REVIEW: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Produced by: Rick McCallum
Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Edited by: Ben Burtt
Cinematography by: David Tattersall
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Temuera Morrison, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Daniel Logan, Silas Carson, Jack Thompson, Joel Edgerton, Bonnie Piesse, Ahmed Best, Rose Byrne, Jay Laga’aia, Pernilla August, Leeanna Walsman
At some point in my life, I didn’t really know which one was worse: The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. On the one hand, you have one of the dullest, most inconsequential films in the series that also has some of the most childish humor, to top it off, but at least it had some killer music and Darth Maul. On the other, you have George Lucas’ depiction of teenage angst within the Jedi Order and some of the most ridiculous romantic interactions between two characters ever scripted, the likes of which will have your eyes rolling out of your head and having your mind blown from thinking about just how that line about sand ever made it through someone’s mind and into the first draft of the script, let alone the final film. It took a lot of thinking, honestly, but after a while, I did eventually settle on The Phantom Menace being the worst of the two, because it not only had a bad script, but also, overall, it had just very little impact of all the films in the saga in the process. Attack of the Clones at least finally set some things in motion that would have bigger consequences later on in the story. Also, you finally get to see both Yoda and Mace Windu in combat, so… that’s gotta count for something?
[It should be noted that there are some spoilers ahead. While the story doesn’t exactly have any incredible perception-changing developments as was the case in The Empire Strikes Back, those who would prefer that their experiences with this 12-year-old and suspense-free film go untainted would be well advised that I ended up going against my usual stance on spoilers in the heat of the moment and then decided that, instead of rewriting it all, I’d rather just put this disclaimer here and let the hate flow. That being said, I don’t think any amount of spoiler protection will affect your enjoyment of the film and may, actually, allow you to focus more on its more entertaining parts if you don’t actually care that much. It’s not like you don’t know the story already anyway, right?]
Attack of the Clones starts ten years after the events of Episode I, which makes this the biggest leap forward in time of any of the films so that Lucas can finally depict the romance that blossoms between Anakin and Padmé that would’ve had people squirming in their seats more than they already were if we had to deal with an 11 to 12-year-old romance someone about eight years older than him. Anakin’s now “all grown up,” as Padmé astutely takes note of as she and Anakin share a romantic moment over a political discussion. (Yes, politics once again finds its way into all sorts of matters this time around.) The two of them are heading back to Naboo to keep the senator and former queen safe after one too many assassination attempts on her life are made on Coruscant. Somehow, hiding out in the open on her homeworld is decided to be the safest place for her, but at least this allows her to show Anakin the happier side of life that he never got to see. Romance blossoms, despite Anakin’s brooding and questionable and downright creepy tactics in wooing her. Padmé, for all her diplomatic intelligence, has some screwed up taste in men.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan gets the more intriguing part of the story, investigating the involvement of a bounty hunter named Jango Fett in the attempts on Padmé’s life. Before you ask the obvious, yes, he is the father of the infamous Boba Fett, who also makes his first chronological appearance here as a young boy with not much to say or do. And – wouldn’t you know it? – his story is tied directly to that of the Storm Troopers from the original trilogy – more specifically, he’s a clone of Jango Fett, just like the Storm Trooper predecessors, the Clone Troopers – a secret military force Obi-Wan discovers that were apparently being manufactured over the last ten years by the Kaminoans, who were under the impression that the Jedi Order had commissioned this massive army and then just neglected to talk to them about it for the last decade or so. Though the Dark Side has its hands all over this, the Jedi are pretty Zen about it and ultimately decide to allow for these highly trained killing machines, created in their name and without their knowledge, I remind you, to join them in battle against the Trade Federation’s droid armies. (It’s like they want to be killed!) Ensue the special effects most assuredly do.
