STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES
The notion of "reviewing" an installment of the new Star Wars trilogy (the "prequels") may well be an exercise in futility. Surrounded with something more akin to religious fervor than fan worship, the Star Wars name carries with it a deep-rooted devotion and fascination that transcends every film, nay even entertainment, franchise in history. Sure you have your Trekkies, but the following behind Star Wars is different because the fanaticism is not particular to any one group-it's shockingly pervasive. If anything is testament to the power of the Star Wars name it's The Phantom Menace. The abysmal Episode I, an entirely forgettable affair made unbearable by the presence of the computer generated nightmare Jar Jar Binks, broke new ground at the box office. Not only were fans undeterred by the critical lashing the film received, many underwhelmed viewers went back for a second helping. More pop culture phenomenon than film, Attack of the Clones is a commendable follow-up to The Phantom Menace. Boasting a more enjoyable roster of special effects sequences, a more compelling storyline, and an almost Jar Jar Binks-free experience, Episode II is a much-needed step up from The Phantom Menace. That said, Lucas's second installment still lacks the magic he achieved the first time around. Suffering from more wooden characters (and actors) and a less intelligent script, the brilliance of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back is clearly a relic of a time long ago and far, far away.
Having grown into a wily and defiant teenage Jedi-in-training, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) is a long way from the little boy we saw in The Phantom Menace. Giving lip to his Jedi Master and teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Anakin is something of a loose canon. Set 10 years after the action in Episode I, Attack picks up as a Separatist movement is threatening The Republic. Threatened with an assassination attempt, Padme (Natalie Portman), the former Princess of Naboo and now a Senator, is given over to the able protection of Anakin and Obi-Wan. When Obi-Wan is called off to investigate the mysterious threat on the Senator's life, Anakin and Padme trot around the galaxy and, in the process, kindle an irrepressible romance.
Of course, the plot details of a Star Wars film are as about as important as the end credits. Here, as in all the other films, the action is propelled by your basic intergalactic civil war. Meaning everyone's fighting, the nebulous Dark Side is threatening to take over, and the good guys are trying to use The Force to overcome.
Like compelling footnotes to your favorite novel, Episode II is best at filling in the backstory on the beloved characters from the original films. Jokes are made which foretell characters' fates and various storylines unravel that tell the history behind much of what happens in the initial trilogy. In that way, Episode II is best for fans more interested in seeing a Star Wars movie than a good film.
And, aside from its irksome breakneck pacing (Lucas cuts so often that the film feels jumpy and forced), stilted dialog and stiff characters, the film is full of good chase scenes and a welcome return to the thing that put the Star Wars name on the map: great light saber battles.