Set ten years after the events of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," not only has the galaxy undergone significant change, but so have our familiar heroes Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme Amidala, and Anakin Skywalker, as they are thrown together again for the first time since the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo. Anakin has grown into...
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Set ten years after the events of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," not only has the galaxy undergone significant change, but so have our familiar heroes Obi-Wan Kenobi, Padme Amidala, and Anakin Skywalker, as they are thrown together again for the first time since the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo. Anakin has grown into the accomplished Jedi apprentice of Obi-Wan, who himself has transitioned from student to teacher. The two Jedi are assigned to protect Padme whose life is threatened by a faction of political separatists. As relationships form and powerful forces collide, these heroes face choices that will impact not only their own fates, but also the destiny of the Republic.
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Ten years after The Phantom Menace, Senator Padmé Amidala has become a target for assassination as she attempts to prevent the Republic from falling apart, leading young Jedi Anakin Skywalker to protect (and fall in love with) her and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi to find out who's behind the conspiracy.
Being a prequel, most of the story is almost entirely devoid of suspense. We know that the Evil Empire will replace the Galactic Republic; that Anakin will become the villainous Darth Vader; and that the children born to Anakin and Padmé, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, will eventually become their father's sworn enemies. Still, the movie has an interesting tale to tell on the way to reaching that destination. It begins with an assassination attempt against Padmé, the beautiful queen of the lush planet Naboo, who has given up her throne to become a galactic senator. Obi-Wan and Anakin are appointed to be her bodyguards and foil a second attempt, though the assassin is shot dead just as she's about to name her employer (of course.) Thereafter, the movie divides into parallel narratives as Anakin escorts Padmé to Naboo for her safety and Obi-Wan heads off to investigate the rain-lashed planet of Kamino, where an army of clone warriors is being manufactured in secret, apparently for the good of the Republic. This dual narrative enables director George Lucas to reduce the contemplative mumbo-jumbo that weighed down The Phantom Menace to a minimum by cutting to whatever storyline has action going on. And there's plenty of action going on.
The stellar performance of the movie is Ewan McGregor's as Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can feel Ewan almost channeling Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan in Episode IV), as he's matured into his Jedi robes, with an all-pervasive sense of solemnity and calm surrounding his persona. That's despite the almost B-movie grade dialogue throughout the entire movie. Hayden Christensen (Anakin) and Natalie Portman (Padmé) can't rise above their often clunky lines (of everyone, they're stuck with the worst dialogue), but Portman is better than Christensen. Christensen often falls prey to the dark side of drama, as he overacts his character's more emotional lines. Looks like Lucas should have stuck with actors from the other side of the pond: the other outstanding performance in the movie is Christopher Lee as Count Dooku. A rogue Jedi, Lee's commanding voice and presence alone make him a formidable enemy. Samuel L. Jackson is good (as always) in an undemanding role as Jedi council member Mace Windu, but why is Jimmy Smits in this movie at all? One can only hope he has a much bigger part in Episode III, à la Jackson's increased role from Episode I to II.
Where once there was an element of surprise in the later movies, there is now a feeling of inexorability. The film's biggest laugh comes from our intimate knowledge of the subject matter--Obi-Wan's exasperated remark to his reckless sidekick Anakin: ''You'll be the death of me.'' That's the best of the dialogue, which isn't Lucas' forte. The diverging plot lines and the rich, expansive and incredibly beautiful scenery and planets--not to mention the constant action--almost make up for Lucas' deficiency with the spoken word. There are many scenes that echo those from other famous movies (Gladiator, Blade Runner, The Searchers, to name but a few), but Lucas makes these vignettes his own, and they only serve to further the story. Plus, no one can make a movie that looks so wondrous as Lucas, which is his forte. From computerized beasts to storm-ridden water planets to out-of-this-world aliens, the imagery is real and engaging. Then there's the action. Suffice it to say that, after Yoda reveals his potent fighting side in a duel with Count Dooku, the audience nearly gave a standing ovation. The rapid-fire pacing (once you get past the first third of the movie) and astounding visual effects, both big and small, effectively carry the movie.
Contrary to the legion of clone critics out there, Attack of the Clones isn't bad. No, it's not deep or mythical--but it is a fast-paced, high-energy romp that's richly designed and elegantly orchestrated, solid summer fare.
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