Despite Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance giving George Lucas a big new bank account, the movie was panned by several critics and fans alike... mostly fans. Were fans being a bit too picky or were they dead on with some of their complaints? Well, a little bit. Although the biggest criticisms of Lucas's prequel trilogy really doesn't stem from whether or not he got things right nearly as much as it centers on aspects such as the acting, too much CGI and the writing. If this is so, then Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones may very well be the worst film of the entire saga.
The movie begins quite literally with an explosion. It is found out that this was meant to be an attempt on Senator Amidala's life. There's been quite a bit of turmoil in the galaxy lately, making it difficult for the Jedi to maintain the peace. In the midst of this crisis, Palpatine has ordered Obi-Wan and Anakin to keep watch over Padme. It's been ten years since Anakin has seen Padme. No longer just some little kid picking his nose and screaming "Yippie!" he's now "all grown up." Being around Padme is "intoxicating". But he's a Jedi! He's not supposed to let his feelings interfere... but alas, they do anyway.
A second attempt on Padme's life is made in the middle of the night, in which Obi-Wan and Anakin get that under control as well through an exciting chase through Coruscant. The assassin sent to kill Padme is suddenly assassinated herself. All she lets slip is that she was hired by a bounty hunter. Why a bounty hunter needs to hire an assassin instead of doing his own dirty work is never really made clear. The bounty hunter only left one clue... a single dart, which Obi-Wan takes it upon himself to investigate. In the meantime, as a result of the attack on Padme's life, our heroes decide that perhaps it would be better if Anakin take Padme back to Naboo and watch over her... because a single Jedi guarding her is much much better than a whole planet full of them.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan sets off to Kamino to investigate this dart and find out who it was that was trying to assassinate Padme. While there he learns the Republic has been quick at work on a clone army. They're all clones of Jengo Fett. A bounty hunter Obi-Wan discovers is responsible for the attempt on Padme's life. In an effort to bring him to justice, Obi-Wan tries to stop him from fleeing. He fails, but manages to track him down as he makes his way to Geonosis.
Back on Naboo, however, Anakin is having dreams of his mother suffering. He's also falling in love with Padme at the same time in cheesy romantic fashion and with bad dialog (like comparing the touch of Padme's hand to sand... SAND!). The nightmares of his mother are a little troubling though, and so he convinces Padme that they need to go to Tattooine to see about his mother. While he's there he discovers her fate. Sure, she was freed from her slavery, but as Anakin discovers, she was taken by Tusken Raiders. So Anakin goes there to try and rescue her. In spite of his efforts, Anakin fails to save his mother, and in a fit of rage he decides to cut down the entire vilage.
There were a couple of moments that could've really hit high, but they don't exactly do so because of the films two biggest flaws. The first is the awful dialog. Especially between Anakin and Padme. As I said eariler, Anakin's best, most romantic metaphor is to tell Padme that her hands are soft... unlike sand. Each declaration of love between the two characters comes out as mostly being forced than anything else. But even worse is watching Hayden Christensen as Anakin try to show these emotions to give us hints that he's slowly turning to The Dark Side of the force. When he talks about how he slaughtered the Tusken's it just sounds so forced. He's supposed to be angry, but instead he comes off as someone who read the script and decided reciting his lines was the only thing he really needed to do. No emotion was necessary.
In the midst of all this, Obi-Wan sends out a distress signal and is then captured. Padme and Anakin are his only hope, really. And they come to the rescue only to be captured as well. But there's more luck in store. In the middle of their execution, Mace Windu (played by Samual L. Jackson who still doesn't get to say Motherf@#cker) comes to save them along with several Jedi. And in the midst of all this they still can't prevail. But that's okay because Yoda, with a bunch of Stormtroopers (I mean, "clones") comes to the rescue just in time. There is only one way to stop a full scale war from breaking out. That is to track down the traitorous Jedi Count Dooku (played by Christopher Lee), and Obi-Wan and Anakin are up to the task of doing so.
