Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Jimmy Smits, Rose Byrne
Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
Directed by: George Lucas
MPAA Rating: PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Running Time: 142
Date: 05/16/2002

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bad to the Clone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Watching Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, the fifth installment ofthe Star Wars series, dozens of moments catch you up and take your breathaway. We feel as if we're watching one of the exciting old serials or "B" moviesthat originally influenced George Lucas 25 years ago.

Yet, it's tough to escape the baggage that comes with this movie. The films are no longer innocent science fiction escape thrill rides. They now seem to take over everything, like you're watching the film underneath a giant, black tarp rich with significance. We've heard over and over how the film has affected fans on religious levels, how the politics in the film are some sort of allegory to our modern age, etc.

Not to mention that the vast length of the series (it will be almost 14 hours long when it's finished three years from now) seems to place it alongside such masterworks as Coppola's The Godfather trilogy or Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz.

The reason for this uneasy feeling comes from Lucas himself. During the first trilogy, it felt like he was living Orson Welles' dream, being a kid playing with the world's largest train set. Now it feels as if he's handing down stone tablets with commandments inscribed on them. He's hidden himself away form humanity for so long he's almost turned into a computer himself.

Indeed, one simply has to look at the human interaction in Attack of the Clones, which ranges from sweetly innocent to embarrassingly cloying. Poor Natalie Portman, reprising her role as Senator Padme Amidala, and Hayden Christensen playing a more grown-up Anakin Skywalker, barely seem to know how to deliver their lines, as if Lucas were just blankly staring at them, wondering how he can replace them with machines.

In this new film, someone has threatened Amidala's life, and it's up to Anakin and his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to find out whom. During this investigation, Obi-Wan discovers an army of clones ordered ten years ago by a (supposedly) dead member of the Jedi council. We also meet Boba Fett's father Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), who was the DNA donor for the clones.

Samuel L. Jackson, playing a Jedi master, has far more to do than in the disappointing The Phantom Menace, and the film earns big points by casting "B" movie legend Christopher Lee as bad guy Count Dooku (he has a lightsabre battle with Yoda that has to be seen to be believed).

Meanwhile, dirty politics play themselves out in the Senate, involving Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (a.k.a. Darth Sidious) (Ian McDiarmid) and none other than the annoying Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best).

The whole thing explodes in a battle between droids and clones, with humans stuck in the middle. It takes place in a Gladiator-like stadium and puts that Oscar-winner to shame with the extraordinary clarity and energy in this battle.

I suppose when it comes down to it, large portions of this movie thrilled me with their spectacular, breathtaking art direction and beautifully directed action scenes. Many of these sequences work if you can mentally make the connection between these characters and their warmer, far more interesting "future" counterparts. If you can imagine Alec Guinness during some of McGregor's scenes, you're bound to have a good time.

Yet it's probably too much to ask for Lucas to insert these things into the movie himself. It's as if he's succumbed to the Dark Side of the Force himself, caring more for technology than for the human spirit.

On the other hand, perhaps Lucas IS still focused on "B" movies and serials. How can he not be with ridiculous titles like The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones as well as that dialogue, which sounds like it came right out of a 1940s Republic serial? Not to mention the presence of Christopher Lee, a bona fide "B" movie star from days gone by.

It all comes down to time, I suppose. Perhaps future generations, left with nothing but the physical movies themselves will be able to see something fun and wonderful in them without the relentless, crushing hype.

DVD Details: This silly sequel combines astonishingly bad dialogue and stiff characterizations with equally astonishing visuals and set pieces, most memorably the lightsabre duel between Yoda and Christopher Lee. Yet I can't help thinking that writer/director George Lucas did some of this on purpose, as if the warmth and humor of the earlier (er... later) pictures come as a reaction to -- or a result of -- these stodgy stories. He also manages to get in a subtle dig at Bush's 2000 election swindle. The two-DVD set is predictably impressive -- with every imaginable extra tucked into its two shiny platters. The movie itself comes directly from its digital source -- no film was involved at any stage -- and looks truly amazing.

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