Positive Episode 2 review (Spoilers)
George Lucas Strikes Back
by e_burrell | May 04 '02 (Updated May 04 '02)
Pros: An epic film that captures the heart and imagination of the original trilogy
Cons: CGI instead of puppets, the fact that it only lasted two hours not ten.
The Bottom Line: George Lucas proves once and for all that this is all going to work. This movie is everything I ever hoped it could be.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Set the way-back machine to the 1980s. A young boy caught up in the absolute reverie of the Star Wars universe. This is the kind of young boy who would play with his Star Wars action figures and hum the John Williams theme song as he pretended Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were on some grand adventure in his living room.
The adventures never stopped, whether he was playing with toys, riding his bicycle pretending he was chasing after Imperial Biker Scouts on his speeder bike or drawing pictures of X-Wing and Tie-Fighters in bitter dog fights. This was the boy who drew a small switch on his yellow wiffle ball bat, threw a motorcycle helmet on and pretended he was Luke - "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you".
This same young boy sat in the seat of a theatre he managed in late May of 1999 with a grin from ear to ear as Episode 1 began and the Phantom Menace scrawled across the screen in all its wonderment. When the lights came up he was a little disappointed. He knew that something just wasn't right - something about the special effects that just couldn't take the place of cardboard and puppets. There was something not right about the confusing storyline and the super-flat acting. There was something off about how the film seemed to be geared more towards little kids - not guys in their twenties who had built the original series up in their heads to be something of legend.
Fast forward to last Thursday, May 2nd. A full two weeks before opening day of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. In my hands I held a special exhibitor-screening pass, and as I sat in my seat the grin I'd grinned three years before was slowly creeping across my face. I was hoping beyond all hope that certain wrongs might be made right. I was keeping my fingers crossed that director George Lucas hadn't completely taken his finger off the pulse of all our hearts. Now after seeing this wonderful film that is Episode 2, I can thankfully - and dutifully - let you in on a secret: you ain't seen nothing yet.
It has been speculated that this installment of the Star Wars Saga might closely resemble Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. It is after all the second in a trilogy - and from the previews looked to be much darker than the first. The speculation is completely correct as we find Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and (now) Senator Padme Amidala reunited ten years after the battle for Naboo against the dastardly Trade Federation. It is a dark time for the Republic - thousands of systems have joined a separatist group led by the mysterious ex-Jedi Count Dooku (played with a sinister calm by Christopher Lee from Lord of the Rings). The Senate is to vote on creating a grand army to fight the separatists (it seems the Jedi are too few to be effective) but it is divided on the issue and Senator Amidala is right in the thick of the debate.
If it sounds like we're heading down the same old path as Episode I, take heart. Yes, there are Senate disputes, Trade Federation droid armies and a certain Gungan who's now an ambassador (but the general masses should rest easy, Jar Jar Binks has little to do with anything). Instead, one should know at the heart of this story is the subplot of the young man who will become the Dark Lord of the Sith: Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader)
Young Anakin, as we know, is the Padawan apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi. As one might have guessed he is incredibly skilled when it comes to the force and a superior pilot. Obi-Wan tries his hardest to teach Anakin the correct way of doing things - the way of the Jedi Council, but Anakin is far too stubborn and headstrong. The dynamic between these two characters - and the two actors that play them (Hayden Christensen (Life as a House and Ewan McGregor (Episode One, Moulin Rouge) is wonderfully written. At times their relationship is playful and at others stormy - you really feel that Anakin resents Obi-Wan, feels he's holding him back. Obi-Wan playfully teases Anakin in one scene when he quips "You?ll be the death of me." And that says enough.
In The Phantom Menace the actors seemed to run around in their respective parts just reciting lines straight from the page - acting as if they still couldn't believe they were part of it all. Perhaps they were awestruck, perhaps they were just dry, but this has changed with Attack of the Clones. The casting of Hayden Christensen as Anakin was brilliant. The guy is perfect for this part and seems unfazed by the enormity of it all. He brings a dark handsomeness to the role that few others would have - and since he's not well known (as opposed to say Samuel L. Jackson who reprises his role as Mace Windu) he's able to stretch himself out and fall into character much easier. Even if this movie had been a Phantom Menace repeat, Christensen could have saved things with his portrayal alone.
