'Episode II' falls short of expectations, but entertains

by Peter Jenks | 5/22/02 5:00am

A full year after the world was sorely disappointed by the first episode of the Star Wars saga, George Lucas had some expectations to meet and some disappointed fans to satisfy. "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" is an attempt to do so, and what Lucas pulls off is satisfying, but only in a begrudging way. While much better overall than" Episode I," "Attack of the Clones" is worse in many ways too, proving once again that Lucas is better suited to the special effects studio than the director's chair.

The plot line is one of the better aspects of the film. "Episode II" starts out with an assassination plot on former Princess, now Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). While the perpetrator of the attack is unknown, trouble has been brewing in the Galaxy. The Republic has been fighting to stay together as a new band of planets, called the Separatists, are fighting in the Senate to gain independence. Supported by the Trade Federation, the Separatists are threatening to build an army to help gain their freedom. The Republic, spearheaded by Senator Amidala, is attempting to pass a resolution to raise an army of its own, presumably to keep the peace.

After the murder attempt on Amidala, the High Council decides to call in a Jedi to protect her. The two Jedi Knights who come to Amidala's aid are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Sywalker (Hayden Christiensen). After a trap is set and a clue about the identity of the assassin is discovered, the two Jedi must part ways.

Anakin accompanies Padme Amidala to her home planet Naboo (of Phantom Menace fame) to protect her. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan travels on his own to a far-off planet that has mysteriously vanished from the Republic's archives, only to find that an enormous clone army is being built of what look suspiciously like Stormtroopers. Obi-Wan also finds the prototype for the clones, a bounty hunter named Jango Fett, who is in league with a dark Jedi Knight.

At the same time, Amidala and Skywalker are rolling in green fields, watching the sunrise and warming by a fire back on Naboo. After a while, however, Anakin has a bad dream about his mother and, forsaking his mission to protect Padme, races off to the planet Tatooine to rescue her. Padme decides to go along with Skywalker for kicks. After Anakin finds his mother dying, he begins to turn towards the dark side and the first flashes of Darth Vader begin to creep out. But when they get a message that Obi-Wan is in trouble trying to track down Jango and his dark master, Sywalker and Amidala rush off to help him.

The script of "Clones" is terrible. I don't know which is more responsible for the lack of genuine humor and life in this movie: the dialogue, the acting or the directing. The characters recite lines like students in a high school play, and it doesn't help that everything they say is there solely to provide information to the viewer or help the plot progress. What made the original Star Wars movies so memorable wasn't all of the high-tech fight sequences. The reason we loved them was because of the witty banter and impeccable acting. Led by Harrison Ford, the characters were full of life and intelligence.

Every actor in "Episode II" seems severely constipated, with the exception of Ewan McGregor who appears to be enjoying himself. The hated Jar-Jar Binks and the loved Yoda, both computer-generated, do the best acting jobs in the film.

Nowhere is the lack of genuine acting more evident than in the love sequences between Christiensen and Portman on Naboo. The two slog through their lines like they've never acted before. And while they both do reasonably good jobs at conveying the emotions of forbidden love, it doesn't carry over into their speech. In fact, the romance was the most effective comic relief of the whole film.

In spite of all this, the film manages to fully engage the viewer. The action sequences, though occasionally forced, are some of the best that Lucas has ever engineered. The battle scene between an army of androids and Jedi Knights is most memorable. The lightsaber-wielding knights produce one of the most impressive battles I can remember in recent memory.

Yet despite the awesome action sequences, the film seems a bit too computer-generated -- a bit too clean. Lucas relies so heavily on computer-generated effects that often the actual actors seem out of place, much like in the battle sequences in "Episode I." It was necessary that a factory, or a gladiatorial ring or any other structure generated by special effects, not be dirty, but instead be nearly spotless.

While "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" falls far short of its potential, it is worlds better than its predecessor is. The movie manages to entertain from start to end in spite of its flaws. "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" is not a very good film by any stretch of the imagination -- but it's a good installment of the Star Wars series.