Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones: A Sequel We Didn't Need

The fate of the universe lies in the pants of a horny teenager.


directed by George Lucas with Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Samuel L. Jackson opens May 16 at Cinerama, Pacific Place, Oak Tree, and others WHEN WE LAST left our hero (three summers ago), his predicament was dire. In that cliff-hanging adventure, the intrepid adventurer appeared doomed to defeat after a long career fraught with peril. Clinging to a tree branch over a gaping chasm, as it were, it seemed he might have seen his last close escape. Not so. Somehow, huffing and puffing, George Lucas has pulled himself back from the brink of destruction, rescuing himself and his 25-year-old Star Wars series by, of course, the narrowest of margins. Hardly a triumph or a classic, Attack of the Clones barely manages to avoid being another ponderous, deadly-dull kiddie-fest like 1999's Phantom Menace. It's an adequate building-block placeholder in the ongoing Star Wars series. We're back in the year a-long-time-ago and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has grown into a handsome, surly 19-year-old with clear skin but bad hair. After 10 years of training under Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), the guy not unreasonably wants the keys to the car. They're not so easily forthcoming from dad (oops, Obi-Wan), which greatly frustrates the Chosen Teen. Even more frustrating is his need to get laid. That decade of rigorous Jedi training apparently lacked any sex ed (much less sex), leaving one with the impression that the interstellar knights may not have a vow of chastity per se, but something like an oath of avoidance. So it's unsurprising that when Anakin sets his eyes on Queen-turned-Senator Padm頨Natalie Portman), he's instantly smitten. "My goodness, you've grown!" she purrs to her panting new bodyguard, who quickly extends his light saber on her behalf. Danger is in the air (which the Jedi periodically sniff, like concerned dogs), and a violent attack scarcely five minutes into Clones signals how different it is from the action-lite Menace. To flee an assassination plot, Anakin and Padm頤itch their chaperone, Obi-Wan, for Naboo—a lush green planet designed for love. (Meanwhile Obi-Wan is out playing gumshoe on some rain-lashed clone-factory planet, tussling with a helmeted bounty hunter by the name of Fett.) HOPPING NIMBLY between stories, Lucas' greatest strength in Clones, as before, is creating each wonderfully different planetary locale. The effect, as our heroes jump from Coruscant to Tatooine to Kamino and back, is like flipping through the glossy pages of The New York Times "Escapes" section—all these lovely, expensive places you'll never be able to visit. Indeed, for the parents who will check their watches during Clones' several PG civics-lesson debates (fascism vs. democracy, duty vs. passion, selfishness vs. society, etc.), this travelogue effect is the best thing about the movie. (Who wouldn't want one of those swell deco apartments high above the Metropolis-like planet/city of Coruscant? Better still, you can always hail a cab just outside your window.) Despite his leaden writing and schematic characterization, Lucas provides the truly dedicated viewer the pleasure of linking the five existing films and their characters. Fett becomes Fett; boy marries girl; chancellor becomes emperor—these are the sort of big-picture, metanarrative connections that turn the whole Star Wars phenomenon from mere serial to all-powerful franchise. (What a prophetic word that turned out to be.) Lucas methodically lays out Anakin's rebelliousness and future Darth Vader role in the future Federation (which will grow out of the Byzantine Clones conspiracy that is too tedious to describe). All of Alec Guinness' exasperation in the '77 Star Wars—call it Episode IV if you must—makes a lot more sense now. The all-digital details are less satisfying. Foreground figures and their CGI backgrounds are well matched, but the whole canvas now has a shimmeringly, glimmeringly unreal quality—neither cartoon nor live action, but something new and in between (as Lucas likely intends). In place of crisp comic-book flatness, we have bad pastel oil paintings. Harrison Ford's presence is sorely missed; there's no irreverent wit around to scoff at Jedi mumbo jumbo (and puncture Lucas' own piety), which keeps Clones a stiff, mirthless affair. Obviously there's less Jar Jar (like that's a surprise), while Jedi knights McGregor and Jackson get too little screen time. (When Jackson grouses about "disgruntled spice miners on the moons of Naboo," you can only wish to see his ass-kicking labor negotiations.) This second trilogy of Star Wars pictures only really takes flight while in flight. An airborne urban chase through the concrete canyons of Coruscant and asteroid-strewn pursuit above the planet Geonosis show how Lucas is still more comfortable with ethereal FX than earth-bound actors. (A final Gladiator-style showdown is a pastiche of both, and not particularly satisfying in either regard.) Yet Lucas wisely saves his best CG trick for the end, scoring the movie's biggest cheer with the digital animation of somebody once small and plodding—providing just enough spark to move Clones a little closer to A New Hope.

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