STAR WARS Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Sustained Sequences of Sci-Fi Action/Violence

AttackClones poster

Directed by: George Lucas

Written by: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Temuera Morrison, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Daniel Logan, Leeanna Walsman, Silas Carson, Rose Byrne, Pernilla August & Joel Edgerton

ATTACK OF THE CLONES is better than PHANTOM MENACE. This second prequel rides that level of quality, but never manages to become a completely “good” experience. Actually, the film still holds the position of the second worst STAR WARS movie. In this case, that’s okay and not bad. When everyone saw the title of this film and promotional art featuring familiar looking clone soldiers, we all knew what coming. Obviously, this was the origin story of the Storm Troopers. While that doesn’t really seem to be the most exciting aspect that a STAR WARS film could focus on, Episode II is entertaining.

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A decade has passed since Episode I. The Dark Side is quietly rising among the Galactic Republic. Padme has shifted political power from Queen to Senator. Despite being at a lower level of government, an assassination attempt is made on her life. This botched assassination sends Obi-Wan Kenobi and young Anakin Skywalker on a mission to figure out the identity of the culprit and the reason why someone would want Padme dead. Obi-Wan discovers a secret army of clones being built on a missing planet and tangles with bounty hunter Jango Fett, all while Anakin breaks Jedi code in a relationship with Padme. This all leads to an intense battle brimming with more sinister intentions beneath the surface.

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Though clone armies aren’t exactly the first image that springs to mind in the STAR WARS legacy, it’s certainly a lot more interesting than a mere taxation and blockade seen in PHANTOM MENACE. This second prequel opens doors for more interesting baddies, intergalactic conspiracies, and lots of well-constructed action scenes. Nice additions include the origin of Boba Fett (a personal favorite from the original trilogy). However, there’s a big hitch in the casting of Hayden Christensen. A lot of people have already taken their jabs at his wooden delivery (even though the stilted romantic dialogue is not much to work with). The best of these might be in CLERKS II, when a customer refers to him as “Mannequin Skywalker’s shitty acting is ruining saga.” Though he’s flat in most areas and comes off like a whiny brat in others, there are a couple of quiet convincing moments. These brief bits show little transformations in his attitude and personality that will eventually turn him into the masked villain that we all know and love. The love between Anakin and Padme is just plain silly in execution though. It’s almost like a Nicholas Sparks movie snuck into a STAR WARS film. The plot line feels that drastically out-of-place.

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As far as visuals, massive improvement is seen throughout. Other worlds that were brought to life in PHANTOM MENACE (one of the few redeemable aspects of that film) are fleshed out even further in Episode II. Some diehard fans might miss the gritty look, but I dug the crisp feeling of creative planets that were mainly brought to the screen through computer effects and green screen (in the same fashion that SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW and SIN CITY would use later on). There’s also more development given to certain characters this time around, though the Padme and Anakin romance needed some serious re-writes. Ewan McGregor is far better as an older, wiser Obi-Wan. However, C-3PO becomes a Jar-Jar Binks-esque character in the final third. He’s literally throwing out an annoying pun every few minutes (sometimes, spewing multiple in a matter of seconds) and they all fall flat. Cool looking grasshopper-like aliens become as useless as battle droids to the Jedi though as they’re weak opponents.

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Despite the flaws, ATTACK OF THE CLONES sports a lot of awesome scenes. One being a mid-air pursuit through the night skies of a city. Another is an intense chase scene through a meteor field against a ship that happens to use sonic blasts as weapons. Finally, there’s the finale that takes up almost a third of the film in a good way that never once bored me. It’s moving from set piece to set piece, including a fantastic gladiator stadium housing three vicious beasts eager to slice, stomp and devour our protagonists. Count Dooku also lends to a far more compelling light saber duel, in which we finally get to see Yoda in action, than the underdeveloped (badass looking) Darth Maul from the first prequel. This feels more like a STAR WARS film than PHANTOM MENACE ever did. It never reaches anything close to the feeling of the original trilogy, but I still enjoy it on its own merits.

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Watching Episodes I-II back-to-back for the first time in a decade, I can safely say that ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a massive improvement over PHANTOM MENACE. It’s not up to the quality of the original films. The film remains the second worst entry, but CLONES isn’t a bad flick. This is far more entertaining, exciting and full of better action scenes than the 1999 disappointment. There’s something to be said for significantly lowered expectations, but I think Episode II is actually an enjoyable flick (with some big problems).

Grade: B-

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