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Movie Review: Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones

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Released by Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox Films

Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen

Running Time: 134 minutes

Directed by George Lucas


After the deservedly dismal reception The Phantom Menace received, anyone not a diehard Star Wars fanboy wanted the second installment of Lucas' space opera epic to impress them. We're definitely a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately crowd, and in the 19 years since Return of the Jedi, Lucas had done little to whet our appetites, short of coming out with countless cadres of action figures. What of Attack of the Clones, then?

It's definitely worth seeing.

Orders of magnitude better than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones shines in places its predecessor did not. The lightsaber fighting is better, which is hard to believe until you see it. The Phantom Menace showed us that saber duels are not always 75-year-old men against guys in heavy rubber suits, and Attack of the Clones extends that motif.

I'll try to be as spoiler-free with the plot synopsis as possible, since this is a movie I've found people don't want spoiled until they go see it.

Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman), the former Queen of Naboo (though bounced from office after her two-term limit was up . . . uh, ok) is the victim of an assassination attempt. The Jedi council, led by Yoda (all CGI this time, though still voiced by Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) deploy Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his brash Padawan, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to protect Amidala. Anakin is particularly happy about this, since he has pined for Amidala ever since parting from her a decade ago.

Just why Amidala is such a target when there are hundreds of other Senators who don't support the separatist movement is unclear, but no one ever said George Lucas wasn't a haphazard storyteller.

Another assassination attempt leads to a visually-stunning chase sequence. Obi-Wan tracks down a weapon to the bounty hunter Jango Fett (yes, that Fett). He journeys to a "lost" planet and observes a clone army apparently commissioned by another Jedi a decade ago. Jango Fett escapes, though, leading Obi-Wan on a chase thru an asteroid field. It just wouldn't be a Star Wars movie without some kind of space chase involving asteroids, would it?

While Obi-Wan is away, Anakin is under orders to take Amidala back to her home planet of Naboo and keep her safe. He has other plans for her, though, and this is where the terribly overwrought love story element comes into the picture. Amidala rejects Anakin's advances initially, then finds herself being drawn in more and more. Anakin has a problem, though: he can sense his mother in terrible pain and danger. So against the orders of the Jedi Council, he takes Amidala back to Tattooine.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan stumbles onto the plans for the Separtist's droid army. On Tattooine, Anakin finds his mother dead at the hands of a tribe of Tuskan raiders. I won't spoil what happens next, but let's just say Anakin builds up a few Dark Side points. He and the council learn of Obi-Wan's capture by separatist Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, dignified despite his character's dreadful name). Of course, Anakin and Amidala go to rescue Obi-Wan, and of course, they end up captured right alongside him.

The Galactic Senate can do little to intervene, except for an emergency vote to give broad powers to Chancellor Palpatine. He accepts them with the expected humility, and makes plans to lead the Senate into war against the Separatists and the Trade Federation.

Mace Windu leads a battalion of Jedi to free Obi-Wan while Yoda goes to learn more about the clone army. The "execution" of the three captives is silly from start to finish (though the tribute to stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen was a nice touch), and they escape. A huge fight ensues, with the Jedi against an armada of droids. A lot of the droids are destroyed, but the Jedi lose many of their numbers, also. The clone army, in full Stormtrooper regalia, arrives to join the battle.

Count Dooku is pursued by Obi-Wan and Anakin. More dazzling lightsaber battles ensue. Dooku doesn't have Darth Mual's double-bladed saber, but his does feature a unique hilt. Yoda even gets involved, in a scene that really has to be seen to be believed. If you see Attack of the Clones for no other reason, see it for the lightsaber battle between Dooku and Yoda.

This movie has its faults, though. Chief among them is the execution of the love story. I would be in favor of the execution of whatever horribly out-of-touch misanthrope wrote the dialog for it. Here's one of Anakin's lines to Amidala: "I hate sand. It's rough and coarse, and it gets everywhere. Not like you . . . you're soft and smooth." I wasn't the only one in the theatre groaning at that one. People simply don't talk like that, and I doubt they ever really have. Hayden Christensen was decent as Anakin, except during the love story segments; since he had so little to work with, I really can't fault him for it.

The usual breakdown:


The Good:

The lightsaber battles are worth the price of admission. From Anakin (briefly) using two weapons to Yoda's entire sequence, these scenes have come a long way since anything the original trilogy offered.

In The Phantom Menace, the only character I liked or even cared about at all was Qui-Gon Jinn. Lucas did a much better job with the characters this time. They're not all made of cardboard in Attack of the Clones. Ewan McGregor is a likeable Obi-Wan – he's not Sir Alec Guiness yet, but he's close. I liked both Mace Windu and Count Dooku, but that was mostly attributable to the performances of Jackson and Lee. Anakin was interesting, and I think Hayden Christensen captured the crucible of emotions and conflict well. Except for the romance aspect, of course. Natalie Portman is amazingly easy to look at, but Amidala doesn't really get interesting until about halfway thru the movie. Once we see where Leia gets her spunk and fighting spirit, Amidala is quite a likeable character.

As expected from Lucas and ILM, the special effects are very good. There were a few moments the CGI was obvious, but they were few and far between. A lot of the visuals were stunning and spectacular; while they distracted from the thin story of The Phantom Menace, they augment the meatier story of Attack of the Clones.

The hated Jar-Jar Binks was only in the movie for about eight minutes. The comic relief this time is supplied by C-3PO, in a customary role.


The Bad:

While it was good to see C-3PO back in his usual role, the puns written for him were absolute groaners. I think one got a chuckle.

For a movie based around the idea of a clone war, the clone army did surprisingly little fighting.

This has bugged me since The Phantom Menace: why do the Jedi WANT someone to "bring balance to the Force." That's only mentioned once in this film, but it's still irritating. Let's see . . . 10,000 Jedi vs 2 Sith, and the Jedi want balance? I know movie heroes are supposed to be stupid, but come on.

"Dooku" is a terrible name for the movie's chief antagonist. I kept thinking of "Dookie" every time I heard it, and when your main villain draws comparisons to a turd, something's wrong.


The Ugly:

Jar-Jar is still in the movie. In his patsy role, he basically ends up being responsible for the creation of the Empire, and I have a severe problem with that.

I can't say enough bad things about the love story elements. I didn't mind their inclusion, just the way they were written and carried out. If Lucas had set out to put the worst-written, stiffest, cheesiest, most groan-inducing love scenes on camera, he succeeded; in fact, he may have surpassed himself. There's a reason the love-story trailer sucked, folks, and that's because that part of the movie blew chunks.

Anakin just isn't a likeable character. I think he's supposed to be, and it's a failure of the writing that he's not. Anakin just comes across as a petulant child, not someone whose turn to the Dark Side will be traumatic or devastating. This leaves Episode III for Lucas to build up Anakin as likeable, and considering he has to turn at some point during that film, I just don't see it happening. Darth Vader, I like; I just can't stand the young man he started out as.


Doing The Math:

In toto, this is much better than its predecessor, and worthy of being in the Star Wars pantheon. After the first trilogy, I'm not sure Lucas can live up to the expectations of anyone but the most slavish of fanboys. Attack of the Clones has its faults, but it is an enjoyable space opera, and leads nicely into what promises to be the darkest movie in the series. 7/10


Dr. Tom

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