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'Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones'

'Clones' poor copy of original adventure

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The dark side is taking over the "Star Wars" saga -- literally and figuratively.

 
 
'Star Wars:
Episode II - Attack of the Clones'

RATING: PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson.

DIRECTOR: George Lucas

WEB SITE: www.starwars.com/
episode-ii/

CRITIC'S CALL:


Figuring out The Force

As the fifth 'Star Wars' film emerges, here is a brief history of the saga

   
 

In "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones," Anakin Skywalker takes the first fateful step down that slippery slope where, at the bottom, Darth Vader awaits. The specter of war looms over the galaxy, and even the vaunted Jedi knights may not be able to prevent it.

Someone tries to kill Sen. Amidala, the former queen of Naboo, leading Obi-Wan Kenobi to some surprising discoveries and leaving Anakin alone to guard her, which might be the most fateful action of all.

As the second part of a trilogy, "Attack of the Clones" bears similarities to its counterpart in the original "Star Wars" three-pack, "The Empire Strikes Back." The tone is darker, the characters grow, the bad guys seem to have the upper hand.

But "Empire" has some of the saga's most striking action sequences and the most startling revelation in the entire series, that of Darth Vader's true identity.

"Clones" has nothing to match either of these elements and, for much of its length, too little of the spirit of the original "Star Wars" films -- the rousing adventure, the heroic swagger, the vivid characters, the sense of fun.

It seems like a better film than its immediate predecessor, "Episode I -- The Phantom Menace." But maybe it's because that movie lowered our expectations so much, or because Anakin is now a moody teen played by Hayden Christensen instead of a little kid portrayed by Jake Lloyd. Certainly, it helps that animated annoyance Jar Jar Binks is held to a minimum.

"Attack of the Clones" contains some spectacular visual elements -- as in "Episode I," the background vistas are often stunning. But we need something to look at because the first half of "Attack of the Clones" is filled with characters talking, even though it contains one sustained action sequence. Anakin and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) fly through the crowded skies and colorfully lit buildings of Coruscant, capital of the Republic, in pursuit of the person who tried to kill Amidala (Natalie Portman).

But it moves at its own deliberate pace, punctuated by Anakin and Obi-Wan bickering when they are not nonchalantly plucking each other out of trouble, and the resolution of the sequence seems anticlimactic. Indeed, Obi-Wan finds himself going to the Jedi library to find the planet where he thinks his quarry might be found. A Jedi knight in a library! I'm all for reading, but what is this galaxy coming to?

But everyone seems incapable of decisive action in the early portions of the film. The Jedi council sits in its ivory tower clucking about the trouble to come but never seeming to do much about it. Only Anakin seems to be champing at the bit, and he's too headstrong.

His impetuousness -- and a recurring nightmare about his mother, Shmi (Pernilla August) -- leads him to Tatooine, where she remained as a slave after Anakin went off with the Jedi. On the desert planet, we meet characters who foreshadow what is to come -- there's a good deal of that going on here, and it's one of the most tantalizing things about "Clones."

When Anakin gives in to the dark side for the first time in a disturbing scene halfway through the movie, "Clones" finally starts feeling like a "Star Wars" movie. Amidala begins displaying the spunk and moxie (and an echo of the hairdo) that will be inherited by Princess Leia.

And the Jedi finally stop yammering and start fighting, in a "Gladiator"-like sequence marred by the fake-looking computer-animated creatures they must vanquish. But a pair of light-saber duels follow, and pint-sized Yoda fights in one of them -- kick butt, he does!

Much of the fighting is done by the clones of the title, an army produced in a secret factory. What is perhaps the film's best action sequence takes place here, with Anakin, Amidala and droids R2-D2 and C-3PO all trying to avoid being smashed, trashed or boiled in molten metal.

But even as Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) consolidates his power to protect the Republic against the opposition forces led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a disillusioned former Jedi, I couldn't fight off a feeling of dislocation. How could this talky, lumbering movie possibly be a precursor to the bravura, action-packed exuberance of the original trilogy?

My ambivalence about "Clones" extends to the acting. McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi seems to whine as much as C-3PO about Anakin's bullheadedness. Christensen conveys Anakin's smoldering impatience and inner turmoil but reads lines as if he were a tree trunk. (To be fair, Lucas writes a lot of them that way.) Samuel L. Jackson gets more to do this time as Jedi knight Mace Windu, but it still doesn't seem like enough. Portman fares best as Amidala, unforced and spontaneous.

If only we could say the same about the movie.

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