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Yoda Unleashed

 

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

George Lucas, USA, 2002

Rating: 3.8

 

 

Posted: May 20, 2002

By Laurence Station

At heart, George Lucas is still a teenager of the late '50s and early '60s, enamored with drag races and soda shops. With the second episode in his immensely successful Star Wars saga, Attack of the Clones, Lucas continues to recast the memories of his youth onto the big screen in a galaxy far, far away. The hot rods that he paid homage to so fondly in 1973's American Graffiti are now digitized spaceships that whiz about with uncanny control, navigating asteroid fields and dodging missiles with skillful ease. The soda shop even makes an appearance in an early scene in Episode II, as intrepid Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, aging nicely into the role) pries information from a contact in a retro burger joint that one could easily envision the gang from Happy Days hanging out in.

Lucas' love of gadgets, technology and pushing the digital envelope will be his ultimate legacy. What he lacks in relating to human beings, he more than makes up for with his passionate devotion to meticulously crafted interstellar ships, exotic planets, alien races and robotic waitresses that roll about the old soda shop with well-oiled efficiency. Alas, the best Star Wars film, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, enjoyed director Irvin Kershner's insight into human emotion (not to mention Lawrence Kasdan's smart dialogue), coupled with Lucas' keen eye for special effects. That the last two, and first chronologically, were written and directed by Lucas invariably means a loss in the dialogue and actor direction departments. Fortunately, the technology that Lucas could only dream about in the early '70s has become reality, and thus Episode II and subsequent entries in the series will certainly raise the bar for high tech cinema. Lucas' wisest and most important decision, however, is the use of digital film. This is the future of the medium, even if only a handful of theaters are currently capable of displaying it. While the film transfer most moviegoers will witness pales in comparison to seeing the film on DVD, clearly the achievement is a landmark one for the art and possibilities of cinema.

Plot-wise, Episode II picks up ten years after the events in The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan and a now 20-year-old Anakin Skywalker (an earnest Hayden Christensen) have been charged by the higher-ups in the Jedi Order with protecting Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman, much looser this time around), no longer a queen but now a senator, who has been the target of several recent assassination attempts. As the now all-digital Yoda (still voiced by Frank Oz) ominously senses dark portents in the Force, Obi-Wan is sent to investigate a mysterious planet that's been erased from the star charts, while young Anakin accompanies Padmé back to her home planet of Naboo. While Obi-Wan discovers a secret army of clone warriors on the watery world of Kamino, Anakin and Padmé undergo the requisite courtship ritual that will eventually produce the twins Luke and Leia (heroes of the earlier-yet-later trilogy). The dialogue between the budding lovers is cripplingly bad, but even worse is the actors' utter lack of chemistry. Christensen and Portman might have gotten along famously off camera, but there are zero sparks between them onscreen, and their scenes drain momentum from an already deliberately paced (at points, ploddingly so) storyline.

Fortunately, we have Obi-Wan to follow around: his battle scenes with bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) and unearthing of not only a clone army, but a mechanized counterpart as well, keep the story from capsizing beneath exhaustive exposition and oft-leaden dialogue. McGregor truly appears comfortable in the role of Obi-Wan this time around (in contrast to Episode I), and his performance elevates the entire picture, giving it a grounded center amidst all the whiz-bang gadgetry and thunderous explosions.

The climactic showdown on the desolate, rust-colored world of Geonosis is riveting, especially when so many Jedi get to bust out their various lightsaber-sharp moves against an endless slew of foes. The absolute highlight, however, comes when Yoda shows off his physical prowess against chief baddie (and unfortunately named) Count Dooku (the always reliable Christopher Lee). Seeing Yoda bounce off of walls and kick butt is as ludicrously brilliant an image as one might imagine.

Despite serving as a bridge between the first and third episodes, Attack of the Clones manages to feel cohesive, while hinting at the darkness that will ultimately consume Anakin. Lucas handily captures the feel of 1930s-era serial films, and those, like this effort, are truly critic proof. If so inclined, one could nitpick Episode II to death, but what would be the point? Here's hoping George Lucas never loses the heart of a teenager. The rest of us should be so lucky.

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