Send in the clones
New Star Wars episode is actually good fun
+In spite of negative reviews in such otherwise lofty publications as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and regardless of the pointed opinion of generally respected film critic Roger Ebert, George Lucas’ latest installment of the Star Wars epic is actually quite good fun. Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones opened locally at just after midnight a week ago, and there evidently wasn’t an empty seat before any of the three Chico screens it was projected onto.
The story line here basically picks up 10 years after the events in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan has become a responsible Jedi teacher and Anakin Skywalker, now a young man, his impetuous, hot-tempered student. Queen Padmé Amidala is now functioning sans royal designation as the senator for her home world of Naboo. However, somebody wants the strong-willed, decent senator out of the way; assassination attempts are made. Chancellor Palpatine insists that Padmé Amidala accept the protection of the Jedi: Enter Obi-Wan and Anakin.
From there three story strands diverge, finally uniting near the film’s climax: Obi-Wan’s investigations into who is behind the assassination attempts; Anakin and Padmé's rediscovery of each other and their emerging emotions; and the Jedi Council’s increasing anxieties over renegade Jedi Knight Count Dooku and the growing number of star systems dropping out of the republic to join his potentially sinister revolt. Of course, the greatest threat to galactic stability is coming from the one source no one yet suspects.
Although the charges of “wooden acting” made against the movie bear some weight, overall, considering the generally “Saturday morning serial” feel of the film, these criticisms seem somewhat heavy-handed; however, if there is any aspect that suffers from this abbreviated approach to acting, it is the love story. It is difficult to believe Padmé is falling in love with Anakin for one damning reason: her gaze. At no point during any of the romantic scenes do Padmé's pupils open wide. And where love is concerned, that is simply impossible.
Apart from that, Ewan McGregor lends this version of Obi-Wan a humor-tempered confidence and even an occasional swashbuckling mannerism or two. In fact, it is the story line that follows Kenobi’s investigations that is most entertaining of the three here; although there are a few sweet and even funny moments, the romance sequences between Padmé (Natalie Portman) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) seem somewhat obligatory, as do the “meanwhile back at the ranch” aspects of the worried Jedis and the power struggles within the Senate (perfectly in keeping, incidentally, with serial tradition).
Jimmy Smits gets only a little to do as the as-yet-unborn Princess Leia’s future stepfather Bail Organa, and Samuel L. Jackson does kick cosmic ass, but Christopher Lee delivers the best turn as dark Count Dooku, offering a delightfully wicked performance. Even so, it is the diminutive Yoda who practically steals the show.
In fact, all of the computer generated characters and scenery look truly fantastic.
Lucas’ now legendary directorial commands, "Faster, more intense," seem to grab the reins here and kick the film into a high gallop. And in an adventure serial, that is precisely what one wants. If Christensen and Portman had been allowed a little more time to develop their onscreen relationship, however, this effort would rate "Very Good." It’s close, but not quite.