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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/7/02

Star Wars: Episode II
Attack of the Clones

2002 - Lucasfilm, Ltd./20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Film Rating: C+

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

It's ten years after the blockade of Naboo and the events of Episode I. Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is no longer Queen of her people, but now a senator and one of the key figures in a bid to oppose the creation of an army for the Republic. The apparent need for such an army is mounting, because a growing separatist movement of thousands of star systems is threatening to plunge the galaxy into civil war - a threat the limited number of Jedi seem helpless to counteract.

As the film opens, Padmé narrowly escapes an attempt on her life designed to keep her from casting a vote against the army in the Senate. Shortly thereafter, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) convinces the Jedi Council to assign Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his now grown apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to protect her. The assassins make a second attempt to kill Padmé, but thanks to the Jedi, the attempt fails and instead results in a frantic chase through the streets of Coruscant. When the dust settles, Anakin is ordered to take the young senator back to Naboo to keep her in hiding, while Obi-Wan follows the trail of evidence back to her would-be assassins. The clues soon lead Kenobi to a distant and hidden water planet, where a massive clone army is being secretly created from the DNA of a rough-edged bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison).

While his master struggles to fit these new pieces of the puzzle together, back on Naboo, Anakin finds that his long-simmering love for Padmé is beginning to overwhelm his commitment to the Jedi Order, which forbids personal attachments. Padmé is reluctant to admit her own feelings for the young Jedi-in-training, but she too feels their inexorable pull. And before all is said and done, a series of tragic events will forge their love at the very flash point of disaster - events orchestrated by the mysterious Sith, that will unleash the legendary Clone Wars, begin the transformation of Republic to Empire and turn young Anakin inevitably down the path to the Dark Side of the Force.

That's the plot of the film, and I've tried to frame it vaguely enough so as not to give anything away that you don't already know from the trailers. I'll continue to be vague from here on out, attempting to discuss the pros and cons without spoiling you.

Okay... right now you're probably wondering one thing: is Episode II a better Star Wars film than Episode I? And the answer is a DEFINITE yes. Attack of the Clones is far more enjoyable than The Phantom Menace. It's a better film overall. And it's a darned good Star Wars film. BUT... it isn't a really great Star Wars film, and I don't think it's quite as good as a lot of early reviewers would have you believe. I'm not trying to throw cold water on your enthusiasm... I'm just trying to encourage you to temper it a little bit.

I actually was lucky enough to read a draft of the shooting script for Episode II many months ago. And I read the published final draft as well, just a couple of weeks ago. I'm glad I did, because from reading the script, I knew what to expect in terms of quality going into this film. I was encouraged by the plotting of the script (thanks in part to Lucas' co-scribe Jonathan Hales), which was clearly better than the last film. There were still a LOT of hokey dialogue moments, and there were a few scenes that really seemed to unnecessarily slow the action down. But it was better, and I was hopeful that the film would be as well. And as I began watching the film this afternoon, I was very pleased to note that nearly all of the sore-thumb lines had been dropped and the most extraneous scenes had been cut (no worries fans - I'm sure we'll see them all on the DVD, which you'll be spinning in your players by Thanksgiving). The pacing for the first half of this film is tight. You get right to the action - right into the plot - and the film is all the better for it.

But about halfway in, the film starts to drag a bit. And a couple of brief but cheesy moments involving the romance pull you out of the story a little. Once slowed, the momentum doesn't really get going again until pretty late in the last act. When it does, the action is very good, if a little more brief than we might like (particularly the lightsaber fights). The CGI work is much improved here over Episode I. There are still shots that stick out as unnatural looking. For example, if I ever see characters jumping onto the backs of strange CGI beasts and riding them again, it'll be too soon. They NEVER work. They never look natural - not in Lord of the Rings, not in Harry Potter and not here (twice) in Episode II. But overall, the visual effects problems are more forgivable here than they were in Episode I, because you're more entertained. And there are fewer of them. Part of the reason for that is that Episode II is a more atmospheric film than the last one was. There's rain, fog, thick clouds, dust and haze here, whereas the sky was always clear and everything was gleaming in The Phantom Menace. Atmosphere helps to sell CGI and it definitely does that here.

Another issue with the latter half of this film, is that there are a few moments that could have been cut as unnecessary that weren't. For example (and these aren't spoilers), there are shots (of Yoda and Padmé, respectively) in the major battle of the film, where the characters basically say, "Bring me a ship." The only real purpose they serve is to make sure you connect the dots in the plot - that you understand how the character got from where they were to where they need to be in what comes next. But you just don't need these moments. They remind me a lot of that brief scene that Lucas added to The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition, where you see Vader and his shuttle leaving Could City and arriving on his Star Destroyer... just so you can SEE that Vader's left Cloud City and arrived on his Star Destroyer. For years before that, your brain had pretty much filled in that he must have flown back in there somewhere, so actually putting that scene in just slowed things down. In Episode II, the moment with Padmé in particular is just really flat (and even caused a few unintentional laughs - you'll know it the moment you see it). And such moments serve to undermine the sense of drama. Lucas is definitely a slave to the complex plotting of these films. It's not anywhere near as bad as it was the last time out, but you can still feel it.

The other problem here is that, as with Phantom, it seems difficult for Clones to build a real sense of tension - of jeopardy. Don't get me wrong - this film is definitely better in that respect. But there's never those "edge of your seat" moments you got with Star Wars and Empire. Those moments where your jaw dropped and you thought, "Oh my God! How are they ever gonna make it out of this?!"

