Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Review
By Joe Lozito
Romancing the "Clones"
Harrison Ford said of George Lucas' dialogue: "You can't act it. You just have to say it." Ironically the same sentiment has been expressed over Shakespearean text, but far be it for me to use Lucas and the Bard in the same paragraph. If only Mr. Ford had been on the set to coach the characters in "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" it would not be so difficult to watch certain important character moments.
By now we all know that newly-elected Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) and soon-to-be Darth Vader (newcomer Hayden Christensen) are going to fall in love so that they can give birth to the next trilogy (or the 'first' trilogy, depending on your point of view). Mr. Lucas' fatal flaw, however, is that he plays their love scenes with deadly sincerity, even going so far as to stage one in front of a roaring fire. He and co-writer Jonathan Hales ("The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles") should go back and look at what made the Han Solo/Princess Leia scenes such a joy in the first trilogy. Of course, it wasn't so blatantly predetermined that they'd end up together, but those characters used to flirt and spar with each other like so many of the best on screen romances. That and, of course, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher can kinda act.
How Mr. Lucas ever cast the first trilogy so well is beyond me because he seems to have forgotten what it takes to audition unknown actors. After a giant mistake in the person of little Jake Lloyd in "Episode I: The Phantom Menance", he moves on to the only slightly better Hayden Christensen as the grown up Anakin Skywalker. Perhaps it is fitting that an annoying child should grow up to be a whiny adult (and, of course, whining does seem to be a trait in the Skywalker family), but it is sad to realize the potential that is being lost in these new films. Mr. Christensen has an odd, choppy cadence which works when he's being a rebellious student to mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), but sounds like amateur night during his several dramatic moments. Ms. Portman's delivery meanwhile is slightly less stilted than in "Episode I", perhaps due to her more practical and revealing costumes, but still lines like "You're a Jedi and I…I'm a Senator" come off sounding like your daughter's fourth grade play.
That being said, there are moments of pure bliss in the film for any "Star Wars" aficionado and, yes, these can forgive a mulititude of sins. Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee add much needed gravity and levity to any scene they occupy. Their performances are reminiscent of everything made the first trilogy great. Mr. Jackson and Mr. McGregor both appear more comfortable in their roles and simply allow the dialogue to be what it is: exposition. This, of course, is the problem with the new "Star Wars" films. Lucus has so much plot and history to develop that his characters become mouthpieces. The dialogue amounts to nothing more than "now we have to go over here and do this". This works fine for action sequences, but when it comes to love scenes, it is almost painful to watch.
As usual, the film features a jaw-dropping final 45 minutes of pure video game action which wipe the grating few moments of Jar Jar Binks out of your mind. Perhaps the most surprising and euphoric moment in the film features none other than Yoda himself. Mr. Lucas chose to render the perennial "Star Wars" mainstay completely via CGI this time around and, thankfully, it works flawlessly. Yoda's face and movements are more expressive than ever before (to some extent, even more than the humans in the film) and are free of the glossy shine that plagues the worst CGI attempts. And when our little green friend picks up a lightsaber for a rousing ending duel, the audience can't stop cheering.
Yes, as a "Star Wars" fan, I liked "Episode II" and I'll give it three stars. It is certainly better than the childish "Phantom Menace" and the final 45 minutes of straight action beat the editing nightmare at the end of the last film. But it's a long road to get there, and it is clear now that Mr. Lucas is no longer making films for the fans of those first movies. He has said repeatedly, "I make movies for 12-year-olds". From the creator of "Star Wars" this seems remarkably shortsighted. Remember, George, those 12-year-olds will be 15 when "Episode III" comes out. If Lucas could give up some creative control (casting? writing?) as he did in "Empire Strikes Back" (the reigning champ of the series) and "Return of the Jedi" there might have actually been a memorable romance in the film. And it might be worth seeing 2005's "Episode III" for more than just a feeling of obligation.