Action good, love bad

Oh my. I didn’t think the acid orgy would be this far up the playa.

Oh my. I didn’t think the acid orgy would be this far up the playa.

Rated 4.0

Before reading this review, you should know that I was relatively pleased with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. If you hated that film, perhaps I’m not the best man to access for an opinion on Episode II: Attack of the Clones. My feelings on the latest installment of the Star Wars saga are strong with minor reservations: While some of the moments are amongst the best of the series, you should be warned that it does contain some dry spells.

George Lucas has been saying for years now that Episode II would focus on the love story between Anakin Skywalker and Princess Amidala, the parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. He has kept his word.

The latest chapter in the Lucas wonder saga has many fun moments and true visual inspiration, but it does get bogged down in some dreary lubby-dubby stuff, with Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Amidala (a seemingly bored Natalie Portman) forced to belch some horrible romantic dialogue. Lucas fails to give any true sense of real love between the characters, and the actors’ often dreary performances don’t help.

That would be the bad news. The good news is that Attack of the Clones features loads of space chase, light saber battles, fun C-3PO and R2-D2 banter, minimal Jar Jar Binks and a final fight scene featuring Yoda that is as good as anything the franchise has offered in its five films. When he’s not dealing with the love story, Lucas is very much on top of his game. The weak love story elements were enough to annoy me from time to time, but not nearly enough to wreck the experience.

The action scenes are fantastic. A sky city chase, reminiscent of The Fifth Element, is a kick in the pants, as is a fun Coliseum scene involving attacking monsters that reminds me of Gladiator.

I have a small problem with the character arc of Anakin Skywalker. Christensen plays the character as an ornery, impatient teen. We, the audience, know that Anakin will eventually turn to the dark side of the Force and become Darth Vader, but Lucas gives us little reason to like or pity Anakin. He’s sort of a whiny pest. Wouldn’t his fall from grace be far more traumatic if Anakin were a charismatic, uppity sort of guy for at least part his time on screen? I miss Han Solo.

In The Phantom Menace, Anakin was a chirpy little kid, and the idea of him growing up to be Vader was a creepy one. The way Christensen plays Anakin, there is little tragedy or surprise that he will one day be Darth.

When I hear people getting carried away, bellyaching about how Lucas has sold out or dumbed down his franchise by pandering to kids, and that his new films “suck,” I just want to shove a video camera in their faces and tell them to go shoot the next installment themselves. Deranged Star Wars geeks seem to have all of the character’s destinies mapped out in their sad little heads, so they should just stay at home, dream up their own perfect little Star Wars film and shut the hell up.

That said, I’m not going to be handing out cameras so everyone can do their indie Star Wars movie. Far too costly.

I had a damn good time at this movie. Yes, some of it is embarrassingly bad, but I got to see Yoda kick the ass of Christopher Lee as renegade Jedi Count Dooku! While it fails to achieve classic status, Attack of the Clones is a nice entry in this ever-winning saga and a sturdy setup for a hopefully spectacular Episode III.