And more importantly, less Jar Jar.
What was it that Yoda said to Luke on the swampy lands of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back? “Do or do not, there is no try.” It seems to me like George Lucas still needs to learn this lesson and should have paid a visit to Yoda himself. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is not as much a trainwreck as its predecessor is, although the title certainly makes it sound like it. The mythos is sound, the visual effects amazing, and the pacing builds up well to what will eventually be the fall of Anakin Skywalker. That much is how Episode II improves upon the boring and fatally flawed Episode I. Lucas still can’t direct his actors worth a damn, though.
In this sequel to The Phantom Menace, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), now senator of Naboo, was the target of an assassination attempt by Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), a bounty hunter hired to kill her for reasons unknown. Fearing for her life, the Jedi council assigns Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to protect senator Amidala from other attackers. As they continue their mission, they make a discovery that spurs on one of the darkest times in the Star Wars universe: the clone wars.
I’ll give Lucas this: he’s a great visual director. Everything visually based in this film is at it’s peak and prime, from the visionary locations to the epic battles. There’s no more butt-ugly, CGI-ridden aliens to look at like the God-awful Gungans from The Phantom Menace (Although Jar Jar still makes a cameo appearance, unbelievably). The visual scope of the picture is absolutely incredible, and if I had to pick my favorite moments from the movie, all of them involve the visuals in some way.
For instance, in the first act of the film, Anakin and Obi-Wan are engaged in a chase through Coruscant after an ally assassin of Jango Fett. The feats of the scene are something else to witness, as we’re seeing Anakin hot-wiring a vehicle, flying through the city, hovercrafts racing against each other while evading other vehicles, and eventually leading to Anakin leaping off of his hovercraft and actively fighting the assassin on her own ship.
I was thinking only one thing through this scene: “Man. Luke would probably already be dead if he had to pull this off in the original trilogy.”
The same standard of visual spectacle is kept up throughout the movie, and it was as exciting and enthralling to witness as the original movies were. The most climactic scene came from not when the clones appeared, or when Anakin and Obi-Wan fought a sith lord: it’s when the sith had to engage in a lightsaber duel with the jedi that we were least expecting to fight. (Hint: Strong with the force, he is.)
But besides these visual breaks, what else did the movie provide? The plot is still paper-thin and unfocused, and we sense that Lucas is more interested in building up the mythology of Anakin Skywalker instead of focusing on the current story. Obi-Wan is caught up in a whole mystery on where the clones came from, and goes through an uninteresting investigation as it leads him to a place we were all expecting. And then the romance builds between two characters, and…
Oh God. The romance.
I’m going to spoil something for you here, okay? If you don’t want a spoiler, skip to the last paragraph. You’ve been warned.
In the film, Anakin and Padme form a romantic love interest that is obviously forbidden, because as we are told, Jedi are not allowed to love. I find multiple issues with this. 1) Forbidding Jedi to love is as awful an idea as forbidding a priest to love. That didn’t work with the Catholic church. Why did you think it would work here? 2) Christensen and Portman are not meshing at all. They are not convincing. Their awkward stares, plastic kisses, and unbearably cheesy dialogue shows that this whole thing is staged. There is not an ounce of true passion or lust in these characters for each other.
But those aren’t even the biggest issues. 3) Wasn’t Anakin just a kid when he met an adult Padme in The Phantom Menace? And if he grew into an adult here, doesn’t that mean that she should have grown too, not stayed the same? Jake Lloyd was 10 years old when The Phantom Menace was released, and Portman was 18. That means these two lovers are eight years apart? Gross.
Granted, Lucas wrote the characters to be only five years apart in the original script, but the original script doesn’t matter. What matters is what we’re seeing on the screen, and on screen, Portman looks like she’s 20 and Lloyd looks like a child. Wondering how that transitions over into Episode II is just too complicated to think about, and it distracts from the badly-acted romance we’re already watching on screen. Either way, its poorly written and poorly executed, and there’s zero excuse for either.
Overall, I had more fun with Attack of the Clones than I did with The Phantom Menace, and we’re at least getting a better buildup to Anakin’s eventual fate that we all know is coming. But this movie did not learn from the mistakes of its predecessor. It’s still too much buildup and not enough payoff, with the script begrudgingly meandering on as we’re supposed to sit through this unexciting, uneventful story waiting to get to the next action sequence. I thought Star Wars used to recognize storytelling more over the action, not the other way around? Get to meditating, George. Looks like you’ve got a lot of it to do.