Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones

2002, PG-13, 143 min. Directed by George Lucas. Starring Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Pernilla August, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Christopher Lee, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 17, 2002

If you managed to catch the Sci-Fi Channel's recent Star Wars Fan Film Awards, during which George Lucas offered up an astonishingly serpentine and generally incomprehensible thank-you to the assorted SW fanatics who have swollen his coffers over the years, then you've already encountered the director's chief offense in Episode II. No longer content to merely entertain his audience, Lucas has become a terribly serious fellow indeed, peppering both his rambling Sci-Fi speech and his new film with great, mountainous walls of unnecessary, redundant exposition that act as a sort of filmic dike, holding back the furious, exultant tsunami of fun that was the Star Wars franchise's original (and thoroughly honorable) intent. There are whole stretches of the new film that sound as if they were lifted entirely from some socio-political graduate program on multiverse mythology; Mallory and Joseph Campbell have nothing on this Lucas guy. Still, the film's core audience (and I once counted myself among then) will not be put off by Episode II's narcolepsy-inducing bits. The political machinations between Senator Padmé Amidala (Portman, no longer looking like a refugee from The Mikado, thankfully) and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid), not to mention the New-Agey palaver of various Jedi Knights, are teeth-gnashingly oblique -- but I defy anyone to say that this installment arrives with any more than, say, a quarter of the first three films' juicy, space-hopping verve. Set 10 years after the events of Episode I, Episode II is actually film No. 4 in the series, making this not only a crash course in space-opera theatrics but also some sort of bizarre chronology quiz. Portman's Queen of Naboo is now a senator in the Republic, and unknown assassins are taking potshots at her every chance they get. McGregor's youngish Obi-Wan Kenobi is dispatched alongside future Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen), to protect the senator, and while Kenobi takes the mission seriously, all poor Anakin can seem to do is make moony eyes at Amidala and stare pensively at a green-screen sunrise. Along the way we are introduced to a young Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) and dad Jango (Morrison), the great Christopher Lee arrives in the form of the scheming (and poorly named) Count Dooku, and an army of robot clones wages battle against, well, pretty much everyone. Lucas' greatest strength still lies in his ability to conjure up some of the most thrilling battle sequences ever committed to film. In that respect, Attack of the Clones' final 35 minutes very nearly makes up for the preceding 105, featuring as it does the jaw-dropping spectacle of the entire Jedi Council battling it out with not only clones, but also lumbering monsters, space ships of all sorts, and each other. Fans will breathe a sigh of relief, too, to know that Yoda's much-heralded light-saber battle with Count Dooku is nowhere near as silly as many had feared, and the Stepin Fetchit antics of Jar Jar Binks are considerably more subdued than in the series' last outing. One planet-shaking battle can't save Episode II from its other weakest link, though: Anakin and Padmé's “love that dare not speak its name” feels not only false (the only sparks come from young Skywalker's saber battles), but poorly acted; Christensen plays the once and future heavy breather as a wandering N Sync backup dancer, and his pop-lite good looks, while nicely counterpointing his eventual fall from grace, only make you wish he'd get his face melted, already. The days when George Lucas had an ironic sense of humor appear to be long vanished, however, and Attack of the Clones, while rallying in its final third, is as talky and long-winded as the bickering Jedi Council.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones, George Lucas, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Jimmy Smits, Temuera Morrison, Pernilla August, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Christopher Lee, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor

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