Review/Commentary: Episode II: Attack of the Clones


We’ve all waited patiently for three years for the follow-up to The Phantom Menace, and now it’s here. Yes it’s good, yes it’s an improvement, and yes people still care. I guess being a longtime fan can sway your opinions a little, but I really loved this film. Even people who aren’t that into Star Wars are telling me it’s really cool. Everyone loved Yoda, and that seems to be all they’re talking about—that and how his big fight scene was too short. Everyone wanted more Yoda kicking Sith booty.

The film begins with a big explosion that catapults us into Episode II at a breakneck speed. As far as the editing goes, it’s similar to Episode I, utilizing fast cuts and the traditional wipes the Star Wars films are famous for. The scenes are short but useful and necessary. 15 minutes into the film, we’re already on a wild chase through Coruscant traffic with Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi hanging on to a flying assassin droid for dear life, while an older and whinier Anakin Skywalker “borrows” a speeder to try and rescue his dangling master. From then on it’s a rollercoaster ride of fun that doesn’t stop until the credits roll. That’s how Episode II moves. It builds, climbs, and drops you over and over again. Yes, there are some slower slower, expositional scenes, but I think if you pay attention to them, you’ll be rewarded because many of them are quite enjoyable, like the Watto/Anakin reunion which is both humorous and heartwarming.

Many people didn’t like the look and feel of Episode I since it was new and unfamiliar. I actually liked the way it looked. It showed a galaxy without the rough edges. Everything is perfect, nicely designed, and all curved and shiny. In this film, while some aspects of the beaten-up universe we’re familiar with start to manifest, the look and feel is quite the same as in Episode I, just a little more enhanced. In some cases, it’s a lot more enhanced, as with any scene on Coruscant. We didn’t get to see a lot of the place in Episode I, and what we saw was mostly indoors. In Episode II, we’re treated to some very nice exterior establishing shots that are nothing short of breathtaking.

The high point of the Coruscant scenes is the high-speed chase through the traffic and underworld which starts with Obi-Wan leaping through Padmé’s bedroom window onto an assassin droid sent out by bounty hunter Zam Wesell. Obi-Wan is taken on a perilous ride through the traffic lanes as the droid tries to shake him free. Meanwhile, Anakin takes off after him. After catching Obi-Wan in a borrowed speeder, he continues to pursue Zam, now in her speeder trying to get away. The visuals here are fantastic, if you have time to look at them. The chase is extremely fast and the amount of eye candy is enormous. Repeat viewings will definitely reveal a lot more in the background. Fans of Blade Runner will be quite happy to see the familiar neon look of the downtown Los Angeles set. The whole chase kept bringing Blade Runner back to my mind, especially the part where Anakin chases Zam on foot through the crowded Coruscant streets. There’s one shot of Zam running at the camera I just love. All I think about during that part is Rick Deckard chasing the Zhora through the streets. While perhaps not a conscious homage, it still made me associate the two scenes right away, and because I’m a big Blade Runner fan, I enjoy the similarities in a big way.

Speaking of Coruscant, one of the eeriest moments in Episode II happens in Palpatine’s office. Anakin and Palpatine have a conversation that creeps me out, knowing what’s going to eventually take place years later. This scene alone reveals Palpatine’s true evil nature without really giving it away to those who haven’t seen the original trilogy. In this scene, Palpatine is priming Anakin for his turn to the Dark Side. You know he’s just biding his time, waiting for the right moment to take Anakin and mold him into a Sith minion. You can see it in his walk, hear it in his voice. He wants Anakin on his (dark) side and fills his head with a few ideas to keep his ego boosted until it’s time to turn.

There’s lots of cutting back and forth between Obi-Wan trying to solve the mystery of who’s trying to kill Amidala, and Anakin who is trying to protect her by taking her off-planet, which she’s not too happy about. The Anakin/Padmé scenes take us through the love story arc and while there are a few quirky dialogue moments, I feel it was as good as it could be without being too boring. Casting director Robin Gurland was right when she said Hayden says it all with his eyes. Sometimes he stares at people and no words are needed. I’ll have no Hayden bashing. He did a fantastic job. In fact, the scenes I was worried about turned out great, like when Anakin breaks down after the Tusken encounter and finding his mother, or when he says his final goodbyes to Shmi at the gravesite.

If you don’t pay attention, you might miss a few things. I’ve seen it a few times in the theater already and I’ve noticed that different audiences picked up on different things. When Anakin and Padmé first kiss, she pulls away and the music dramatically stops. Sometimes people laughed at this, sometimes not. Then Anakin apologizes but if you look at his face, his expression is of sheer confusion and it’s humorous. Some crowds missed that as well. There are no gratuitous love scenes in Star Wars, which is probably one of the reasons I like these scenes so much. Those little nuances, like Anakin’s confused face, help lighten the serious tone.

