Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (review)

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Religious Experience

This isn’t going to be an objective review. I don’t know how to write such a thing, and you wouldn’t want one anyway, because this is what a truly objective “review” of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones would sound like:

The film is 135 minutes long. Approximately 121 minutes of that running time consists of imagery found nowhere but in a computer. The story takes place 10 years after the events of Episode I and an as-yet undetermined time before the events of Episode IV, also known as Star Wars. Young Canadian actor Hayden Christensen portrays Anakin Skywalker, who will later become Darth Vader. The film contains 678,001 effects shots and features 73 speaking roles. Ewan McGregor, as Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, is five feet, eight and one half inches tall. Episode II was shot in, among other places, Tunisia and Italy. It was created entirely digitally, with nary an inch of actual celluloid being used. Many different types of aliens, spacecraft, weapons, and physical environments are depicted. Natalie Portman is 21 years old, which is a few years younger than her character, Padmé Amidala. In this film we return to many places we’ve seen before in the Star Wars series, including Tatooine, Coruscant, and Naboo. One of the Jedi Knights is played by Samuel Jackson, who is a vocal fan of the series. Episode III will be released in 2005.

What’s the point of that kind of review?
I have opinions, and I don’t know how to contain them. These opinions of mine, particularly concerning anything to do with Star Wars, are decidedly not objective. To say that I grew up with Star Wars would be like saying “I enjoyed breathing as a child.” It is an inseparable part of my psyche, like how autumn days invariably remind me of the pleasant woody smell of pencil shavings on the first day of school or how I can’t resist a go on the swings at the park, even if it means pushing an 8-year-old off. The words “star wars” set off an ingrained Pavlovian reaction to embrace unconditionally. You might as well ask me to critique my mother.

So I don’t want to hear it.

Star Wars is like a religion. It has no connection to reality whatsoever. I was indoctrinated at a tender age, and now, even though my rational mind might try to step back and say “Whoa, now, let’s look at this thing logically,” my heart refuses to allow such a thing to happen. But it’s a harmless religion: No one is forcing anyone to convert to Jediism at the point of a lightsaber, and no one is bombing the bejesus (the beluke?) out of countries that officially proclaim the righteousness of the way of the Prime Directive, and no suicide bombers are strolling the corridors of Babylon 5 conventions. By Yoda, all we fans want is to be left alone to enjoy our movie. And at a time in which Catholic cardinals are straining not only credulity but basic humanity in what they’re asking us to accept as No Big Deal, I think what we’re asking for is a very small consideration indeed.

So, what’s the verdict, my fellow faithful? Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is not great… but it’s great. Sure, it’s got problems, most of them stemming from the facts that George Lucas is a terrible writer who should never be allowed anywhere near Final Draft ever again, and a mostly terrible director who should never be allowed anywhere near a camera ever again. But these are minor quibbles. Ewan McGregor’s impersonation of Alec Guinness has gotten to the point where it’s almost frightening. Natalie Portman is a go-girl woman of action who shows those pansy-ass Jedi Knights how it’s done. Except for Sam Jackson as the non-pansy-ass Mace Windu, who goes all righteous on the bad guys, which is very woo-hoo! cool but may not bode well for his ultimate fate in Episode III. His is the vengeance of the Jedi!

I’m getting ahead of myself. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Cuz we all know the broad outlines of the story — Padmé and Anakin have to get it on so we can get Luke and Leia, and Obi-Wan has to fuck up big time so we can get Darth Vader. It’s how, precisely, we get there that Episode II is all about. Yes, some of the details are absurd: The romance is unbelievably corny, and nearly every word that Anakin (Hayden Christensen: Life as a House) and Padmé (Natalie Portman) say to each other rings completely false, in that “no one really speaks like this” way. The dramatic scenes — including also most of those depicting the beginning of the falling out between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor: Moulin Rouge) — are often downright embarrassing, with all the angst, all the emotion, right out on the surface. Lucas has clearly never heard the primary rule of writing, which is “Show, don’t tell.” And he has no idea how to shoot his actors when they aren’t running and jumping and fighting and shouting — many quieter scenes get off to false starts and then never develop any sort of momentum after that. Never mind how awkward the dialogue is — the visuals never convey the same emotion the characters are supposed to be conveying, which undercuts the drama way too much.

But that’s okay. We know the whole story, and we can fill in everything we need, and ignore the stuff that makes no sense. I’m not saying this is right, or that it’s a good thing, or that it excuses Lucas from finding a new Lawrence Kasdan and a new Irvin Kershner (the writer/director team who made The Empire Strikes Back one of the greatest movies ever made), like he should have done. This is just the way it is. It carries us through the squirmy stuff till we’re back at the stuff we really came to see. Like the action sequences, which except for one near the end that is far too geared toward eventual videogamedom, may be the best of all the Star Wars films — the speeder chase through the world-city of Coruscant is Lethal Weapon meets Blade Runner. Like the creepy clone factory. Like the proto-Stormtroopers, and the man they are all cloned from, Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison: Vertical Limit), who is awesomely, quietly menacing. Like the ground battle featuring all the proto-Stormtroopers hanging out of Vietnam-like helicopter-things. Like the dark flashes behind Hayden Christensen’s gaze, Darth Vader being born before our very eyes.

And oh, maybe the best, the most delicious moment of all is when we discover who’s fault the whole damn odyssey is in the first place: I mean the whole shebang, the rise of the Empire and the Emperor and the resulting rebellion. Too, too perfect.

Look, the CGI is too cartoony in places, and Threepio is such a queen. But that final duel is like a childhood fantasy come to sweet Jedi life. So I’ll probably only see it eight or nine times.

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