Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz
Director:

George Lucas

Writing credits: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Distributor: Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox * 2 hrs. 12 min
Rated: PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence
  (USA 2002)

In a country far, far away where I live, Star Wars movies have always been just movies, as unbelievable as that may seem to an average American. Back in the glory days of the original trilogy, a teenage Star Wars fan was considered as not merely geeky but downright weird. I know this because I was one. And while the universal hype three years ago surrounding Episode I filled theatres to the brim, on its opening night here, Episode II was played to a half empty theatre. It's an ill wind that blows no good, however, as this left plenty of space to sprawl over adjoining seats then; the movie is, after all, one hundred and forty minutes long.

We can now be certain beyond all doubt that the basic and effective plots of the original trilogy are as gone as the original trilogy itself and its decade, forever mangled for the purpose of the inevitable special edition and - dare I say it - extra box office cash. Gone also are the witty repartee between Han Solo and his fellow characters. Here to stay is nonstop pompous dialogue and an endless rehash of the now-famous catch phrases the audience supposedly cannot do without. I have a bad feeling about this, I told myself.

The previous movie's story would probably find its way to Page 5 of your daily newspaper: "Trade federation blockades the small planet of Naboo", while Episode II is all front page news, with at least a 48 pt headline: "Will Democracy use Armed Force Against the Evil Separatists?" A complex issue better left to political analysts, it here attempts to reach, but ultimately flies right over the heads of its supposed target audience of 12-year olds. This is fortunate, because the movie is really about Anakin Skywalker and the beginning of his downfall. It has been argued that because his ultimate fate as the future Darth Vader is already known to us all, suspense has been difficult to create; yet this is a specious argument. Leaving aside the fact that that journey is usually more interesting than the destination, every superhero movie, every filming of a literary work must deal with the reality that numerous viewers, be they die-hard fans or just those who have absorbed the inevitable hype, are at least dimly aware of the outcome, and perhaps even the steps along the way. As incredible as it may seem to an average American, there are actually millions of uninitiated viewers out here who have never heard of Darth Vader.

But I digress. Our Hero, the now teenage Anakin Skywalker, is a petulant and whiny youngster who, because of his abilities, thinks he's the Second Coming of something. Add to that his raging hormones (read: tormented soul) and even without the source material, we all know he's headed for trouble. We moviegoers are right in that tormented soul with him, for embodying his sullen presence is Hayden Christensen, the latest entry into People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful list. With his good looks and pouty lips, he will probably attract a demographic to the theatre that has been lost without Leonardo DiCaprio, , but the fact remains that he cannot deliver any of his admittedly terrible lines, can't act, and has no idea what he wants to do with his character - a problem that is as much the fault of the director as it is on a relatively inexperienced actor attempting to carry a franchise that has become a quasi-religion to many of its fans.

His female costar, the now-senator Amidala(Natalie Portman, freed at last from the constraining costume of Episode I), is allowed to display her lovely presence, but Portman still gives a flat and uninspiring performance. Apart from serving as the love interest, her main task seems to be to parade an endless array of costumes -- a hint perhaps at a secret clothes compulsion? Indeed, some costumes are so sexy and/or revealing that one would swear the former queen and present Senator is toying with that besotted pup next to her.

This brings us to the obligatory Romantic Interlude. The couple is whisked to Naboo, the purpose apparently to star in a series of commercials entitled: "Visit Naboo, The Most Romantic Place in the Galaxy". Played against the backdrop of every postcard cliché you can think of, the scenes range from downright embarrassing to unintentional comic relief, complete with rolling in the hay - er, grass. The two participants of this debacle seem as uncomfortable with each other as with the terrible lines they are forced to utter, and this is the one moment of empathy with the poor Anakin since the audience is as tormented as he is, albeit for different reasons. The choppy editing, which prevents any of these scenes to play themselves out and often confuses the uninitiated in the audience comes to the much needed rescue here, but romance is a beast that doesn't die easily.

