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Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/20/05 20:00:58

"Not entirely back to the greatness of the old ones, but getting closer."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

When I first saw “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones,” I had to watch it twice - once for the fan-boy in me, and once for the critic. The fan-boy side was thoroughly entertained, thrilled from start to finish and wowed by all the film had to offer. The critic side spent the second viewing looking for flaws, gaps, and generally anything that just didn’t work; I had to work this side overtime, since as a lifetime “Star Wars” geek, I didn’t want a review to come off as the babbling praise of a fanatic ready to hail all things “Star Wars.”

Fortunately, the critic in me was quite delighted with the final product. “Clones” is a damn fine thrill machine.

I’ll keep the plot summary light, as most of you already know it, and the rest of you don’t need to be too spoiled. It’s ten years after “The Phantom Menace,” and young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is all grown up. He’s a Jedi apprentice these days, and he and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), have returned to Coruscant to serve as bodyguards to Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), the former queen who’s now a senator.

It seems somebody’s been trying to assassinate her, so for protection, she’s secretly taken back to Naboo under the watchful eye of Anakin, whose affection for her has grown over the years. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan stays on Coruscant and tries to uncover the assassination plot, which leads to darker, more conspiratorial doings.

There’s a lot more, of course, but that’s all you really need to know here. As a story, the plot works in two halves; Obi-Wan’s investigation and Anakin and Padmé’s tale of forbidden love. (Jedis aren’t allowed to fall in love, at least not with their protectees.)

Of the two, the love story, while something relatively fresh for a “Star Wars” film (it’s far more elaborate than the quickie Han-Leia stuff from “The Empire Strikes Back”), isn’t as strong as it should be. The young-lovers-frolicking-in-the-fields bit is particularly corny, even for George Lucas. Anakin’s also kind of an ass, since he’s gradually starting to lean toward the Dark Side of the Force, so it’s kind of hard to root for him to succeed in romance.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work. It’s just that Anakin here is something of a teenage brat, constantly whining and pouting about life not being fair. While this may be surprisingly close to real life for teenage behavior, it doesn’t help make his character sympathetic in relation to the love affair. (Christensen, who also played a whiny, bratty teen in “Life As a House” and a whiny, bratty reporter in “Shattered Glass,” is going to have a hard time shaking the whiny, bratty typecasting sure to come his way.)

Also, the romance is constantly being shoved aside to make room for some plot devices set up to make Anakin even more miserable. While all this makes for interesting drama, the character himself is stuck between being a good guy and a bad guy. Lucas (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Hales) isn’t quite sure how to make the guy into an antihero, and there’s a pinch of an awkwardness to this part of the story.

The other plotline, however, is far from awkward. Obi-Wan’s adventure plays like a private eye yarn mixed with a political conspiracy thriller. His discoveries unfold in a remarkably engaging fashion, like a bit that has him hunting for a planet that may or may not exist. There’s even a scene (one of my favorites) where he gets some info on the case from an old friend in a diner.

All of this is padded, naturally, with the requisite action set pieces. The good news is the Lucas is very eager to please this time around, and gives us some terrific rollickers. The film’s opening bit, a chase scene through the nighttime skies of Coruscant, is as thrilling as chase scenes get. A rain-soaked fight between Obi-Wan and badass bounty hunter Jango Fett kicks a wide assortment of butt. And the Jedi lightsaber free-for-all in the final half hour is just great fun.

But watching “Clones,” I felt Lucas was too eager to please. He blows his load here, giving the fans everything they ever wanted to see, whether or not it entirely works for the story. You want Jedi saber battles? You got it. You want Samuel L. Jackson kicking ass? You got it. You want to see Yoda drop the old guy routine and get funky with his bad self? You got that, too. You want more Boba Fett? Well, he’s too young for this story, so here’s his dad instead.

And while these are all great fun to watch (especially the Yoda thing, a truly great fight sequence), it feels like it’s too much. At 142 minutes, this is the longest of all the “Star Wars” movies, and by the last half-hour, I felt it. The final battle runs on far longer than it should - the thing just keeps going. Another action scene, a perilous journey through a battle droid assembly line that reminded me way too much of the pie machine sequence from “Chicken Run,” doesn’t make a lick of sense as anything other than more action filler. The whole movie, in fact, could have been trimmed by twenty-plus minutes and probably have been even more exciting. Besides, now that we’ve seen Yoda fight, what could possibly be left for “Episode III?”

That said, it’s still a great film. Lucas still isn’t working on the level of his older “Star Wars” movies, but he’s getting closer. He’s shaken his clunky, uneven style from “Episode I” and is now back in his groove. “Episode II” feels smoother, more assured. That’s a definite improvement, and it shows in every frame.

Fans are sure to have a blast with “Clones” (and they sure as hell should, since it seems custom-made for them this time out). The good news is non-fans should have an equally good time (at least those who don’t despise the franchise with every ounce of their being; those guys are beyond repair). While the non-stop efforts from Lucas for the movie to be consistently thrilling can wear one down from time to time, it’s still a fun enough time for everyone to be truly entertained. It’s just fun, pure and simple, an adrenaline rush reminder why we all started watching this saga twenty-five years ago.

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