Well, it's not as bad as the last one.
Although the film suffers from many of the same problems as the leaden
"Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," the latest bloated
by-God-this-will-be-an-Epic from George Lucas actually has a few minutes
that are fun.
Remember fun? Like the fun we had during the original "Star Wars," when
the guy who brought us "American Graffiti" tackled space operas? Lucas,
still a young twerp, updated the old "Flash Gordon" type serials with a
grand adventure pitting a wide-eyed farm boy, a cocky pilot, his furry
partner and a tough-as-nails princess against one of the most hissable
bad guys of all time. The fresh-faced performers' acting skills were
shaky, the dialogue was cheesy and some of the creatures were less than
convincing, but none of that mattered because the overall package was
such a blast.
Lucas followed "Star Wars" with two sequels that were more ambitious and
more melodramatic. Although the trilogy contained some annoying elements
(Ewoks, anyone? And how was the death of a Jedi supposed to have any
impact when they kept popping up in ghost form?), they satisfied because
of the immense fun factor.
Sixteen years after the final film, Lucas unveiled the first in his
prequel trilogy. I won't rehash "The Phantom Menace" here – the painful
memories are still too fresh. Suffice to say that, aside from gorgeous
special effects, the movie was a stone drag.
Initially, it looks like "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones"
(could these titles be any clunkier?) is headed down the same path. For
well over an hour, the film hops from one breathtaking vista to the next
as a parade of dull characters spouts bad dialogue. Only a zippy flying
car chase scene breaks up the monotony.
At long, long last, a rescue mission kicks the movie into gear and, for
a few wonderful minutes, I was reminded why I enjoyed "Star Wars" in the
The story goes like this: The Republic is in trouble due to separatist
factions. When Queen-turned-Senator Padme (Natalie Portman) arrives for
an important vote in the Senate, Master Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan
McGregor) and his protege, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), are
assigned to protect her from assassination.
After Padme is nearly killed while Obi-wan and Anakin squabble, the plot
splits in two – Obi-wan flies off to find the culprits while Anakin
remains to guard Padme. On a distant world, Obi-wan discovers a clone
lab cranking out warriors to fight for the Republic (though no one can
remember ordering them). Meanwhile, Anakin and Padme begin the most
stilted, least passionate romance in the history of film (Sample line:
"I am haunted by the kiss you should not have given to me").
Eventually, the key players are reunited as Lucas does an alien version
of "Gladiator" and the flick gets a much-needed shot of adrenaline.
After so much strained posturing, the movie finally turns into "Star
Wars" again, or at least something very much like it. This portion
includes the high point of the film: a terrific lightsaber battle where
Yoda (Frank Oz) finally stops yapping and jumps into the fray. As much
as I enjoyed the fight, I enjoyed what Yoda does immediately after even
Over the course of the film's 135 minutes, we see many familiar faces
along with a number of new ones. The reviled Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best)
returns to do his intergalactic Stephin Fetchit shtick, but thankfully,
he is allotted very little screen time. Droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and
C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) return, with C-3PO getting the worst scene in
the movie when his head is severed from his body and he delivers not
one, not two, but three cringe-inducing puns.
On the flesh and blood front, Samuel L. Jackson gets to do slightly more
than in the last film, although his talents are still wasted. Jimmy
Smits pops up briefly – presumably he and Sam will have expanded roles
in the final installment of the trilogy. Horror movie giant Christopher
Lee appears as a pivotal character, looking remarkably good for his age.
And Temuera Morrison, the mesmerizing star of "Once Were Warriors,"
makes an indelible impression as little Boba Fett's fierce bounty hunter
Sadly, the acting is as wooden here as in "The Phantom Menace," with the
sole exception of Ewan McGregor, who humanizes Obi-wan Kenobi quite
nicely in an assured performance. McGregor also draws the biggest laugh
in the movie when he turns to the future Darth Vader and says, "Anakin,
sometimes I think you'll be the death of me."
I'm still not sure whether or not I like that line, but I am sure that
"Attack of the Clones" is a better film than "The Phantom Menace."
Although the ending is annoyingly abrupt, at least the movie delivers a
few payoffs. Both films, however, left me with the same question: When
did George Lucas forget that people, not special effects, are what make
a movie work?
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott