STAR WARS: EPISODE II- ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
(Directed by George Lucas)
(Written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales)
(Starring Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor)
Plot: Anakin Skywalker (now played by Hayden Christensen) has ‘grown’ into a (troubled) young man, training to be a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). They are assigned to protect Senator Padme (Natalie Portman) when it becomes apparent that someone is attacking her, but Anakin starts finding himself falling in love with her, threatening his status as a Jedi.
I have a skeleton in my closet and next to that skeleton lies some childhood appreciation for “Star Wars: Episode 2- Attack of the Clones“…and that fills me with shame…I wish I could blame my age, because I would’ve only been 16 years old and practically anything bombastic would’ve impressed me, but I had already begun rejecting “The Phantom Menace“- so why not its sequel? I suppose when you look through the lens of 2002, “Attack of the Clones” would’ve been stunning to look at and my issues with “The Phantom Menace” tended to be along the lines of ‘it’s boring and not Star Wars-y enough’… I had yet to grasp all the problems with the acting, script, tone, direction, pacing and didn’t realize how badly 90’s CGI would age. I just wanted more light sabers, storm troopers and a visual style more akin to the original trilogy, all of which “Attack of the Clones” provided. It wasn’t until my second viewing- when it was released on video- that my joy began to rot. Now I was paying more attention to the tedious love story, although I can’t claim that I mind was finally developing legitimate critiquing abilities, as all love stories were tedious for me at that time. And while I would revisit “Star Wars“, “The Empire Strikes Back” and even “The Return of the Jedi” from time to time, I had no desire to bother with “Attack of the Clones“…
“Attack of the Clones” is both a superior movie AND Star Wars prequel than “The Phantom Menace“, although I am aware that opinions are divided in terms of which is the lesser of two evils. I guess I can understand why some people would disagree with me, but I view this as an objective fact: “Attack of the Clones” is just ‘better’…albeit in the same way that being kicked in the balls is ‘better’ than castration…The first episode attempted a marriage between live action sets and CGI, but the end result was a divorce because the real sets only made the CGI look phony. “Attack of the Clones” primarily uses digital effects for everything, which resulted in the film having a cartoonish visual style that probably would’ve felt more comfortable within a video game or CG animation- something which many critics have used as a criticism. I am one of those people and the reliance on CGI is just another reason why the original trilogy is better, but at least the special effects here are more consistent than what Episode 1 showcased. I won’t say any of the visuals are convincing, but I wasn’t taken out of the movie AS MUCH because the creatures and backgrounds all feel like they belong together. The CGI still looks passable for the most part, although even modern day trainwrecks such as “The Fantastic Four (2015)” make “Attack of the Clones” feel outdated. The planet, vehicle, prop and race designs are still pretty bland- especially compared to the original trilogy- and the racist caricatures are still offensive (although not as prominent). But at least the lighting, editing, score and shot composition shares more similarities with the original trilogy than “The Phantom Menace” did. I felt like I was watching a real Star Wars movie and not just a movie that was calling itself Star Wars, although don’t confuse ‘real’ with ‘good’.
One of the problems with “The Phantom Menace” is that George Lucas was experimenting with a technology that was relatively new and everyone struggled adapting to this digital era of filmmaking. The actors all look like they had no idea what they were supposed to be looking at or reacting to and the camerawork was mostly motionless and dull. By now, the actors seem like they have a ‘better’ grasp on interacting with special effects that they cannot see, although I still won’t call the performances good. They’re just not quite as bad. Lucas shows a little more excitement as the director, with the action being smoother and more exciting…I want to emphasize my use of the word ‘more’, as I don’t necessarily think that the action sequences are amazing. But they aren’t as boring, so baby steps. More importantly, “Attack of the Clones” paces every individual scene more evenly, allowing us to appreciate the atmosphere, scenery and music. The visuals aren’t aren’t as claustrophobic and I was never struggled with keeping up with what was happening on-screen. “The Phantom Menace” crammed too many special effects into scenes which moved so quickly that you could never really appreciate them. You can still make the argument that the first episode is more tolerable because you don’t have as much time to pay attention to the obsolete effects, but I grew exhausted with it long before the end credits rescued me from boredom. “Attack of the Clones” does eventually run out of steam, but doesn’t move too fast or too slow until around the 3rd act. The finale is where the CGI porn really begins to look silly, although a light saber wielding Yoda will never look convincing. But even worse than that, I was rapidly losing interest in what was happening, for reasons I shall explain in the next paragraph.
