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"Star Wars - Episode II" review: The Force is barely with "Clones"

Star Wars - Episode II: Attack of the Clones

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

McGregor, who strongly resembles Sir Alec Guinness, is also Classic "Star Wars" Trilogy supporting actor Denis Lawson's nephew.
McGregor, who strongly resembles Sir Alec Guinness, is also Classic "Star Wars" Trilogy supporting actor Denis Lawson's nephew.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Directed by George Lucas

Written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales

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

The “Star Wars” Trilogies follow a basic three-act structure, just as most movies and stage plays do. The first act introduces the characters, the situations, and some of the backstory. The second, which is usually the most interesting, is where most of the plot’s conflict and drama take place. The third act shows how the characters resolve (or don’t) the previous act’s issues and – usually- serves as the story’s conclusion.

If “Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace” is the Prequel Trilogy’s expository first act, 2002’s “Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones” is where the saga’s story reaches its dramatic turning point. Like in the Classic Trilogy’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” a young Jedi-in-training named Skywalker holds the destiny of the galaxy in his hands. As the Galactic Republic teeters on the edge of civil war, everything hinges on whether Anakin follows the ways of the Jedi Order – or if his emotional attachment to those he loves will lead him down a darker path.

A Jedi Shall Not Know Anger. Nor Hatred. Nor Love.

Set 10 years after the events of “The Phantom Menace,” the fifth “Star Wars” film tells us that the once-stable Republic is coming apart. Corruption, inept politicians, and the central government’s inability to maintain order have caused thousands of star systems to secede from the Republic. Under the leadership of Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a charismatic former Jedi Master, this Confederacy of Independent Systems poses a dangerous challenge to the Republic and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Civil war seems inevitable, and the 10,000 knights of the Jedi Order find themselves stretched too thin to cope with the impending conflict.

To assist the Jedi in their efforts to maintain peace and justice in the galaxy, the loyalist faction in the Senate proposes the creation of a standing army for the Republic. However, some Senators, including Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), believe that the Military Creation Act will spark a war with the Separatists.

When Padme arrives on Coruscant, the Republic’s capital world, to vote against the Military Creation Act, her starship is attacked by a mysterious assassin. Padme escapes uninjured, but her body double is killed and many others aboard the ship are injured.

Apparently shocked and alarmed by the attempt on Padme’s life, Palpatine expresses his determination to hold the galaxy together, no matter what the cost.

Palpatine: I will not let this Republic, which has stood for a thousand years, be split in two. My negotiations will not fail.

Mace Windu: If they do, you must realize there aren't enough Jedi to protect the Republic. We're keepers of the peace, not soldiers.

The Chancellor also professes his concern for his former Queen’s safety. He suggests that the Jedi Knights place her under their protection:

Palpatine: Master Jedi, may I suggest the Senator be placed under the protection of your graces.

Sen. Bail Organa: You really think that is a wise decision during these stressful times?

Padme: Chancellor, if I may comment, I do not believe...

Palpatine: The situation is that serious? Oh, but I do, Senator. I realize all too well that additional security might be disruptive for you, but... perhaps someone you're familiar with. An old friend, like... Master Kenobi.

Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) is inexplicably uneasy, but Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are thus assigned to protect Padme.

Obi-Wan, who is conservative and cautious, tells Padme that he and Anakin will act as bodyguards and cooperate fully with Capt. Typho (Jay Laga’aia), the Senator’s head of security. The impetuous and headstrong Anakin, however, has other ideas. He wants to investigate the assassination plot, find the killer, and discover who else is involved.

Obi-Wan disagrees, sparking a heated discussion with his young apprentice. He chastises Anakin sternly and the matter is temporarily dropped. But when bounty hunter Zam Wessel (Leeanna Walsman) makes a second attempt on Padme’s life, Obi-Wan and his Padawan must pursue her across much of the city-planet. After a harrowing airspeeder chase, the Jedi catch Zam, but she’s killed by a mysterious armored figure before she can tell them the name of the bounty hunter who hired her.

The Jedi Council, disturbed by this turn of events, sends Anakin to escort Padme to her home on Naboo. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is assigned to follow any clues to uncover the identity of the unknown bounty hunter - and who else may be involved in the recent assassination attempts.

