‘Attack of the Clones’ reviews

John’s “Attack of the Clones” flashback review, johnvhansen.com, Sept. 5, 2016

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ndsu spectrum: movie review

‘Clones’ breaks free of original trilogy’s shadow

By JOHN HANSEN
Summer 2002

 

In all of my trips to see “Attack of the Clones” this summer, the audience’s favorite scene was the same every time. In fact, George Lucas might have subtitled the film “Yoda with a Friggin’ Lightsaber” and packed the seats even faster.

The little green guy’s battle with Count Dooku is the best, but not the only, highlight of this second “Star Wars” episode, which significantly breaks free of the massive shadow of expectation cast by the original trilogy, something that “Episode I — The Phantom Menace” failed to do in the eyes of many.

The appeal of “Clones” is much like the appeal of “The Empire Strikes Back.” After introducing the characters and having some fun in the original “Star Wars,” George Lucas explored deeper and darker corners of the galaxy in “Empire.” The pattern is repeated in the prequel trilogy — the characters and key locales were introduced in “Menace,” but it’s in “Clones” that viewers can move beyond a mere intellectual grasp of the galactic conflict.

Now we actually care about it.

Jam-packed into “Clones” are five planets, two more than a “Star Wars” film usually deals with. During the speeder chase on Coruscant, we see flashy billboards and a thriving sports bar; later, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) visits a ’50s-style diner. We get the picture of a galaxy in a time of economic prosperity and peace.

Later, we revisit Padme’s (Natalie Portman) home planet Naboo and Anakin’s (Hayden Christensen) old haunts at Mos Espa on Tatooine. After seeing them in Episode I, these places now feel like home to the viewer as well. Hinting at the darkness to come in Episode III, we also see the rain-shrouded Kamino, where the clone army is built; and Geonosis, where the first battle of the Clone War is fought.

Ten years after “Menace,” “Clones” rejoins three old friends who now have more personality, as writer-director Lucas has loosened the leash and allowed his actors to act a bit. Anakin isn’t a kid anymore, but rather a dangerously fragile young man. Christensen, who already made an impression as a recovering druggie in the TV series “Higher Ground,” gives lump-in-the-throat readings of Lucasian dialogue like “They’re animals, and I killed them like animals. I hate them!”

(Christensen’s performance and the events of “Clones” suggest a reading of Anakin’s fall to evil that few people had considered. Many assumed that Anakin actively pursued the dark side, but it now seems he is pushed to the dark side by the loss of things he loves — his beloved mother’s death in “Clones,” his banishment from the Jedi Order and perhaps his wife Padme’s death in Episode III. Rather than looking forward to it, I am now cringing at the thought of seeing Anakin turn to the dark side, which tells me that Lucas and Christensen have crafted a very good character.)

As the galaxy-weary yet sheltered young Senator, Portman’s performance is restrained in contrast to Christensen, but they get on the same page for some great romance scenes. My favorite is the meadow picnic, where Padme shyly suggests “You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?” and Anakin sheepishly responds “I’d be much too frightened to make fun of a senator.” John Williams’ orchestral contributions can’t be understated here.

But of the three leads, it’s McGregor who gives the best performance, which is good, because he has to carry the middle chunk of the film. His verbal banter with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is almost more entertaining than the subsequent lightsaber duel.

As the most notable new character, Lee proves why he is considered a legend. His readings of lines like “Join me, Obi-Wan, and together we will destroy the Sith!” are instantly quotable. And a tip of the hat goes to whoever came up with the name “Dooku,” because it allows the good guys to sound like they are insulting him by simply using his name (Mace Windu: “We will not be hostages for you to barter, Dooku!”).

Although Yoda gives the best performance among the digitally realized characters (and perhaps even the best performance overall), I also have to give mention to junk dealer Watto, whose fatherly love for Anakin was hinted at in “Menace” and achieves a pay-off here.

In “Clones,” Lucas contradicts three elements of the “Star Wars” mythology as established in the novels. This is surprising for a franchise that prides itself on strict adherence to continuity in all its spin-off fiction. Boba Fett is revealed to be the cloned son of Jango Fett, rather than journeyman protector Jaster Mereel (“Tales of the Bounty Hunters”). Owen Lars is the step-brother of Anakin, rather than the brother of Obi-Wan (the “Return of the Jedi” novelization). And the Death Star was designed by Geonosians rather than human Bevil Lemelisk (“Darksaber”).

That Lucas is contradicting established lore presents yet another twist on the question of what will happen in Episode III (to be released in 2005). There are certain things we know must happen: Anakin will become Sidious’ new apprentice Darth Vader; Dooku will die; all of the Jedi except Obi-Wan and Yoda will be slaughtered; Luke and Leia will be born and hidden on separate planets; Padme will die soon after that; and Vader will know about the existence of Luke, but not Leia. We also know that dead Jedis can dissolve into spectral images in Episode IV, but not in Episode I. And we know that the Empire consists entirely of humans, yet Palpatine has several alien aides as a Chancellor.

But as diner owner Dexter Jettster points out to Obi-Wan in “Clones,” there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Even having seen Episodes I, II, IV, V and VI, it’s virtually impossible to predict the plot of Episode III. Perhaps that’s Lucas’ biggest accomplishment on “Clones”: he’s given the prequel trilogy a life and emotional journey that stands on its own — it’s not merely the backstory, it’s the story.

Title: “Attack of the Clones”

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson

Written by: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales

Director: George Lucas

Grade: A