even after seeing the movie, the ads are compelling.
The core of this movie is the development of Anikan Skywalker. Amazingly, he is a HORRIBLE character. Hayden Christensen's Anikan Skywalker is whiny, annoying, cloying, and unbelievably lacking in self control. This is a boy who has been studying mental discipline for a decade; yet, he can hardly get through a scene without doing SOMETHING that gets him or someone else in trouble. A combination of poor scripting (less angst would have helped……less verbalization of his inner torment), poor acting (what’s with all the face scrunching? Is that supposed to be attractive? Perhaps the actor’s deficiencies are responsible for the poor script choices; someone who cannot keep his face from looking like he just ate a worm when talking to a beautiful woman can hardly be expected to convey deep emotional conflict in a glance...who KNEW we would miss the subtlety of Mark Hamill?) and poor directing (the director always gets the blame. He chose to let those scenes stand, horrible as they are), the character of Anikan Skywalker is a major flaw in this movie. Usually, one performance this bad would be enough to have me warning people away.

"Clones" works in spite of Anikan, just barely, but it works. It is a special effects extravaganza. As always, the bad guys have the best toys. The destructor droids - such an "ooooh" moment in "Phantom" - are made ordinary by exotic "walkers" and "rollers" and other really NEAT machines. Really NEAT machines seem to be something the team of Industrial Light and Magic does extremely well.

The best special effect is, however, the least awe inspiring. For the first time, Yoda is portrayed NOT by a muppet, but by computer generated images. This could have been a disaster (think Jar Jar short and green). Yoda, however, is beautifully crafted. Where Jar Jar always looks to be defying gravity in some way, Yoda’s movements are natural and smooth . The computer generated Yoda is much more free to move about in scenes. The fantastic duel with Count Dooku is the best example of this, but even our first sight of Yoda, in the Chancellor’s chambers, he is more active, more "in" the scene than he’s ever been before.

Special effects alone (however spectacular) could not have saved this movie from the horror that is Anikan. The movie ultimately works because the other characters are simply BETTER. Obi Wan older (but not yet old) is more interesting. MacGregor’s rather stilted way of speaking seems more appropriate to a mature MAN, than it did a young apprentice. (Side note: I got extremely tired of this phrase. I consider it a black mark against the writers that time and again, Obi Wan, and others, referred to Anikan as "young apprentice" or "young padawan". Overused in "Phantom," the phrases become as annoying as the latest song by N’Sync in "Clones". The only time I didn’t feel a surge of resentment was when Dooku called Obi Wan "young Jedi." That seemed natural and appropriate.) Natalie Portman, stripped of the horrid "Queen" makeup and shroudlike "bodyguard" attire, is luminous as Senator Amidala. "Phantom" showed us glimpses of the girl who COULD have been a Jedi, in "Clones" the woman who SHOULD have been a Jedi is on full display. She jumps, she fights, she wards off weird killer cat things. Her restrained delivery makes even the anguished, face-contorting Anikan scenes watchable. On a side note, Amidala is an amazing TEASE! She tells Anikan that they can’t be together and then rolls around in the grass with him. Then she shows up in a black leather dominatrix outfit complete with breast exposing corset, leather lace up gloves, leather collar and what could easily pass for a leash hanging down her chest. If she’s trying to discourage him, a pair of old jeans and a baggy sweatshirt might have been a better choice.

Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is the "live person" highlight of the film. Reserved, dignified, powerful and scary, Dooku is the best realized villain so far. Vadar, at his prime, did not convey the intelligence and restraint of Dooku. It is possible to see how Dooku could take the borderline psychotic Anikan and turn him into an accomplished, reasoning master of the dark side. One sad thought is that we will never get to see Count Dooku with Governor Tarkin. It would have been WONDERFUL! It makes sense that they would meet. Tarkin is the "human commander" that Vadar respects. It’s reasonable to think Dooku would introduce them. Alas...even if they do have the scene, it will not be the wonderful Peter Cushing. Seeing Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing together is an almost physical thrill...but, it will not happen in a Star Wars movie, which is sad.

One of THE highlights of "Clones" is the music. Music has always been a vital component of the Star Wars movies, but in "Clones" there is a unification. Every memorable theme from the original "Star Wars" is utilized in "Clones." These musical cues serve to "complete the circle" of our understanding. The clone army is revealed to be future storm troopers by the music moments before we see them. Much of my warm feelings about this film stem from its wonderful use of both new and original music.

Another, ongoing highlight of "Clones" is the "connecting the dots" quality. Every time there was a direct LINK to the events in the original movie, the audience sighed. When the Genussian pulled out the plans to the death star, the happiness in the audience was palpable. As long as THIS is part of being a prequel, it seems to be an advantage. Because of this, I predict GREAT things for the next movie. Having the sequel bounce off "Clones," PLUS connecting ALL the DOTS to the original movie, SHOULD make the next episode a FUN, very satisfying movie to watch.

I think it would be a mistake to look at any of the Star Wars movies OUTSIDE the realm of STAR WARS. Within that realm, "Attack of the Clones" is a worthy edition. There are fabulous action scenes, amazing special effects and it tells the story well enough. There are definite FLAWS in this movie, but it is FUN. And, really, isn’t that the BEST we can hope from a movie? That it be FUN?

 

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Director
George Lucas

Screenplay
George Lucas
Jonathan Hales

Released
May 16, 2002

Cast
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman
Hayden Christensen
Ian McDiarmid
Christopher Lee
Samuel L. Jackson

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD