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IN SHORT: Nothing but a two hour setup for Episode Three (and a disappointment at that). [Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence. 132 minutes]
We are now two thirds of the way through the first trilogy of the George Lucas' Star Wars epic, which has yet to clearly define what other stories it can offer up besides the one whose ending we already know. As it was in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, the sound production and effects and the visual production and effects are all ten on a scale of ten. But, just as in Episode One, this film's bells and whistles are in its technology and not in additional story elements.
Simply: if you've never seen a Star Wars movie, this is not the place to start. Everybody else: For better or worse, join the line and move towards that inevitable conclusion. From here on out, we're going to assume that those of you that are still reading fall into the latter category.
Unlike all the Episodes that have come before it, Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones doesn't stand on its own as a complete story. While the Third Act kicks butt, acts One and Two offer a staggeringly uneven romance and political story that spends most of its time introducing characters who, and subplots that won't have more to do until Episode Three and/or beyond. Yes, we know the point of this part is to establish the romance that is responsible for all the good stuff (or bad stuff, depending on your point of view) to follow. It doesn't help that our lead characters are convinced that, given the responsibilities of their respective jobs, they aren't allowed to feel the kind of emotions felt by that little beeping droid that always seems to be in the right place at the right time and they behave accordingly. Again, more in Episode Three.
Ten years ago, in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (now Hayden Christensen) was an annoying little boy who was good at fixing things. Freed from slavery, he began his Jedi training despite objections of the Jedi Council who flat out stated that Anakin was too old to start. In Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, we discover that the Council was probably right. Ten years of Jedi training does not equate to ten years of emotional maturity and Anakin, now about twenty, is more likely to throw a hissy fit than to act dispassionately, as Jedi warriors are supposed to do. Young Skywalker is arrogant. He talks back at his Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and disobeys orders. He fumes when disciplined and, what is even worse, he lets his emotions come to the forefront and control his actions. [Everyone who has analyzed Jedi Training from Episodes Four through Six raise your hand if you think this is a good thing and wait three more years for the scenes of wholesale slaughter and destruction of the Jedi Order that come at the end of the Clone War. Y'all know too much...]
We must have missed something in The Phantom Menace because it turns out that "Queen" is an elected and not an inherited position on the planet Naboo. Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) is now Senator and someone in the Galaxy doesn't particularly care for her. The Jedi Council assigns Obi-Wan and his Jedi-in-Training to protect the Senator and investigate the situation. Anakin watches over the Senator while Kenobi's search takes him beyond the Outer Rim of the galaxy where he discovers an elaborate operation dedicated to building an Army of clones allegedly commissioned by the Jedi Council ten years earlier. The clones are derived from a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) whose has a young son, Boba (Daniel Logan). Meanwhile, Anakin is tormented by dreams about the mother he hasn't seen since his days in Watto's junkyard. While he cannot leave Amidala's side on the planet Naboo, there is nothing to stop her from hopping a starship to Tattooine. Her actions probably indicate that the crush Skywalker has had on the lovely lady isn't exactly a one way street, but that would be telling.
Attack of the Clones is as busy introducing characters who will play a greater role in the four episodes to come, as it is with discarding other characters. The powerful ex-Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) leads the Separatist Movement that seeks to overthrow the Republic, still led by Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Samuel L. Jackson's role as Jedi Knight Mace Windu is greatly expanded this time out and Jimmy Smits is introduced in a minor role as Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan. We expect that Smits will see a similarly expanded role in Episode Three. On Tattooine, Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August) has married Cliegg Lars (Jack Thompson). Anakin now has a stepbrother, Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) and Owen has a girlfriend, Beru Whitsun (Bonnie Maree Piesse). Fans in our audience were squealing with every introduction of every face associated with characters from A New Hope. Oh yeah, when Anakin find mom, and learns of everything that caused these precognitive "dreams," he gets kinda angry. heh heh heh.
Rounding off our cast are mainstay droids R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), C3-P0 (Anthony Daniels) and that green guy, Yoda (voice of Frank Oz), whose scene stealing performance is worth a couple of visits to your local theater, if only for that last half hour. There's a lot more that we're not going to relate and, though it would look like there's more story than you can shake a stick at, it's not enough. Attack of the Clones sticks to the gray areas and, unlike the second trilogy, never clearly manages to establish who is truly good and/or truly evil and why. Forget that we know who will don the black robes of a Sith Lord and become Darth Vader. Forget that we know who Vader's Master is. Ponder for a moment the fact that we already know that said Master is already in charge of just about everything in the Republic. So, continuing the political confusion of Episode One, what is the point of sponsoring a rebellion by the Trade Federations when you're already Top Dog?
It's these subplots that we live for since 98 percent of the civilized world already knows about The Fall of a certain Jedi. Without spilling any more than we need to, Episode Two continues the Machiavellian manipulations of the Republic by The Dark Lords of the Sith -- we still have no idea what the hell a Sith is, by the way, other than the fact that they're evil and haven't been otherwise explained in other episodes. [Don't send e-mail to tell us which additional Star Wars novel we should read to find out. You shouldn't have to read the book to "get" the movie]. Given the decade that separates The Phantom Menace from Attack of the Clones, it is just as dispensable as the Gungan Binks would be, had not George Lucas saved him for an twist that shoots the bird at loudmouthed, overenthusiastic fanboys everywhere.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, he would have paid . . .
You'll be able to buy the DVD in time for holiday gift giving this year. What does that tell you?
Even worse, the usual rave up orchestral score by John Williams failed to enhance either the romance or the action for us. That's an important point for us -- Williams' soundtrack CDs are the only ones we've ever paid hard cash money for. Ever.
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