Film Reviews:

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

(George Lucas, US, 2002)

As much as The Phantom Menace was a major league disappointment, Attack of the Clones is a major return to form for writer/director George Lucas. Everything that was lacking in Episode I has largely been rectified in Episode II. For starters there's a plot that requires the viewer to pay attention, there are decent, well-written characters that you're actually interested in and (shock!) even some politics. Of course, there's the first class production values - the (mainly) stunning special effects, art direction, costume design, etc. With all the Star Wars saga threads that Episode II was always going to have to begin bringing together, it would have been hard to see how Lucas could have turned in another lazy, indulgent and ultimately empty blimp like The Phantom Menace.

The political stuff (I'm thinking of the references to political alliances and guilds that span galaxies) recalls that classic of political and religious SF - Frank Herbert's Dune. Okay, this can't hope to challenge the complexity to be found in that novel (or Lynch's movie version for that matter), but the mere fact that it made me think of Herbert's masterwork is praise enough. I thought also that the backstory of Boba Fett's father, Jango Fett, was deftly handled. By exposing the human behind the famous bounty hunter mask, Lucas could have demystified whole Boba Fett character. But by focusing on his father (with Boba running around as a kid) he not only created another interesting character but he cleverly sets up the motivation for Boba Fett in the later instalments. Ewan McGregor thankfully gives up his unintentionally hilarious impression of Alec Guiness and Christopher Lee adds class menace as Count Dooku. But it's a severe shame that the female bounty hunter character Zam Wesell is so woefully underused (very similar to Boba Fett in the first outing).

I disagree with those critics who either didn't like or were not convinced by Hayden Christensen as the hormone-raging teenage Anakin Skywalker or his romance with Natalie Portman as Senator (and former princess) Padme Amidala. I thought Christensen's petulant character and erratic personality were both believable and non-irritating - although Lucas' direction does slip close to perfunctory at times. As for the love story sub-plot, it didn't take up much screen time, and was well-handled without shoving it into the face of the audience - much like the blossoming relationship between Princess Leia and Han Solo in Episode IV. And that isn't the only time we are reminded of the old glory days of the first two films in the Star Wars sextet to be. It's also satisfyingly, if somewhat inevitably, darker than The Phantom Menace and Lucas often handles the dark side better than the light.

Having (at the time of writing) only seen Attack of the Clones once, I'd immediately rate it above Return of the Jedi. For a whole raft of reasons, this instalment can sit reasonably comfortably alongside A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and after the shallow and irritating The Phantom Menace proves naysayers like myself, who thought Lucas was taking on too much by directing the last episode, well and truly mistaken. Credit where credit is due, the filmmakers behind Star Wars Episode II can be proud of their work. I look forward to seeing it again soon. 7/10

Rob Dyer (July 2003)

See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
...and LOTS of Japanese anime

A-Z of Film Reviews