Many of the problems are primarily the same as the first. It lacks a lot of heart in the story telling. We talked briefly about the bad dialog and wooden acting, but there are other problems. The biggest problem with the film is Anakin Skywalker. Hayden Christensen not only does a bad job of playing him, but at the same time George Lucas does a pretty bad job of really developing him. As I said before in my review of The Phantom Menance, there are traits of Anakin that were described in Episode IV that never really come to fruition. Anakin is described as this really good Jedi and loyal friend... the best star pilot in the galaxy. From how it sounds you'd think Anakin was the kind of guy you'd want to have on your side in a fight. But then we're given THIS guy who spends much of his time throughout the film whining and wanting to badly love this girl. Granted, Anakin is still fairly young but it still stands that we should've gotten a guy who actually seemed like the guy Obi-Wan described. It's not that Anakin can't have feelings. It's mostly that what we know he becomes, he isn't even beginning to step into the shadows of, and this movie was supposed to be the start of Anakin's descent. Yet we're not really treated to this. Are we really supposed to believe that the Dark Sith Lord we saw in the original trilogy was this whiney? Again, THIS is supposed to be the guy who grows up to be Darth Vader?
There's less Jar Jar, but this doesn't make the film any better. We see more of Threepio and R2, but they still don't do nearly as much to move things along. And we also get more fan service. This is done by a few quips from Obi-Wan who says things to Anakin like, "You're going to be the death of me..." Get it? Because as Vader kills Obi-Wan, and Anakin grows up to become Darth Vader? How ironic that Obi-Wan actually predicted his own death right? But you also get to see Boba Fett as just a small child. If there's anything that can be called fan service, there it is. I never grew to understand why Boba was so popular seeing as how he wasn't featured much in the original trilogy (his best moments were in The Empire Strikes Back... and then in Jedi he is killed ACCIDENTLY BY A GUY WHO CAN'T SEE!). But he's here and we get to see his father. Does Boba really do much? No. He's just a cameo.
Once again, Lucas uses himself as inspiration. There were a few amusing parallels between Episode I and Episode IV. The same can be said of Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back. Our main characters are separated, a love blossoms between two of them. Not to mention Anakin Skywalker, like his son Luke, loses a limb. Also, in the film the bad guys essentially win. The difference between Empire and Attack is that The Empire Strikes Back centers a lot on character development--particularly of Luke. But not just who he is, but WHY his destiny is what it is. Much of that is lost in Attack of the Clones. Attack of the Clones is a middle of the road film that seems to be there for the soul purpose of getting us to the third film. There's a love story that blossoms but even that feels tacked on at times. Mostly because Padme didn't exactly get a lot of focus in Episode I. And what focus she did get wasn't related to her feelings for Anakin. In fact, thoughout much of the first film one can argue that Padme hardly realizes that Anakin exists. They didn't share much chemistry in the first film, how are we supposed to believe they'll fall in love in the second? Well, they do, but mostly it seems as though George Lucas needed to make sure that Luke and Leia were born some way (falling in love for a Jedi is bad enough... imagine an illicit affair?). There just isn't much in terms of character development. Or story. We get to see a glimpse of The Death Star plans, but again, that feels like more fanservice. And it's nice to get fanservice every once and a while. It helps us really feel like we're watching Star Wars.
But all this can't separate from the fact that while we ARE watching Star Wars, we don't really feel like it most times. We have a protagonist who isn't really all that strong of a character. Normally I wouldn't be so stuck up on expectations, but when it comes to these prequels, can you blame the audience for having expectations of Anakin? Especially when we were pretty much told who he was and what he was like to begin with? So why would George Lucas suddenly make Anakin so different from what he was?
The acting isn't much better, and once again we can argue that it may be because of too much CGI. Ewan McGreggor and Natalie Portman are not bad actors at all. They do great in other instances. Yet here they're mostly emotionless and lifeless. Perhaps its too much CGI, but I'm willing to bet most of it is the writing. You can almost imagine Natalie Portman on set saying, "I have to say THAT?" Then she looks at Hayden Christensen and says, "To THAT!?" Hayden himself, however, may actually not be a good actor in his own right. It was hard to be critical of him in Star Wars when much of the cast is actually not that good. But in some of hs future films (primarily Jumper) we can see that Hayden really just isn't that gifted in acting. He's a good looking guy, at least... and if he keeps doing action movies he may not have such a setback with his acting skills.
The special effects are really nice, but just like that first film, the bad more than outweighs the good. In both number and scope. The story here is just all around bad. And the characters are so loathesome that it is hard to care about them. Really awesome special effects don't exactly make up for the flaws in the story itself. So the question: "When did Lucas stop paying attention to Star Wars?" Well, probably somewhere between the first and second prequel trilogy.
George Lucas sure knows how to rev up the production values of a movie. And for that he does well. But it seems like that spark he had which made the original trilogy so good and so powerful is all but gone.
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