Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack Of The Clones

**1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack Of The Clones
"Unfortunately, while a marked improvement over last time, Attack Of The Clones still isn't a return to the old magic."

Ten years after the invasion of Naboo and there is great unrest in the galaxy. Following an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman), young Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is assigned to protect her while his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) follows a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison). Meanwhile, with Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) still concealing his identity as the Sith Lord, he manipulates his way into supreme political power and commissions a clone army.

Okay, so The Phantom Menace was never going to live up to 16 years of fanboy expectation, but the end results were still disappointing. As a result, the hype surrounding creator George Lucas' prequel-saga middle episode is much lessened and even the biggest Star Wars geek found their lack of faith disturbing.

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Unfortunately, while a marked improvement over last time, Attack Of The Clones still isn't a return to the old magic. Yes, it's darker, more polished and ultimately better than the kiddie-orientated Phantom Menace (Jar Jar is largely sidelined here), but there are still plenty of niggles.

Foremost among these is the copious overuse of CGI. Sure, it gives us lots of beautiful backdrops, but the amount of blue-screen used is often unnecessary (at one stage our Jedi are walking through a digitally-created temple...are there no real temples out there?) and affects the acting. In particular, Sam Jackson often seems like he's reading lines and the decision to make Yoda (whose formally-endearing backwards-speak is now annoying and overdone) completely computer generated feels much less real than Frank Oz's puppetry. As for his quickly-infamous lightsaber fight with separatist Count Dooku (a spot-on Christopher Lee), a step too far, it surely is.

Still, there's more to be happy about this time around. The action remains overdone but the Gladiator arena set-piece is suitably epic, John Williams score is excellent as always (particularly when you hear strains of the originals or Duel Of The Fates kicking in) and the moment when Anakin rides off to rescue his mother at sunset is up there with the most memorable moments in the franchise.

Story-wise, though starting off with our Vader-to-be as a kid has undoubtedly unbalanced the prequel series' plot, the contribution of writer Jonathan Hales helps balance what has happened since last time (some politics, Ani growing up), what is happening (more politics, a love story) and setting up what is going to happen (just a guess, but it'll involve a black mask and some heavy breathing).

Thankfully, the nods to the originals are also much better. Unfortunately, we get C3-PO getting involved in too much of the action as 'comic relief', but the Tatooine moisture farm homestead has been faithfully recreated, Amidala's style is now leaning heavily towards Princess Leia and Obi-Wan's death-stick scene could just be the best Jedi mind-trick ever. You will laugh out loud (waves hand).

But how does Hayden Christensen get on with one of the most iconic parts of all time? Well, he's not as bad as naysaysers would have you believe, but doesn't quite own the role. Floating somewhere in the middle, there are moments where we see a petulant adolescent and others where the Canadian uses his intense stare to reveal the anger, pain and impatience simmering beneath the surface.

Elsewhere, Ian McDiarmid is an underused scene-stealer once again as the string-pulling Sith, Natalie Portman is less stiff than last time now playing her own age and Ewan McGregor has improved as Obi-Wan despite some spotty characterisation (sometimes wrongly painted as needing rescued).

Given that episode two was sarcastically titled Jar Jar's Big Adventure while filming, it’s clear that Lucas felt the largely negative reaction to The Phantom Menace. It might be a mixed affair that still isn't in the originals league, but the force is certainly stronger with Attack Of The Clones.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2009
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Obi-Wan and Anakin are put in charge of protecting the Naboo senatoress after an attempt on her life.
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