George Lucas still bombards the narrative with superfluous action sequences, one of the many nails that buried “The Phantom Menace“. A large chunk of screen-time will be dedicated to the heroes pursuing an assassin, who is promptly removed from the story by another assassin. Why is this here? Er, because…CGI. The conveyor belt battle was even more pointless, as it’s just…there…The only pay-off is having C-3PO’s head being removed and attached to a droid, which was obviously a *snicker* major plot point. Apparently there is a deleted scene that does give this event more relevancy by revealing that Anakin and Padme are being executed because of ‘all the innocent people they killed’- which sounds hilarious. But without that, it’s just padding. I remember enjoying ‘Obi-Wan Vs Jango Fett’ as a teen and it probably is the coolest fight, but the excessive explosions that don’t seem to be hurting Obi-Wan was snicker inducing. With that said, ‘Dooku vs Yoda’ easily upstages that in the hilarity department- which is problematic as I think this was supposed to be taken seriously. Otherwise, the final battle between Dooku, Anakin and Obi-Wan was pretty good if you ignore the obvious use of body doubles. I liked seeing Anakin wield two light sabers and the choreography was scaled down to be a little more realistic. At least this time, I felt like the combatants were actually trying to hurt each-other. Unfortunately, the momentum was deflated when Dooku cuts off Anakin’s arm and it’s treated like the amputation was not a big deal. Remember when Luke lost his hand in “The Empire Strikes Back“? That looked painful and we felt the agony and despair of the character. But I don’t remember any real reaction from Anakin or anyone else. He just lost an arm…Act hurt! Act horrified! ACT! Where is all the drama!? As awful as Hayden Christensen is, I can’t blame him because Lucas doesn’t give him a chance to show any emotion. This is why it’s impossible to make a real connection to the Star Wars prequels. The characters don’t show a lot of emotion in tense or tragic moments, so we don’t feel any sense of danger or loss. The tone is steadier than it was in “The Phantom Menace” and was mostly consistent until shortly before the 3rd act. Once they arrive at Tattooine, the content becomes much darker and more disturbing…only to bring back ‘funny’ C-3PO…Within 10 minutes or so, attempted comedy rears its ugly head and this BADLY contrasted with the genocide, implied torture and child murder we had just witnessed. Actually, I take that back, as even “The Phantom Menace” never jerked me around that much. This one only took longer before the conflicting tones became apparent. All of this lead to me being emotionally detached from the narrative and the finale is where I…just…crashed…What was supposed to be the most exciting part of the movie ended up boring me.
Here is some silver lining for you: The characters have finally begun to develop characterizations. Anakin and Padme are no longer glorified plot devices and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is actually beginning to show some personality. Even Yoda taps into his humorous side for a scene, although Samuel Jackson’s Mace Windu is still far too boring for a Samuel Jackson character. Unfortunately, these new character attributes also end up making the majority of the characters unsympathetic. The romance is…just…horrid. Ignore the fact that Hayden Christensen had yet to develop any real acting ability at this time and the fact that the dialogue is lucky if it achieves ‘so bad, it’s good’ status. I think “The Phantom Menace” had more memorable bad lines, but this one has a lot more bad lines. The problem is that Anakin is pining for a girl he barely even knows and is coming across as a sexual predator in his efforts to woo her. His attempts to convey his feelings are creepy, which isn’t helped by Padme’s disturbed facial expressions. Anakin himself is just a cry baby and my favorite scene is when he’s ranting about Obi-Wan, because it comes out of nowhere and Natalie Portman’s portrays Padme like she’s unimpressed. And yet in the end it turns out she ‘loved him all along’. Did she fall in love with him during “The Phantom Menace“? Because that’s just…unsettling, but at least little Anny had a more endearing personality than his grown-up self. You can’t totally sympathize with her struggling with the unwanted advances of a rapist-in-the-making when she’s taking him to all these romantic areas and dressing in such sexy outfits. Most of their interactions are awkward because one is either being rude (Anakin), childish (Anny, again) or condescending (Padme), but then they will be all smiles during the next scene. Did I ever feel like they were developing or that their relationship was growing? Absolutely not! The romance is supposed to be the core of this story, so its failure means that “Attack of the Clones” cannot be a good movie- regardless of everything else. As for the villains, Christopher Lee is wasted as Count Dooku. His performance is dignified, but he isn’t used very much. Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) is alright, but his ending is incredibly anti-climactic. Once again, the character writing is better than what “Phantom Menace” delivered, but it’s still pretty bad.
The storyline is pretty dumb and you will find yourself asking many questions, such as “Why is the assassin hiring a less skilled assassin to do his job?“. The villains plans seem unnaturally convoluted and unnecessarily risky, although the heroes are also prone to idiotic decisions. There’s a lot of conflicting information, which tells me Lucas no longer understands how his universe works. But as dumb as this plot is, at least I could follow it. That puts it another step above “The Phantom Menace“, but for the most part, everything about “Attack of the Clones” is a step up above “The Phantom Menace“. George Lucas seems to have gotten used to properly utilizing CGI and possibly even listened to the criticisms directed at Episode 1. But these improvements weren’t enough to make “Attack of the Clones” good as much as they made it…less bad. I was mostly indifferent throughout my viewing experience, but I wasn’t raging or sleeping. “Star Wars- Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” does not hold up very well, but it’s not as terrible as I feared it would be. If this was the first episode, I’d probably be a lot angrier, but following “The Phantom Menace” is the best thing that can possibly happen to any sequel! I remember enjoying “Star Wars- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and it is generally considered to be the ‘best’ of the original trilogy…but will my opinions remain the same? Stay tuned…
Violence: PG- although some of the implications surrounding the violence is startling.
Nudity: None, although Anakin acts like a pervert.
Overall: “Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones” is pretty weak, but at least it is better than its more infamous predecessor. I’m going to be a little generous with the rating, but I might change it depending on what I feel about the 3rd entry in the prequel saga. Maybe it deserves a 1.5/4 star rating, but I’m being soft because of how much I hated its predecessor.