Director: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan Macgregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson
Plot: When the Senator of Naboo, Padme (Portman) barely survives an assassination attempt, two Jedi Knights from her past try to track down the killer.
Last time I discussed the dreaded Star Wars prequels, I felt I did a pretty good job at defending them. Sadly ‘Attack of the Clones’ is a little harder to defend, even if it is a pretty good watch for anyone who calls themselves a Star Wars fan.
It opens with Padme, now a Senator rather than a Queen, trying to defend a peace treaty, a political move that sees an attempt on her life carried out by some deadly bounty hunters. Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the latter developing a crush on Padme since they bonded in the first film, are hired to investigate the bounty hunters and defend Padme at the same time. They spilt up to get the job best done. However, as Obi Wan takes on the deadly Jango Fett, uncovering a conspiracy in the process, Anakin and Padme develop a forbidden love and undertake a journey that brings Anakin that little bit closer to the Dark side.
What I liked about Phantom Menace is the fact that it was pretty action-packed. Sure, the dialogue was corny and Jar Jar Binks was there, but it moved along so fast, it was fairly easy to roll with the punches and focus on the film’s strengths rather than its weaknesses. Here, Lucas slows down the action in between the good set pieces, so the film ends up needing to rely on its dialogue. This is where we end up pulling our hair out (“I don’t like sand.”) The opening sequence is the slowest yet. A single explosion and then we get several meetings to keep us entertained until the second assassination attempt. Sure, when the action gets going, it is really good, but Lucas makes you struggle far more than you should be to get to these scenes.
Sometimes I like the slower stuff. Most of the action in the first half of the film plays out like a Sci-Fi detective drama. Obi Wan Kenobi follows a bunch of clues that lead him to Jango Fett in Kamino. There is nothing wrong with this kind of slower approach to the Star Wars universe. It is actually quite interesting. The problem is that these scenes are juxtaposed with Anakin and Padme getting closer to each other in Naboo. This is the low point of the films, nay, entire franchise. The dialogue is diabolical, Hayden Christensen ruins what could have been the performance of a lifetime (Darth Vader before he was Vader – I would kill for that role). After spending time with them, you kind of end up wanting something a little more action-packed than Obi-Wan spying on Jango. When watching this film, I am often using the skip scene function on the DVD player.
The film does eventually get there. The final fight in the Geonosis execution arena is everything I want from a Star Wars prequel. It is almost reminiscent of a Robert Rodriguez climax. We have built up all of these fantastic characters and Lucas throws them into a crazy fight, throwing us between the characters and basically watching them be awesome. This is what we want from a big budget, CGI-fest that is a Star Wars prequel. On top of that, we get some of the best Star Wars monsters yet: the Acklay is a terrific monster for the archives. On the downside, Lucas pretty much ruins the mythology of the Jedi. In ‘Phantom Menace’, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan take out an entire battleship of Battle Droids, yet here the nameless Jedi are easily dispatched. If the Jedi aren’t named, they are no match for the bad guys that we have been led to believe are pretty weak.
What about villains? They should be the high point of the Star Wars films. Sadly, ‘Attack of the Clones’ is lacking slightly. Jango Fett was a good choice, capitalising on the Boba Fett fan club. Christopher Lee does his best, using up all of his tricks that made him one of the best actors for playing villains in cinema, but his character his kept in the shadows too long. He is menacing, but he becomes little more than your typical Christopher Lee bad guy. Saruman with a lightsaber if you will. The best actor of the lot is probably Ewan Macgregor. He wasn’t given too much to do in the first film, but here he seems to be having the time of his life, getting some of the best lines and a wit that really lifts the film, when it begins to drag.
Final verdict: Good in moments, but awful in others. The slowest of the lot yet and has some of the worst scenes. Saved by an explosive finale.