Star Wars: Episode II
Attack of the Clones
review by Carrie Gorringe, 17 May 2002

Early in Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) turns to Annakin Skywalker (Christensen) after a particularly harrowing and magnificently choreographed chase through an unnamed city and tells him that someday "you'll be the death of me."  Cruel irony and ironic self-reflexiveness aside, the circumstances and the statement set the tone for the film itself.  It's ten years later and Annakin Skywalker (Christiansen), is smarting under the tutelage of Obi-wan Kenobi (McGregor), whom he believes is deliberately holding him back out of jealousy.  Annakin and Obi-wan have been assigned to protect the Princess Padme Amadala (Portman).  Her life has been placed in danger by extremist elements on the outer fringes of the Republic.  The reckless Annakin, fuelled by resentment, defies several orders, just as his attraction to the Princess seems to be taking shape.  Meanwhile there are questions concerning  mysterious Count (Lee) and some clones that were ordered long ago under questionable auspices.  Who's running what, where and why is clouded in an ambiguity which threatens to destroy an already besieged Republic.

Summed up, Clones contains brilliantly-conceived images coupled with -- and it's no exaggeration --some of the most ill-conceived and outright asinine dialogue dreamed up within the last fifty years of cinema.  Throw in a love story that's saccharine enough to make a Harlequin Romance seem like classic literature and two young actors who are both singularly and collectively incapable of making this amatory drivel convincing, and you have exposed the very weakness of the film:  it has a fragile, if nimbly constructed, frame which is being forced to carry more weight than possible. 

You might have thought that co-writer/director Lucas might have sensed these problems earlier and addressed them in this second chapter, or maybe there was no real incentive to improve the structure of a cash-cow franchise like the Star Wars films (Phantom Menace, after all, has grossed over $924 million, and the original -- now Chapter Four -- over $774 million).  It's especially shocking that co-writer Hales (responsible for the storyline for The Scorpion King and several scripts of the "Young Indiana Jones" TV series) didn't improve some of the grade-z dialogue.  Regardless of any point in particular, there's no excuse for what's on the soundtrack.

It doesn't help matters much when the two protagonists -- those most crucial to the film's structure and credibility -- can't convey any emotional range whatsoever.  The audience is supposed to believe that Padme and Annakin are willing to violate their sense of duty in order to fall in love.  The problem lies in the inability of Portman and Christensen to convincingly portray that love.  When Annakin tells Padme that he has dreamed about her every night since he met her, her face and voice reflects an unconvincing, almost lacquered response, even when she acknowledges that love, Portman's delivery of her lines is stiff, and unrealistic, and Christiansen's is on the same level. The dialogue is made remarkable only by the alternating thuds the audience hears as each groaner after another traipses forth from the actors' mouths. 

This sudden rush of passion is credible only if the audience members are willing to accept the concept of an instant , and enduring attraction between two pre-teens which was, presumably, established in Episode One (and itís a premise that doesn't seem likely, since they display absolutely no affection for each other during the course of that film -- in fact, quite the opposite).  Clones now provides the explication for this Romeo-and-Juliet romance, one that we know will end in similar grief, thanks to what has now been designated Episode Four, but the script stretches the audience's patience for so long that there's a real danger of indifference kicking in. Only the exquisitely designed special effects (partly created by Lucas stalwart Dennis Muren) for this supposedly life-altering experience compensates for, and makes barely tolerable, these hideously risible scenes. 

As for the other, and obviously more talented actors, they can do nothing but fill space and articulate their share of threadbare aphorisms until the final sequence kicks in. Poor Ewan McGregor and the always delightfully sinister Christopher Lee can do only so much to keep credibility and buoyancy alive in the characterizations, especially since no one else in the cast is given enough screen time to do so. This approach works well in the case of Jar Jar Binks, many will be happy to hear (although he does end up becoming a senator of the Republic -- perhaps this is the Republic's way of kicking him upstairs where he can do the least harm), but not so well anywhere else. 

In Lucas's defense, it's too simplistic to complain that Clones is suffering from a bad case of narrative bloat, as did Phantom Menace. It does seem, on the surface, that the use of two films (and eventually three, when the next installment rolls out next year), as an excuse for an overly long prologue when the original Star Wars was able to achieve a rational and discrete narrative unit in a little over two hours could lead to that conclusion. Moreover, the final powerhouse of a sequence, with every Jedi in town, even Yoda, engaging in a massive attack against the clones, almost makes up for everything else, but why did the audience have to wade through two hours of mediocrity for the final payoff? Is the audience for the Star Wars series being made to pay three times over for one-third the material in this case?

The answer to the last question hopefully might end up being "not necessarily", particularly if Lucas can made the third film a coherent and effective bridge between Episodes Two and Four.  If not, what might have seemed like a leisurely, and entertaining exercise in expository development -- Episodes One and Two -- just might come to seem like self-indulgence of the most annoying kind.

Written and
Directed by:

George Lucas

Starring:
Ewan McGregor
Natalie Portman
Hayden Christensen
Ian McDiarmid
Samuel L. Jackson
Pernilla August
Jack Thompson
Christopher Lee
Anthony Daniels
Frank Oz
Andrew Secombe

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.

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