Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
George Lucas, USA, 2002
Posted: May 20,
At heart, George Lucas is still a teenager of the late '50s and early
'60s, enamored with drag races and soda shops. With the second episode in
his immensely successful Star Wars saga, Attack of the Clones, Lucas
continues to recast the memories of his youth onto the big screen in a
galaxy far, far away. The hot rods that he paid homage to so fondly in
1973's American Graffiti are now digitized spaceships that whiz about
with uncanny control, navigating asteroid fields and dodging missiles with
skillful ease. The soda shop even makes an appearance in an early scene in
Episode II, as intrepid Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, aging
nicely into the role) pries information from a contact in a retro burger
joint that one could easily envision the gang from Happy Days hanging
Lucas' love of gadgets, technology and pushing the digital envelope will be
his ultimate legacy. What he lacks in relating to human beings, he more than
makes up for with his passionate devotion to meticulously crafted
interstellar ships, exotic planets, alien races and robotic waitresses that
roll about the old soda shop with well-oiled efficiency. Alas, the best Star
Wars film, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, enjoyed director Irvin
Kershner's insight into human emotion (not to mention Lawrence Kasdan's
smart dialogue), coupled with Lucas' keen eye for special effects. That the
last two, and first chronologically, were written and directed by Lucas
invariably means a loss in the dialogue and actor direction departments.
Fortunately, the technology that Lucas could only dream about in the early
'70s has become reality, and thus Episode II and subsequent entries
in the series will certainly raise the bar for high tech cinema. Lucas'
wisest and most important decision, however, is the use of digital film.
This is the future of the medium, even if only a handful of theaters are
currently capable of displaying it. While the film transfer most moviegoers
will witness pales in comparison to seeing the film on DVD, clearly the
achievement is a landmark one for the art and possibilities of cinema.
Plot-wise, Episode II picks up ten years after the events in The
Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan and a now 20-year-old Anakin Skywalker (an
earnest Hayden Christensen) have been charged by the higher-ups in the Jedi
Order with protecting Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman, much looser this time
around), no longer a queen but now a senator, who has been the target of
several recent assassination attempts. As the now all-digital Yoda (still
voiced by Frank Oz) ominously senses dark portents in the Force, Obi-Wan is
sent to investigate a mysterious planet that's been erased from the star
charts, while young Anakin accompanies Padmé back to her home planet of
Naboo. While Obi-Wan discovers a secret army of clone warriors on the watery
world of Kamino, Anakin and Padmé undergo the requisite courtship ritual
that will eventually produce the twins Luke and Leia (heroes of the
earlier-yet-later trilogy). The dialogue between the budding lovers is
cripplingly bad, but even worse is the actors' utter lack of chemistry.
Christensen and Portman might have gotten along famously off camera, but
there are zero sparks between them onscreen, and their scenes drain momentum
from an already deliberately paced (at points, ploddingly so) storyline.
Fortunately, we have Obi-Wan to follow around: his battle scenes with bounty
hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) and unearthing of not only a clone
army, but a mechanized counterpart as well, keep the story from capsizing
beneath exhaustive exposition and oft-leaden dialogue. McGregor truly
appears comfortable in the role of Obi-Wan this time around (in contrast to
Episode I), and his performance elevates the entire picture, giving
it a grounded center amidst all the whiz-bang gadgetry and thunderous
The climactic showdown on the desolate, rust-colored world of Geonosis is
riveting, especially when so many Jedi get to bust out their various
lightsaber-sharp moves against an endless slew of foes. The absolute
highlight, however, comes when Yoda shows off his physical prowess against
chief baddie (and unfortunately named) Count Dooku (the always reliable
Christopher Lee). Seeing Yoda bounce off of walls and kick butt is as
ludicrously brilliant an image as one might imagine.
Despite serving as a bridge between the first and third episodes, Attack
of the Clones manages to feel cohesive, while hinting at the darkness
that will ultimately consume Anakin. Lucas handily captures the feel of
1930s-era serial films, and those, like this effort, are truly critic proof.
If so inclined, one could nitpick Episode II to death, but what would
be the point? Here's hoping George Lucas never loses the heart of a
teenager. The rest of us should be so lucky.
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