Natalie Portman (The Phantom Menace, The Professional) returns as Padme Amidala - the Queen of Naboo in Episode One, she's now the Senator who represents the planet. I felt it was a shame the first time around when most of her lines felt wooden. She's a very talented actress - She's given so much more to do in this film and is rarely painted up like some grand porcelain china doll. Her warmth and her natural beauty will melt your heart and the feelings of love felt between her and Anakin (remember, this is a 'love story') never feel forced or awkward. Instead, they gently flow as the story progresses.
Thank the maker for Ewan McGregor who returns as Obi-Wan Kenobi. McGregor is also able to stretch out in his role and truly becomes the 'Ben Kenobi' that we all know. His humor is spot on, and his (now bearded) glowing smile makes you want to root and cheer for his character.
Without giving away too much plot as I continue - I worry A LOT about spoiling this film for those of you who haven't seen it - it should be known (and can be found out from the trailer) that there is a grand army of clones being replicated in the likeness of Jango Fett (Temeura Morrison, Vertical Limit) the most feared and cunning bounty hunter in the galaxy. Jango happens to be the father of another famous bounty hunter from the original trilogy. The Jedi Council decide to send Obi-Wan to solve a puzzling assassination attempt of a certain Senator - where he runs into overwhelming facts and clues on the planet Kamino and then Geonosis. Obi-Wan plays a part in several key battles in Attack of the Clones that will leave fans of the Darth Maul lightsaber battle from Episode One speechless.
Meanwhile, Anakin (who has been having recurring nightmares about his mother's fate) is assigned to protect Senator Amidala at all costs. Excited to be out from under the discriminating eyes of Obi-Wan, he throws himself into the mission falling deeper in love with Padme as she develops her own feelings towards him. Several key characters make appearances along the way - the aforementioned Jar Jar Binks (who returns in a minor role - however important it turns out to be), Chancellor Palpatine (who continues to woo Anakin and stroke his ego as he promises him he'll be "the most powerful Jedi ever"), Yoda, Mace Windu and Watto the Junk dealer. Other newcomers include Jimmy Smits (NYPD Blue) as Senator Bail Organa (the future foster-father of Leia Organa), and we meet 'uncle' Owen Lars and 'aunt' Beru Whitesun. Smits is quite convincing in what little he's given.
Another welcome addition is the return of C-3P0 and R2-D2. They (along with Chewbacca) provided 90% of the comic relief in the original films and now that they're back to their old ways it leaves little room for other inane characters to pop up and ruin the mood.
I won't go further in plot details. If that's what you're looking for you can find it at any number of sites on the net. I'll tell you that faith can fully be restored in this Saga. The special effects are downright dazzling. Sure, it's still CGI - but on many occasions you'd never notice it. There's no potty humor (e.g. Jar Jar stepping in dung or being farted on) - and the script is fast paced and keeps you guessing. The fight scenes are the edge-of-your-seat kind. Even old friends like Master Yoda have a few tricks (and a lightsaber) up their sleeves. Most importantly, one realizes at the end that things are very much coming full circle. Anakin skirts too close to the dark side on many occasions and completely oversteps those bounds in one very frightening moment (a moment no Star Wars fan will ever forget). Loose ends are tied up, and you really begin to understand how necessary the many tedious moments in Episode One were.
And so the young boy who was raised on Star Wars has finally found a film that he deems worthy of those before it. Now that the credits of Attack of the Clones have rolled, he can go home and rummage through those old figures and know with certainty that his beloved Star Wars saga is very much back on track. George Lucas has in fact, struck back.
Is Attack of the Clones better than its predecessor The Phantom Menace? With all my heart and soul I can scream a resounding "YES!!!" This is the movie that millions had hoped for in Phantom Menace. This is the one that delves into character development and people and places that we learn to care deeply about. This is the one that truly correlates with the original three episodes. Is this the one you've been waiting for? Yes, and you will find that out come May 16th.
May the force be with you, always.
OVERALL GRADE: A+
Movie Mood: Action Movie
Viewing Method: Studio Screening/Premiere
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing