Journey to the Dark Side
Watching a Star Wars movie always gives me a childlike feeling of excitement and awe. I even found things to admire in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Not Jar-Jar Binks, of course, but courageous Queen Amidala and her loyal followers more than made up for his annoying presence. I’m happy to report that Episode II: Attack of the Clones provides enough visual spectacle and sci-fi action to fill my need for another Star Wars fix. And romantic elements are added to this prequel which definitely increased my interest. More good news: Jar-Jar only gets about 5 or 10 minutes of screen time.
Padmé Amidala, played again by Natalie Portman, is ten years older here. She’s now a distinguised Senator who’s been targeted for assassination. Imagine Padme's surprise when the handsome Anakin Skywaker (Hayden Christensen) is assigned to help protect her. Could this be the same person she last saw as a youngster (Jake Lloyd)? You becha! And it doesn’t take long for youthful passion to take over between beautiful Padmé and the arrogant Jedi apprentice, even though emotional attachments are taboo for both of them.
Filmmaker George Lucas picked Christensen (Life as a House) for the coveted role of Anakin partly because of the chemistry he noticed between Portman and this young actor. Although Christensen and Portman do create a few sparks in their scenes together, I wish the words they exchanged matched their sex appeal. ("My, how you’ve grown," observes Amidala. "You are in my soul, tormenting me," Anakin declares – which doesn’t sound like a 19-year old boy to me. Stuff like that.) But maybe I’m just nitpicking. Where love is concerned, showing is more important than telling, right?
While Anakin engages in forbidden trysts, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), his Jedi mentor, investigates the mystery behind the threat to Padmé’s life. The major suspects? A fearless bounty hunter (Temuera Morrison) and a disillusioned Jedi Master (Christopher Lee). I’m pleased to see McGregor growing into his Obi-Wan Kenobi role so effectively. In this Episode, much more so than in The Phantom Menace, his mannerisms seem consistent with the way Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan in the first Star Wars trilogy. McGregor simply oozes wisdom and integrity. He's especially convincing when showing Obi-Wan’s concern over the changes taking place in Anakin, his brave but headstrong apprentice.
Explaining Anakin’s complex character, Lucas says, "What drove me in the first place to create this new trilogy was to create a story about somebody who starts out as a good person, but is seduced by the dark side and becomes evil. And is ultimately redeemed. In Attack of the Clones, we begin to see flashes of anger from Anakin, and the seeds of his feelings are moving toward the dark side."
Fans will be glad to know that old favorites R2-D2, C-3P0, and Yoda make amusing appearances in Attack of the Clones. I never thought I’d see Yoda with a lightsaber, but he wields one here in an exciting battle – and I’m warning you, don’t even think about messing with this little dude.
Happily, the cinematic Force is still with Lucas. So what if he uses an "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to filmmaking – more weird creatures, more lightsaber fights, more clones, more droids, more starships, more action, and so forth – isn’t that what Star Wars is all about? My eyes got wider and wider as I stared at Obi-Wan Kenobi zooming through a dark sky full of asteroids while chasing an assassin. I marveled at the strange world of Kamino, a storm-shrouded planet with its heavy rains and winds, where the inhabitants work in secret to build a clone army. And Samuel L. Jackson, returning as Jedi Master Mace Windu, is something to see when he finally goes into attack mode to lead Jedi Knights against the forces of the evil Count Dooku (Lee).
Politics, honor, heroism, duty, and forbidden love – all are elements of vital importance in Attack of the Clones. But don’t expect to see Anakin Skywalker finally become Darth Vader. That won’t happen until Star Wars Episode lll. I, for one, can hardly wait.
(Released by 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm Ltd. and rated "PG" for sustained sequences of sci-fi action violence.)