For many the second film in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy holds a rather unflattering honor. More than a few consider it to be the worst movie in the entire franchise. As someone who truly loves the series to varying degrees, it’s hard for me to christen any of the films with such a title. But that doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to its flaws.
“Star Wars: Episode II – “Attack of the Clones” does hold a particularly surprising movie record for me. I saw it six times in the theater, more than any other film. Overkill? Perhaps. Star Wars fandom run amuck? Most definitely. I’ve seen it a few times since then but this recent rewatch was the first time in several years.
“Attack of the Clones” takes place ten years after the events of “The Phantom Menace”. Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice Anakin Skywalker (now played by Hayden Christensen) are summoned to protect Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) after she narrowly escapes an assassination attempt. The former Queen of Naboo and now Senator holds a key vote in the decision whether or not to create an army to fight a growing Separatist movement.
For me one of Episode II’s biggest attractions (and often overlooked strengths) is in how it draws from numerous classic movie genres. It’s very much a political drama. But there is also a mystery element to it as Obi-Wan sets out to investigate and track down Padme’s potential assassin. We get winks to old-school fantasy pictures in the vein of “Sinbad” and “Clash of the Titans”. And of course the influence of war films, particularly World War II documentary footage, is clearly seen in the final act.
I also think the writing deserves more credit than it receives (at least a portion of it). For me it’s a tale of two parts – the story and the dialogue. Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Halles give us a well-conceived story with tons of depth that moves the overall narrative forward in a satisfying way. I remain impressed with its numerous threads, none better that puppet-master Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and his secret, multi-layered quest for power.
But then there is the dialogue which ranges from good to atrocious. There are times in Episode II where the dialogue is painfully bad. We see it in a handful attempts at humor but mostly its in some of the film’s heavier scenes. Accentuating the problem is the fact that a couple of the performers haven’t the chops to overcome it. Christensen’s performance is all over the map. There are scenes where he is really good, but others he simply can’t sell and Lucas’ dialogue doesn’t help a bit. Portman is a little better but not much.
Visually you can see Lucas and company flexing the new technology available to them in a variety of ways. There are a couple of scenes that feel like nothing more than showcases for the special effects – an overly long care chase through the city planet of Coruscant, a battle in a Geonosian droid factory. But the CGI can also look extraordinary and it often adds a ton to the settings and action sequences. The clone army battlefield scene is nothing short of spectacular.
Fans of Star Wars have some legitimate gripes about Episode II, but overall I think they often undervalue its contributions to the franchise. It advances the stories of its three pivotal characters in meaningful ways. It’s a technical marvel despite some visual overindulgences. Plus it supplied the framework for what was a fantastic television series “The Clone Wars”. Those are just a few of the key reasons Episode II still works for me.
VERDICT – 4 STARS