TCS Daily

Bring on the Clones!

By Kevin Cherry - May 20, 2002 12:00 AM

The reviews of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones have been what you might expect. Everyone praises the breathtaking beauty of the film's visual effects and stunning action sequences. Everyone condemns the cheesy romantic dialogue between Natalie Portman's Senator Amidala and Hayden Christensen's Anakin Skywalker and praises the performances of Brits Ian McDiarmid, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, and Tony Blair. Everyone acknowledges the final 45 minutes are absolutely stunning and action-packed, but split on whether the first hour and a half of the film are redeemed by the finale.

For this author, the first part of the film was good in some places and very good in others. Others -- say, those who have never camped out for a Star Wars film -- might say that it was merely decent until the last reel. But if the question is whether this is a movie worth seeing, the answer is unquestionably yes. Why? Because Yoda the Jedi Master - the 800-year-old, pint-sized Muppet (now entirely computer-generated but still voiced by Frank Oz) -- shows why he is the most powerful of all the Jedi. I won't give away any more than that, but suffice it to say that Episode II contains more Jedis fighting with lightsabers than the other four Star Wars movies combined. The last half-hour is as action-packed as any movie I can remember.

Yes, at times George Lucas focuses too much on the visual beauty of what he and his ILM team are capable of doing. But the effects work, in a way that they never quite did in The Phantom Menace. There are new creatures and ships that are just astonishing to behold. And the pacing is much more rapid than in The Phantom Menace.

Lucas's storytelling remains strong in its broad strokes, weak in its precision. Dialogue remains a problem, despite the addition of screenwriter Jonathan Hales. Lucas had the benefit of screenwriters on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, films where the dialogue was much stronger than in the original Star Wars and The Phantom Menace (both of which Lucas wrote on his own). In Empire, regarded by most fans as the best of the films, Lucas had help from famed writer Leigh Brackett, but the exchange that is perhaps the best -- when Leia tells Han she loves him, he replies simply, "I know" -- was ad libbed by Harrison Ford. The stories have always (thankfully) been told primarily
through the visuals.

At points, though, the dialogue is so stilted that it detracts from the film. This is most noticeable in the scenes between Anakin and Padme Amidala. The original Star Wars trilogy shied away from discussions of the feelings that Han and Luke had for Leia. In this film, we're confronted with long discussions of feelings and how the Jedi Code forbids romantic attachment. Despite that, of course, Anakin falls in love with Amidala.

But let's bracket that question, because despite media assertions that Lucas is trying to attain a Titanic crowd by appealing to teenage girls, the love story is nothing more than a necessary subplot, required for Luke and Leia to be born. Just as the first trilogy focuses on Luke Skywalker's redemption of Darth Vader, this trilogy focuses on Anakin Skywalker's descent to the Dark Side. And make no mistake: The psychomachea is firmly present.

The scenes in which Anakin shows his tendency to turn to the Dark Side are strong. As he struggles with the Dark Side, Anakin's face moves in and out of the shadows, representative of his inner tensions. And when he finally succumbs to the rage, the results are brutal. Lucas does not shy away from that scene or its implications, though he avoids graphic violence in its depiction.

Anakin's fall to the Dark Side is the plot of the film. The Trade Federation of The Phantom Menace, the clone army of this film -- both of these are pawns in Darth Sidious's efforts to gain control of the galaxy. Seeing the machinations of an evil Sith Lord at work are amazing. Sidiuous, in fact, is powerful enough that the Jedi are blind to his evil, even when he is right in front of them. The villainous Count Dooku -- a former Jedi who has grown disillusioned with the Republic -- even warns the Jedi of what is happening and they do not accept him at his word.

For the fanatics, there is much to love about this film. Lucas ties it tightly to the original trilogy, with foreshadowing of the Death Star, stormtroopers, Boba Fett, and Luke's lightsaber battle with Vader in Bespin. The last scene of the film is a perfect mirror of the final scene of The Empire Strikes Back. C-3PO and R2-D2 have a good deal of screentime at the end of the film, in which they are back to their bickering-couple status. The worst parts of The Phantom Menace - that would be Jar Jar Binks -- have been noticeably reduced. I would venture to guess that Binks has eight minutes of screen time, but even he is used by the Dark Side in a way that will have dire consequences for the galaxy. Samuel L. Jackson plays one badass Jedi master, wielding his saber with skill and precision and guiding the Jedi council throughout. Yoda has a great scene training young padawan learners, in which he gently mocks Obi Wan Kenobi for "losing a planet."

For the non-fanatics, Attack of the Clones is easily a lightsaber cut above the competition. There is that internal struggle within Anakin that no other science fiction films approach. The universe Lucas creates is unparalleled. The action sequences are frequent and energetic. John Williams contributes the rousing music once more. And lightsaber fights are lightsaber fights.

If you can tolerate the love scenes, you will enjoy the rest of this movie. The film's end does not bring a resolution but rather this warning from Yoda: "Begun the Clone Wars have." And so they have. And so we will have to wait another three years for George Lucas to bring us the final Star Wars film.

Kevin Cherry is a writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.

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