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Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

It’s as though George Lucas was paying too-close attention to the details, and not enough to the bigger picture.
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Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Director: George Lucas

Actors: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz

Year: 2002

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA

Before you, dear reader, label me bitter and jaded, let me defend myself by saying that I’m a huge Star Wars fan. When I’m talking Star Wars, I am of course referring to the original trilogy, more specifically the first film (from 1977) and The Empire Strikes Back. My brother and I played with the action figures, collected the trading cards (with a stick of gum in each pack!), and saw the films in the theater many many times (pretty good, considering my weekly allowance only went up a nickel each birthday). I even had a Chewbacca t-shirt!

So I can’t help but voice how frustrated and basically sad I am with the new films. Yes, most people agree The Phantom Menace sucked (I obviously disagree with Scott’s rather kind review), but Attack of the Clones has been trumpeted as a vast improvement over Episode I. But Clones just reinforces in my mind how much I miss the rakishly charming Han Solo, the wisdom of old Obi-Wan, the always pissed-off Princess Leia, the hissingly evil (but damn cool) Darth Vader, and even whiny Luke Skywalker. The original films were cartoony and fun, but also had a lot of charm and heart. Twenty-some years later, the new Star Wars installments are all flash and no soul.

The original Star Wars films influenced all sci-fi films that came after it. So it seems strange in a way that George Lucas is now borrowing from other filmmakers to illustrate his vision—most obviously Ridley Scott. Blade Runner set the standard for how futuristic and/or otherworldly cities look in the movies, so it seemed strange to find our Star Wars heroes plopped into the pretty but rather unoriginal urban cityscape (neon, buzzing spaceships and all) that we’ve seen so many times in other movies. Not only that, but by the end of the film, Lucas even manages to incorporate a scene that could have been seamlessly plopped into the hit Gladiator.

But let’s recap the basic story.

Unless you live in a black hole, you know that in Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker (who was played by annoying child-actor from hell Jake Lloyd in Episode I) is now a strapping teen and a Jedi-in-training. Hayden Christensen, in black leather and bad apprentice-Jedi hair (that tail is so 80s!), glowers through pretty much the entire film. You see, you know he’s going to go bad any second! Subtlety! Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now a senator, and looks the exact same age as she did in Episode I, despite Anakin having aged 10 years along with everyone else.

In the meantime, we also have Obi-Wan Kenobi (ultra-hottie Ewan MacGregor), now bearded with what sure looks to me like a mullet (but he can pull it off! He’s Ewan!). Other returning characters are Master Yoda, Mace Windu (Sam Jackson), C-3PO and R2-D2 (in too-small roles), and a whole passel of baddies that I couldn’t keep straight. In case you’re wondering, yes, Jar-Jar Binks IS back, but after a brief appearance in the beginning, he basically disappears (thank god!).

The plot involves the inevitable ooshy-gushy love story with Anakin and Padmé (whom we all know eventually spawn Luke and Leia), as well as the development of the back-story of the Clone Wars, which shapes the films that follow in the Star Wars mythology. There’s plenty o’ foreshadowing of Anakin’s eventual turn to the dark side (he becomes Darth Vader in the future). Oh, and there are lots of light saber fights and chases in various spacecraft and land speeders.

What I liked about the film were the clues in the story that attentive fans could piece into the bigger puzzle that will eventually shape the nine-part film series. There were many “aaahs!” of recognition by the audience throughout the film. And lucky for viewers, one of our old favorite characters easily gets the best (and maybe unintentionally funny) scene in the film (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it).

But it is as though George Lucas was paying too-close attention to the details (including the great-looking, but sterile and flat CGI backgrounds and characters), and not enough to the bigger picture:

  • We want characters we care about. Lucas again makes the same mistake as he did in Ep I, introducing a cool new badass character, Jango Fett, and taking him away from us just when he has us cheering.
  • We want to be swept up in the pace of the picture. The duel between Luke and Vader at the end of Empire Strikes Back is still a nail-biter.
  • We want to be surprised. Remember how we all gasped at the visuals of the opening sequence of the original Star Wars? And our surprising acceptance and love of such new creatures as a big fuzzy sidekick and two bickering robots?

Unfortunately I’ve resigned myself to the fact that George Lucas’ stubbornness and ego will not allow him to relinquish the reins of writing and directing the next film. I’ve heard him say he might be interested in doing Parts VII, VII, and IX, but thinks by then he’ll be too old to take on such a task. Let’s just hope so. I’d love to see what happens to Han, Luke and Leia (I still have hope), but I’d love it even more if Lucas realizes his weakness and passes his Jedi Master saber onto someone with a fresh and invigorating vision.

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