So okay... that's the bad. Notice how I didn't mention Jar Jar even once in there? That's because he's blissfully absent in Episode II. And when he is onscreen, it's almost like the characters shrug him off the same way the rest of us do. The one really key scene he has is actually devilishly clever. Without giving much away, Jar Jar is manipulated into handing the keys to the kingdom (so to speak) to the Dark Side. Once again, you'll know the moment when it happens. See - Jar Jar really WAS the bumbling idiot we all thought him to be in Episode I.

What works about Attack of the Clones is that the story is actually interesting. This isn't hurry up and take a board meeting - this is REAL plot. Obi-Wan gets to put on his detective hat and do a hard-boiled, Sam Spade number through the seedy underbelly of the Republic. Anakin and Padmé get to bat their eyes at each other... and just when you've had enough of that, it's done and Anakin's taking a rather unsettling walk on the Dark Side. Christopher Lee adds a nice measure of seasoning to the prequels as Count Dooku. And we get to see Jedi Masters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda (entirely CGI this time, but voiced as always by Frank Oz) struggling with the fact that they can't use the Force to see what's coming. That weakness is what makes the devastating events at the end of the film so believable and disturbing. The Sith have pulled the wool over everyone's eyes so brilliantly, that everything that transpires seems to have been almost unavoidable in hindsight. No fooling - that Darth Sidious is one SERIOUSLY badass mo-fo, kids.

The acting here is also refreshing, particularly given the last film. Ewan McGregor is really making me believe he's a young Alec Guinness. His mannerisms are getting closer and closer all the time to the more venerable actor's performance in the original Star Wars. Natalie Portman is also much better in this film than she was last time out, because she's no longer constrained by having to act like the grave Queen under duress. She shows real emotion - and real chemistry - with Hayden Christensen. And that's the other good thing about Episode II. Haden is perfect as Anakin. You accept him as Anakin immediately and you really believe he's teetering on the edge of an emotional and psychological abyss. And yet you can sympathize with him too. He's human like the rest of us - he loves and hurts, feels passion and pain. That, of course, is what will ultimately be his undoing... and the undoing of everyone he loves. In Episode II, Anakin has a moment of failure that sets him up perfectly for the even bigger moment of failure that's coming in Episode III. Knowing that (as all Star Wars fans do) makes the final scene of this film both beautiful and chilling at the same time.

So what else is good here? There are lots of "connection" moments that fans will appreciate (some are better than others, but the majority are welcome), where events resonate with what we know lies in the future from the original three Star Wars films. The subplot involving Jango Fett (and his young son, Boba) is serviceable too, if a little convenient. Thankfully, Jango gets to mix it up in a really good tangle in the rain with Obi-Wan - a fight scene that makes the whole subplot worthwhile. We're also briefly introduced here to a trio of characters that we know will play a major part in Episode III - Owen Lars, Beru Whitesun and Senator Bail Organa (played in nicely subdued fashion by Jimmy Smits). Another great orchestral score turned in by composer John Williams is like icing on the cake. And let me just say this... Yoda kicks some SERIOUS ass before this film is over. Yep - you've all wanted to see the small green one in action, in his fighting prime, ever since he uttered his first circular sentence in The Empire Strikes Back. And it's everything you could have hoped for. There were LOUD cheers for this during the screening I saw... and a lot of the audience was made up of typically jaded industry folk. It's worth the wait in line and the price of admission all by itself. Short stack ROCKS - period.

Almost any way you slice it, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones is a very fun, and largely satisfying, film. I personally think it's the best Star Wars film since the release of Empire. It's not as good as the original Star Wars and it's not even close to Empire, but it's better than Jedi (those damn Ewoks STILL bother me worse than Jar Jar ever could) and it's better than Phantom Menace. I know there are going to be critics who trash this film, just because they can. And there'll be those hard-core Phantom haters who won't be won over by Clones no matter what. But I'll tell you this... I absolutely can't WAIT to see Attack of the Clones again. And I'm now more hopeful that George Lucas and company are still capable of crafting the dark, bold strokes that every fan knows Episode III - the very last Star Wars film - must deliver. No doubt about it, folks... there's still some Force left in this old Saga. Here's my advice: enjoy EVERY last drop of it while you can.

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

Just for comparison's sake, here's how I'd grade the other Star Wars films:

Star Wars: A
The Empire Strikes Back: A+
Return of the Jedi: C+

The Phantom Menace: C
Attack of the Clones: C+

Some of you will probably dispute my ranking Phantom slightly higher than Jedi, but I'll take Rastafarian salamander armies over teddy bear armies any day of the week and twice on Sunday. As the last film in the whole Saga, Jedi has a much bigger burden on it than Menace does. Especially coming as it did after Star Wars and Empire, both truly great films on their own. And what did Jedi give us? An aging Liea in a slave suit, a bug-eyed rubber slug, a rancor beast that looks like a bad effect from Willow, a stupid song and dance number at Jabba's palace (even worse in the new Special Edition), Boba goes out with a burp instead of a bang, ghost ObiWan admits that he lied, Admiral Calamari and Commander Enya lead like 10 rebel cruisers into the final battle (is this the ENTIRE rebellion?!), an army of teddy bears on parade saves the day, the Emperor couldn't think of anything better to build than a second Death Star after the first was so easily destroyed (ooooohhh I see - it's BIGGER this time), and the whole thing ends with everyone standing around doing the hokey-pokey to that God-awful "nub nub" song. NOTHING Episode I did could be worse than that in my mind. The endgame of this Saga shoulda been a LOT better. What can I say? That's just the cut of my jib.

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