My Take

To its credit, “Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones” features incredible set piece action sequences and good visual effects. It sets the stage for the pivotal Clone Wars which will transform the Republic into the evil Empire and plants the seeds for Anakin’s eventual fall to the dark side. It delves into the origin of the enigmatic bounty hunter Boba Fett, and introduces the silkily treacherous Count Dooku.

But even though “Attack of the Clones” is marginally better than “The Phantom Menace,” the second chapter in the Prequel Trilogy is a talky, ponderous, and cliché-ridden film that lacks much of the Original “Star Wars” Trilogy’s comic book wit and style.

Yes, George Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Hales take the characters (and the audience) to familiar worlds (Tatooine, Coruscant, and Naboo) as well as new ones (Kamino, the watery home world of the galaxy’s best cloners, and Geonosis, the Separatists’ hidden battle droid factory world). They also depict spaceship chases, massive ground battles, and several lightsaber duels, including one between Master Yoda and Count Dooku.

Action this film has, as Yoda might say, but “Attack of the Clones” is also saddled with the stiffest dialogue of the “Star Wars” saga.

Part of the problem is that many of the lines are there to serve as expository material or to move the plot forward. This is sometimes necessary; the title crawl doesn’t tell us that 10 years have passed between Episodes. No, we only learn this because Hayden Christensen’s Anakin says it’s been 10 years since he last saw Padme.

More often than not, however, much of the dialogue is devoted to explaining plot points or political discussions about the dire state of the galaxy. Perhaps this is necessary on some level, but Lucas and Hales give their characters lines that are flat, uninvolving, and almost lawyerly at times.

The weakest scenes, sadly, are the ones that focus on the forbidden romance between Padme and Anakin.

Even though “Star Wars” is a space opera and not “Gone With the Wind,“ it’s obvious that “Attack of the Clones” would have worked better if Lucas had convinced Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay. Kasdan, who rewrote the script for “Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” after Leigh Brackett’s death, writes lines like:

Han Solo: Hey, Your Worship, I'm only trying to help.

Princess Leia: Would you please stop calling me that?

Han Solo: Sure, Leia.

Princess Leia: You make it so difficult sometimes.

Han Solo: I do, I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. Come on, admit it. Sometimes you think I'm all right.

Princess Leia: Occasionally, maybe... when you aren't acting like a scoundrel.

Han Solo: Scoundrel? Scoundrel? I like the sound of that.

While “The Empire Strikes Back” is not on the same cinematic level as “Casablanca,” Kasdan’s dialogue has more style, humor, and wit than that written by Lucas and Hales:

Anakin: From the moment I met you, all those years ago, not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you. And now that I'm with you again... I'm in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you- I can't breathe. I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating... hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me... what can I do?- I will do anything you ask.

[uncomfortable pause]

Anakin: ... if you are suffering as much as I am, PLEASE, tell me.

Clearly, this is not the galactic equivalent of “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s overwrought, clunky, and not memorable at all.

The movie’s saving grace is that it shows some of the insidious influence that Chancellor Palpatine has on the impressionable Anakin. The young Jedi apprentice and the clever politician with a hidden agenda only share a few scenes in “Attack of the Clones,” but they foreshadow how Anakin is lured to the dark side by the future Emperor:

Palpatine: You don't need guidance, Anakin. In time, you will learn to trust your feelings. Then, you will be invincible. I have said it many times, you are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met.

Anakin: Thank you, Your Excellency.

Palpatine: I see you becoming the greatest of all the Jedi, Anakin. Even more powerful than Master Yoda.

All in all, while “Attack of the Clones” is not the worst of the “Star Wars” movies, it’s not the Prequel Trilogy equivalent of “The Empire Strikes Back.” There are some thematic and visual similarities, just as there are echoes of “A New Hope” in “The Phantom Menace.” But, with the exception of John Williams’ score, several exciting action set pieces, and the lightsaber duels in the film’s climax, “Star Wars – Episode II” is surprisingly lead-footed and overwrought.

Star Wars: The Prequel Trilogy Blu-ray Specs

Includes:The Phantom Menace / Attack of the Clones / Revenge of the Sith

Formats: Blu-ray + DVD

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Years of Original Theatrical Release: 1999-2005

Total Running Time: 419 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Date of Release : October 8, 2013

Video
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
French: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
French: DTS 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Discs
50GB Blu-ray Disc
Six-disc set (3 BDs, 3 DVDs)
DVD copy

Packaging
Slipcover in original pressing

Playback
Region free