It's been twenty five years since the original Star Wars was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and the world's first mainstream cult classic was born. Most films with the kind of manic popularity that this series exhibits have a relatively small following, but Star Wars devotees number in the millions, if not billions. There are websites, books, videos, posters, pencil sets, lunch boxes; even weddings for goodness sakes. So when George Lucas announced that he was going to revisit his long ago, far away galaxy, the collective cry of joy could probably be heard all the way to Tatooine. And then came Jar Jar.
There's no need to revisit the fiasco that was Episode I: The Phantom Menace, as just about everyone has already heard it a hundred times. "Jar Jar is awful." "It was a kiddie movie." "It was boring." These sentiments are all true to one extent or another, but I, and just about everyone else, liked the movie at the outset. In fact, George Lucas puts it's gross earnings at just about a billion dollars. It was the fervor, the joy I mentioned earlier, that caused people to initially overlook the film's flaws. It was only later, upon reflection that the shouts of discord could be heard. Why am I bringing all this up? I bring it up to show why, while audiences are cheering Episode II from the rooftops, critics are slashing it to pieces. Critics do not like to change their opinion. We are supposed to have such finely tuned artistic eyes that further reflection is unnecessary. We are supposed to be immune to hype. (Ha!) The mainstream critics were burned that their initial positive assessment of Phantom Menace had to be rethought, and they are determined to not make the same mistake again. I know it's frustrating to to come up with an honest review of a film with so much baggage attached to it, but I try to stick to one main point. Beyond all the acting, writing, and photographic aspects of film that, together, make for a quality (or sometimes not) product, I ask my self one question: did I have a good time? The answer to that is, unequivocally, yes. Or, in the geeky fan-ese that I speak so well, Episode II rocks!
First off, the Jar Jar issue has been eliminated to a point. His role has been severely truncated, and, while the part he does have to play is important, he's on and off the screen before your hackles have time to go up. Second, and this was brought up to me by one of my geek fan friends, Episode I has relatively little to do with the Star Wars we all know and love. It's set-up. It's foundation. It's necessary, but not terribly exciting. Episode II, on the other hand, is full of little moments of "Oh yeah..." or "Hey! I remember him!" We learn about the impending collapse of the Senate. We see the emergence of the Stormtroopers and the Star Destroyers. We learn more about the destruction of the Jedi. Attack of the Clones is much more invested in our memories of the original series than it's predecessor was.
The story is as follows: Amidala, now a senator, flies to Naboo after surviving an assassination attempt. With her goes the now nineteen year old Anakin - full of energy and frustration over the strict, monastic life required of a Jedi. They fall in love, though why I'll never understand. Amidala is poised, efficient, and wise. Anakin is impulsive, whiny and somewhat destructive. But, if we ever want a little Luke Skywalker running around, I guess it's necessary. In the meantime, Obi Wan Kenobi is sent to a mysterious watery planet in the middle of nowhere where he discovers that a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (father of Boba) is building a clone army (supposedly at the request of the Jedi. Hmmmm...) Finally, due to the political unrest that we went through in Phantom Menace, a separatist movement is growing, with a manipulative ex-Jedi at it's head, bent on becoming the real power in the galaxy. Got all that straight? Well, it'll make sense when you see the movie, and if it doesn't, there's plenty of action to keep you occupied. The movie starts with a thrilling in-air car chase, has a great Jedi-Bounty Hunter battle, and concludes with one of the coolest last forty-five minutes I've ever seen at the movies. Between the gladiatorial battle, the Yoda fight (you'll cheer) and the first real offensive of the fabled Clone War, there's very little chance of getting bored.
No, the movie isn't perfect. I won't be like Harry Knowles and offer my first born to George Lucas in gratitude. (I don't think he actually did that, but I wouldn't put it past him.) It starts a little slow, and the acting is a little clunky at first. Also, the dialogue really needs help. Anakin definitely needs to quit referring to his mother as "mom." It breaks the spell. I feel like he's from Toledo, not Tatooine. But the film looks great. The digital panoramas are breathtaking and the effects are top-notch. However, the main complaint I've heard from the critics is that this movie fails to capture the original magic that was Star Wars. I think we, collectively, need to drop this useless comparison. It can't be Star Wars. No matter how much we want it to be, it's just not going to happen. It's just like you try to relive the excitement of some former great time, and it's never the same. You go away disappointed even if you had a good time. Why? Because you were fixated on your impression of what the time should have been, rather than what it is. Attack of the Clones is fun, it's exciting, and it's just right for summer thrills. All we need now is Han Solo and it'll be perfect. Grade: A-
Attack of the Clones is rated PG for some violence.
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