The last hour of this film shows us what the Jedi and the Republic are capable of when pushed. We already know who wins this particular war, but if we had no original trilogy, we wouldn’t know this. In fact, it’s a pretty interesting little twist. On the surface, it appears that the Republic came out victorious in the Battle of Geonosis, but perhaps in Episode III Palpatine/Darth Sidious will simply point the Clone Army in whatever direction he wants. Palpatine can then declare himself Emperor, disband the Senate, and become the dictator we know from the original trilogy. The battle scenes in the last 30 minutes of the film are true movie magic. Even if you’re disappointed with the first two-thirds of the film, the last third makes up for it in a big way. The arena, the rescue by Yoda and the Clones, the whole “Death Star” nod, the land battles, the pursuit and duels with Count Dooku, Yoda once again proving that “size matters not,” and everything else that follows will keep you on the edge of your seat.

If you don’t get the same feeling seeing Yoda’s performance in the last part of the film as you did when you Luke and Vader first fought in The Empire Strikes Back, then you really need to lighten up a bit and learn how to enjoy a film again. I just wish the lightsaber duels in this film were as long and involved as the ones in the original trilogy. They seemed to whiz by as fast as the Maul vs. Obi-Wan duel in Episode I. What makes these duels with Dooku a little more interesting is the confidence and arrogance of Dooku, taunting Obi-Wan with a huge grin while uttering lines like, “Surely, you can do better!” There’s nothing like a little trash-talk while fighting with a lightsaber. Maul was cool, but you have to give Dooku credit. He’s older, more experienced, elegant, classy, but knows when to jump ship when he has to. Christopher Lee plays this character well, goofy faces and all. Everyone was worried that he would be too old to pull this off but he, along with Yoda, steals the final scenes. The Dooku/Yoda fight alone makes the film worth seeing. That shot of Yoda opening his robe to reveal his lightsaber will no doubt join the list of the most memorable Star Wars scenes ever.

I’m fully satisfied with the direction the saga is heading. I feel that people need to realize that no matter what Lucas does, he’s never going to top that Original Trilogy for a lot of people, myself included. Part of the problem with people/critics/fans today is that they keep comparing the new films to the originals. The thing they’re forgetting is how old they were when they saw the film. Your age gives you a different perspective. When you’re young and impressionable, it can mean all the world to you. It’s all you think about because when you’re young, you have nothing else to worry about. You’re not looking for technical flaws, special effects mistakes, bad dialogue or acting—you’re there to have fun. When you go see these new films, you need to get back into that mindset of, “I’m here to have fun and enjoy the story.” Once you can do that without sitting there over-analyzing the film’s intricacies, you’ll find the new films are a pretty fun ride.

Before these films were made, people had their own ideas about what they think happened in the prequel era. Obi-Wan and Anakin had a fight in a lava pit, and so on. But what if Lucas decides that it didn’t go down that way after all this time? Will people have tantrums when Episode III comes out? There’s no reason to be so uptight about the films. Perhaps some fans love the series but don’t want to see their version of events distorted or destroyed. The trouble is, this is the story as per its creator. There are some tweaks along the way, but you’re getting what Lucas put in his back story notes and outlines years ago. He’s not going to change that for anyone. If you’re going to let Jar Jar Binks ruin a whole movie for you, then that’s your problem, but just remember that not everyone hates the guy. I’m happy he’s in Episode II and I like what happens to him. Many people didn’t find him that funny, except for kids, I suppose. I have the feeling that if Episode I was made back in 1977 and A New Hope was made today, people might be running around now saying things like, “That C-3PO is so annoying,” or “Luke is a whiny, unlikable punk played by a really bad actor,” or “Peter Cushing is excellent in the film, but he’s not enough to salvage this mess of a B-movie.” They’d probably say that veteran actor Alec Guinness was forced to do his best with Lucas’ bad dialogue.

It’s all about perspective. As a longtime fan of the Star Wars series, I’ve always been willing to let go of most of the cinematic flaws that appear in the saga, including the newer films. I find them fresh, entertaining as hell, and a nice break from the usual Hollywood drivel. Episode II in particular exceeded my expectations. I was pleasantly blown away by some of the visuals, effects, and even by the scenes where the effects were minimal, like the Tatooine set. I love that they recreated the whole Lars kitchen just for that little scene when Beru brings a tray of drinks out. I mean, they didn’t have to go to all that trouble to reproduce every little detail just for a few seconds of film time, but they did. Of course there’s probably more footage from the kitchen on the cutting room floor, but the point still stands.

I think the film is outstanding in lots of ways. It’s technically great, visually dynamic, entertaining, and satisfying, at least to me. Some might disagree, but no opinion is wrong. However, I feel that people let too many factors sway their opinions, and those who felt “cheated” by Episode I are now looking for new things to complain about. While it’s not perfect (and what movie is?), it’s still loads of fun and a good time at the movie show. Enjoy it!

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