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Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones

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Release: 2002, 20th Century Fox
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen
Director: George Lucas
MPAA Rating: [PG] sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Genre: Science Fiction/Adventure

With the galaxy in a state of political turmoil, the Jedi Knights fight to keep the peace even as the Dark Side of the Force gains momentum. The second episode of the six-part Star Wars saga.

What's Good
the beginning of the rise of Darth Vader
strong sense of character growth and changing times
very little is heard of Jar Jar Binks

What's Bad
the lightsaber fights are lacking
unimpressive villains
too much aimless interstellar wandering and confusing politics
Yoda comically gets involved in the fighting
the story has been candy coated and fit its PG rating

Reviewer: Andrew Manning, Contributing Editor: Matthew Leary (05/02)

A young Obi-Wan Kenobi asks a younger Anakin Skywalker: "Why do I get the feeling you're going to be the death of me?"

The impending rise of Darth Vader, a persistent shadow throughout the movie, is by far the most interesting aspect of Attack of the Clones, the second installment of Star Wars. This particular chapter in the interstellar epic reunites the old gang from the first episode, The Phantom Menace, amidst political turmoil in the galaxy. A growing faction of malcontent separatists are breaking away from the Republic, and the shrinking ranks of the Jedi are called in to help the government maintain unity and order.

Ten years have passed since the events of Episode I, and a lot has changed. Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) has became a Senator since serving out her full term as the Queen of Naboo; Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) has advanced from apprentice to full-fledged Jedi Master; and Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen this time) has become an accomplished young man who is quickly growing into the most powerful of all Jedi.

As is common knowledge, Anakin Skywalker will eventually succumb to the Dark Side of the Force and become the infamous Darth Vader. This episode marks the obvious beginning of that transformation and examines his emotional turmoil: he is in love with Padme and acts on those feelings despite the restrictions of the Jedi; he is haunted by the death of his mother, and seeks vengeance against those he holds responsible; he is tempted by the power and encouragement of the insidious Chancellor Palpatine; and he has a love/hate relationship with Obi-Wan, who he sees a father figure who holds him back too much (unfortunately, the two are separated for much of the movie, even though the relationship between them is the most important of the story).

These dramas that are leading up to the creation of Vader are the most compelling parts of Attack of the Clones. Every time Anakin snaps or does something rash, there's that certain tension in the air that whispers, Hey--this is the guy that's going to grow up and slaughter all of the Jedi. The further development of Obi-Wan Kenobi as a noble and likeable hero also makes his eventual death at the hands of his own pupil that much more tragic.

But aside from the history of these classic characters, there's little else of interest. The rest of the movie is dominated by a lumbering political melodrama that is often confusing thanks to all the treachery--the bad guys are pretending to be good, and the goods guys don't know who the bad guy are. Even the clones, who sound decidedly evil in the film's title, aren't all bad in the scope of this episode. There's also a lot of old situations that have been rehashed in standard Lucas tradition (surprise, surprise--there's yet another high speed chase, although not as long and aimless as the pod race in The Phantom Menace).

Most disappointing of all is the lack of the kick-ass lightsaber duel that has become a major highlight of the franchise. The main villain in Episode II is an old fart named Count Dooku (a.k.a. "Darth Tyranus"). In the final act, he takes on Obi-Wan and Anakin Jedi-style, but the battle seems short-lived. Once Dooku dispatches them, you know the worthwhile swordfighting is over. And things only get worse when Yoda steps into the ring to get his fight on. I won't dwell on the details, but let's just say it's like a bad kung-fu movie...with a midget.

There's a giant battle featuring a slew of Jedi, but they're only fighting vicious animals and droids. The barrage of frantic lightsabers is visually impressive, but it gets old quickly. And you have to wonder how these master Jedi warriors are getting taken out by mindless automatons. At least give them a worthy opponent! Gawd--where's Darth Maul when you need him?

As far as the cast goes, Ewan McGregor is the most impressive. Coming across less like Ewan McGregor and more like a young Alec Guinness, his performance bolsters the illusion that ten years have passed, and that his character has matured greatly in that time. He truly seems more like the Obi-Wan seen in Episode IV. Meanwhile, Hayden Christensen, despite appearing catatonic on occasion, portrays the untempered youth of Anakin Skywalker well. Samuel L. Jackson returns as Mace Windu, but he's still a little too "bad ass mo-fo" to be a fully believable Jedi (although for his part, he does kick a lot of ass).

Some random thoughts:

Many fans will be pleased to learn that Jar Jar Binks has a very minor role in this episode, although C-3PO has taken his place as the dispenser of distracting comedy.

Some things are better left a mystery. Did we really need to see the idiot behind the Boba Fett mask?

Natalie Portman spends the last part of the movie wearing a bare midriff outfit. I guess it's supposed to be reassuring that Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have influenced fashion even in that galaxy far, far away.

In closing, Attack of the Clones remedies many of the problems found in The Phantom Menace. Tragically, it also introduces its own laundry list of shortcomings and fails to live up to its potential. Had it focused more exclusively on the darker side of Anakin Skywalker and his precarious relationship with Obi-Wan Kenobi, it could have easily been the strongest character drama of all six of the Star Wars films. Instead, it wastes time on pointless pursuits (like all of its predecessors) and a dry political backdrop. Further, Lucas has candy coated this PG film so much that it doesn't even come close to having the dark story it deserves. While it definitely sets the stage for the grand finale of Episode III, it is not the strongest entry as a stand-alone movie. Here's hoping things rock more viciously in 2005...

Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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