Meanwhile, the remaining member of the leading trio, Obi-wan Kenobi, has long ago been whisked off in a different direction to discover the Secrets Of The Plot. Any possibility of a love triangle that might arise from the fact that Ewan McGregor is a much stronger screen presence that his apprentice has thus been successfully thwarted. Given something to do this time around, Obi-wan fares better that the unfortunate romantic pair. Perhaps this is because McGregor has actually been given something to work with -- not his lines but the source material of Alec Guinness as the elderly Obi-wan in the original series. Phrases like "Oh - not good" and "That is why I hate flying" had previously been reserved for C3PO, perhaps because he is the only one who can deliver them and keep a straight face. Now, McGregor battles valiantly with them and delivers a satisfactory if somewhat uneven performance.

Of the supporting cast, two performances stand out. Temuera Morrison as the intriguing Bounty Hunter and Clone Template Jango Fett has a short but effective cameo appearance, after which he dons his helmet and is lost for the audience. The principal villain, the charismatic Count Dooku, appears late in the movie but makes one wonder immediately whether the Dark Side of the Force is actually stronger; for the power to thwart the devastating effect of terrible dialogue, it seems to have. Indeed, Christopher Lee is the only of the cast who can deliver his lines convincingly, be it for his charisma, his acting skills or the fact that he had encountered large helpings of cheesy and pompous lines before in his long career.

As no doubt intended by the grand mastermind behind it all, the cast is completely overshadowed by the effects. And yes, the visuals are stunning. From the austere elegance of Kamino -- a definite tribute to what science fiction sets looked like in the pre-Star Wars age -- to breathtaking detail of Coruscant cityscapes, it's a sight for sore eyes. There's an asteroid field with a billion asteroids that literally make you duck as they fly towards you, but the graceful elegance and classic beauty of the space ballet in The Empire Strikes Back has here been replaced by a frenetic joyride and a couple of ka-booms! that literally push you into your seat. Hopeless Naboo kitsch from Episode I is mercifully kept to a minimum. And yet…In the fully powered ILM galaxy where the only limit is the imagination, many of the sets are perhaps too reminiscent of scenes from other effects-driven movies such as The Fifth Element, Blade Runner, Chicken Run, and Gladiator), but the Magic Machine behind Star Wars makes sure we see they do it Bigger, Bolder and Better.

The first part of the spectacular grand finale, set in an arena that dwarfs Gladiator's and starring three fierce creatures that serve as much for comic relief as menace, is overly long. This explains the voice in my head which kept hollering "(Why) are you not being entertained?!" Yes, it is elaborate and spectacular, and more pastel-colored lightsabers are wielded than one can count, but the impact is much diminished by the totally gratuitous comic relief, based on the abhorrent idea than anyone would actually find the idea of decapitated C3PO funny. Comic it is not, and the only relief is when it is over, and we can move on to truly impressive large scale overall battle, and the real final act, the now mandatory lightsaber fight, which is played out on a much smaller scale. In the one truly dramatic scene of the movie, the splendid adversary masters both the righteous master and the impetuous apprentice, and is it is left to Yoda, he who can barely walk with a cane, to show his amazing hidden skills and save the day. A less elaborately choreographed and spectacular than the breathtaking duel of Episode I, the scene is more honest, more earnest, and closer in its somber spirit to the duels of original trilogy.

The visuals are backed by the most formidable sound ever, but musicality in the score often seems to be missing. When I first heard the term 'space opera' as a teenager (and not knowing what it meant) I thought it an excellent description of Star Wars movies, in which sweeping music brought out the epic proportion and grandeur of the story as much as the visuals themselves. Only the ominous Imperial March theme underlining the gathering of the army in the final scene approaches the impact of John Williams' well-known scores for the original trilogy.

While the effects for which this franchise is known remain a true feast for the eyes, this popcorn extravaganza still fails to deliver in the basic aspects of filmmaking: a simple, coherent story, a strong and earnest principal character, realistic dialogue that flows naturally as part of good acting, all held together by expert direction. Luckily for us viewers, true movie magic can still be found aplenty elsewhere.

 

- Barbara Matul-Kalamar

Read Jill's Review of STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES

Review text copyright © 2002 Barbara Matul-Kalamar and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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