Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
directed by George Lucas
(LucasFilms/20th Century Fox, 2002)

George Lucas, I forgive you for the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, the second episode in Lucas's grand space opera, makes up for a host of ills in past efforts in the Star Wars saga. While there are certainly flaws, the movie is still a 150-minute thrill ride from start to finish.

It's hard to be surprised by the story -- after all, we know where it's going in episodes IV, V, VI -- but Lucas keeps it entertaining along the way, and there are enough plot twists to keep you guessing as you go. The acting in many scenes is wooden -- some cast members never found their stride -- and chunks of the script sound like Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Hales were trying too hard to pen "literature" instead of dialogue. There are no memorable lines in the movie, and even the now-classic "I have a bad feeling about this" sounds forced. The big romance is passionless and dull.

But to say Clones is visually spectacular is an understatement.

The immense scale and detail of the film's cityscapes is eye-popping. Planetary vistas, from Geonosis to Naboo, Coruscant to Tatooine, are magnificent. The special effects outshine anything Lucas has done before -- take for example the fluid movement of several high-speed chases, the vastness of the clone labs and droid factory floors, and the dangerous beauty of the asteroid field. The lightsaber duels and climactic battle scenes, featuring a computer-generated cast of thousands, are wonderfully staged and choreographed, easily besting previous efforts. And Yoda, the former muppet transformed into more expressive CGI, kicks major butt.

The plot, for those who haven't already memorized it, revolves around the development of young Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who appeared in Menace as a cute, earnest child and terrorized the trilogy as the menacing Darth Vader. His mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) sets off to investigate an assassination plot and the creation of a clone army, while Anakin protects Senator (former Queen) Amidala (Natalie Portman) from harm. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and the Jedi council strive to preserve the unity of the Republic, but their true enemy remains concealed.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) continues his machinations in a quest for supreme power, turning wheels within wheels as he sets various forces against each other. Allies in his plot include Count Dooku (a masterful Christopher Lee), a fallen Jedi, and the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison).

The movie is filled with familiar faces, including some from Phantom Menace and others who play important roles in the original trilogy, as well as a few welcome visits to familiar places. There is a great deal of foreshadowing (including a surprise peek at the future Death Star) and the brilliant John Williams score hammers home Anakin's steady progress towards the dark side.

The annoying alien Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best) makes mercifully few appearances. C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) reprise their classic Laurel and Hardy routine.

Yes, Clones has its share of flaws. The weak dialogue in particular would be fatal to many films, but Lucas hurdles its shortcomings and strikes back with dazzling eye candy, including dizzying nonstop action in the final sequences, to create a worthy successor in the Star Wars line. For many fans, Clones has reignited the excitement that has waned in recent years.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 25 May 2002

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