Continuing on my series of “Star Wars” reviews we have reached the second chapter (chronologically) “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”. Which like “Phantom Menace” for me holds many redeeming aspects and is very watchable. Granted that’s not how you want to start off talking about a “Star Wars” movie but ultimately (like “Phantom Menace”) we are years past the release, no hype, no nothing interfering viewing this film with a fresher set of eyes. Also like “Phantom Menace” this is one of the weakest entries in the saga but however I don’t find this nearly as bad as some make it out to be.
“Attack of the Clones” takes place ten years after the events of “Phantom Menace”. Anakin is now a padawan to Obi-Wan Konobi, Padme is serving as senate of Naboo, and the entire Galaxy is facing political upheaval. Increasingly star systems splinter off from the Republic. Tensions continue to mount for the Republic and the increasingly larger Separatist cause, all propelled by Count Dooku (a former Jedi). An assassination is attempted on Padme which forces Anakin to take her off world and go into hiding. Obi-Wan meanwhile heads off to investigate the identity of her assassin. What follows is a greater secret that could lead the Galaxy into a full scale war. While Anakin has mounting feelings for Padme….something that is forbidden as a Jedi.
George Lucas wisely keeps the plot of the movie moving here. Lucas doesn’t divert the story for long periods of time like he did “Phantom Menace”. Here the story focuses on two thing, mystery and love. Our two main characters Obi-Wan and Anakin both have their own story threads that flow well in and out of each other. While there is still much discussion and political talk sprinkled in throughout the film, Lucas wisely keeps it in small bites instead big long sections where the movie grinds to a complete halt. Obi-Wan’s end of the story keep the intrigue up as we learn about the clone army, some past Jedi and large expansion of the “Star Wars” mythos.
While Anakin and Padme’s storyline is a bit more…well let’s just say wooden. With a central theme of the plot being about forbidden love the movie rests on the shoulders of you (the audience) buying into the relationship. The problem though is the romantic dialogue is very wooden and stale. The two actors (Hayden Christenson and Natalie Portman) have decent chemistry. I imagine it’d be a lot better had the dialogue been better written. However some of it comes across as awkward and stilted. The romance is fine, it serves the purposes of the story (it’s far better than Natalie Portman’s other romance in “Thor” which is just horrendous). Then again this is a big weakness of the film as a whole.
Dialogue is the movie’s biggest Achilles heel. Film is a visual medium you don’t need to say or explain everything. Lucas’s dialogue has a tendency to come across as wooden and some of it needed to be cut out or just toned down. His visuals once again are stunning on screen but it’s almost as if Lucas is afraid to leave character’s feelings to the audience’s hands. It’s like he doesn’t trust us to be able to figure out how the characters are feeling just by looking at them visually. So, he feels the need for the characters to say aloud how they are feeling which doesn’t always feel natural.
Perhaps the best scene in the entire film is one with very little dialogue. Anakin has been searching for his mother, captured by Tusken Raiders. He eventually tracks them down and finds his mother in one of the huts. She dies in his arms. The scene runs the gambit of showing off Anakin’s sadness but then his sudden rage. Hayden’s ability to act shines here when he doesn’t have to face the challenges of combating the tricky dialogue. You see the hints and shades of the dark side in his performance that will eventually lead to his turn to the dark side as Anakin slays an entire village of Tusken Raiders.
“Attack of the Clones” does have plenty of moments like this that stick in your mind and make it a fun and sometimes engrossing watch. The action is all shot with a steady hand by Lucas and the visual effects were groundbreaking for the time. Like “Phantom Menace” some of the early green screen effects are really starting to show it’s age but a lot of it still looks very good. Of course like many other fans I would have preferred practical sets. However something a lot don’t understand is back when the original “Star Wars” films were coming out they were pushing the boundaries of special effects. When the prequels came along, Lucas continued to pursue that ground breaking aspirations. The CGI and green screen/blue screen effects were revolutionary for its time. Now am I saying I prefer the CGI sets to the practical ones? No, but when many critique his choice to I don’t know if many understand the context of his choices.
I digress though. The movie’s action moments will thrill and entertain you. The chase through the asteroid field is so well executed from the direction to the sound design. The Battle of Geonosis is captivating. The lightsaber duel though is a bit of a letdown. While it’s not a bad one or anything like that, it’s short and has some strange directional choices by Lucas. Count Dooku played by Christopher Lee is a well chosen actor to play the newest Sith Lord. Of course he continues the linage of former Hammer Horror actors in the “Star Wars” series that starts as far back as the original 1977 “Star Wars” with Peter Cushing. Is he as good as Darth Maul? Sadly no but Christopher Lee makes for a fabulous on screen presence (anyone whose seen “Lord of the Rings” knows that already).
While this once again has many weaknesses and flaws (like it’s previous counterpart) I find “Star Wars Episode II- Attack of the Clones” to be a superior entry to “The Phantom Menace”. The story is more interesting, the acting is a bit better (I won’t say light years though, no pun intended), the set pieces are memorable and the visuals even more spectacular. The sight of hundreds of Jedi throwing down against a droid army is almost alone worth the price of admission. Now if the dialogue was about half as good the spectacle…