Automatically, by having this binary storytelling device, with a few tertiary moments thrown in for good measure, Attack of the Clones becomes a bit more compelling in structure than its fairly straightforward predecessor, and by allowing Anakin to grow up so much in the leap forward, we can justify separating him from the more interesting characters – Obi-Wan and Jango – and allowing them to have their moments to shine without having to carry his dead weight. Unfortunately, that does mean he’s paired off with the equally boring Padmé Amidala as the two compare and contrast their lives and politics while sharing anecdotes and sweet whateverthehelltheyretalkingabouts with one another in the film’s futile attempt to get us to buy into their romance and the subsequent consecration of their relationship that leads to the birth of their far more compelling and entertaining offspring. So the ride goes in little fits and starts, alternating detective work that at least moves the plot forward with Anakin doing his best to sound like an agonized romantic and not the obsessed predator with lust in his eyes every time he looks at his purported object of affection. (Seriously, what is she seeing in him that makes her fall so madly in love?) Once Obi-Wan is reunited with his Padawan, the film is basically at its climax, and gone is any semblance of danger, intrigue, or tension, romantic or not, as we watch the Clone Wars begin with the knowledge that all the major players are going to be back in the next movie. But hey, how about them special effects?
Sadly, this was also the film in which Lucas took Episode I’s shiny new toy, CGI, and cranked it all the way up to Stupid. Nearly every setting in this movie, including the ones that don’t involve epic battles and spaceships, are created using unconvincing CGI upon which the live actors float across. We mercifully see very little of Jar Jar Binks, with Lucas realizing at least one of his mistakes, but we do get to see Yoda get his inevitable “upgrade” to an iffy CGI effect. I’m alright with the idea behind the transition, to be honest, as it was the only way we would ever get to see Yoda in combat, and at least this way we can avoid the hassle of reconciling the appearance of a physical puppet and his glossy digital counterpart. I’d have preferred they spent the budget making it more believable, but, hey, at least it’s consistent and allows for some welcome action distraction, of which there is a lot more this time around. From the film’s long opening chase across the city skyways of Coruscant (in which we learn that Anakin apparently has a tendency to fly through electrified power couplings and jump out of cars on a whim, if Obi-Wan’s exasperated responses are anything to go on) to Obi-Wan’s grudge match with Jango on the rainy Kamino and on into space, there are a lot more scenes here in which we can think to ourselves, “At least it’s not a political debate!”
We still have to deal with some of the worst performances in the series to date, however. While Ewan McGregor continues to be a shining star, despite the dreadful script, Natalie Portman continues to mostly sleepwalk through her role as Padmé, as if she had suddenly realized that she wasn’t a little girl anymore and was now above the role – which isn’t exactly inaccurate. Worse off is Hayden Christensen as the older but brattier Anakin Skywalker. Those who were annoyed by the cheerful little boy who shouted “Yipee!” the first time around now have to deal with a scowling and pouting adolescent who harbors some severe emotional issues. We know this because he whines a lot about the lack of trust he receives from the Jedi and woodenly complains to his would-be girlfriend, “It isn’t fair!” As with Jake Lloyd and most of the other actors in the prequels, not all of this can be blamed on Christensen – there’s only so much a young up-and-coming actor can do with this material, and a tragic return to Anakin’s homeworld only stands out as yet another missed opportunity to let the character show his building rage – but it’s very clear from the start that Christensen was terribly miscast as the future Dark Lord of the Sith. If only we could go back in time and convince Leonardo DiCaprio to take the role instead, as was rumored at the time of casting.
Yes, this is yet another terrible disappointment on the part of Lucas and crew in what was increasingly looking like a series of glorified tech demos that were also attempting to add depth to the story of one of cinema’s most recognizable family trees. Episode I may have been the most boring of all the Star Wars films, but Episode II remains one of the most frustrating due to the wasted opportunity to improve upon the first while taking advantage of the fact that this was the film in which the fabled Clone Wars would finally begin… only for it to suddenly end, having focused roughly half of its time focusing on Anakin’s forbidden love affair with an unapologetic politician. That, mind you, truly is “not fair!”
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5