Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones (2002)

“The dark side of the Force has clouded their vision, my friend. Hundreds of senators are now under the influence of a Sith Lord called Darth Sidious.”

After getting off to a rockier start than one would expect from a franchise like Star Wars, the wheels keep spinning; creator, writer, and director George Lucas doesn’t appear to slow down or stop the forward progress made in the franchises glorious return after such an absence. Say what you want about The Phantom Menace, there are bright spots and a ton of potential that is never fully executed with exposition taking the spotlight away from what made the franchise what is in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For one, the political throughline introduced in the previous film is fascinating to explore – who controls the galaxy both from behind the scenes and standing in front of the systems’ delegates relaying that message.

Episode 2 subtitled Attack of the Clones, hereinafter referred to as, picks up nearly a decade after the events of the Episode 1 where the war on Naboo was won but the Sith presence has made itself known to all in the galaxy. With such a gap in between stories, the atmosphere remains unchanged, only our heroes, the Jedi, keepers of peace in the galaxy begin to unravel. Fulfilling his master’s promise, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is training his padawan Anikan Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to become a Jedi and have shared many adventures together when both are called to protect the now senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) after her ship is bombed and her decoy is killed on her way to a crucial vote for the republic.

As it did in its predecessor, Attack of the Clones follows Anikan’s journey, this time as a padawan. Knowing what becomes of him in Return of the Jedi, Lucas plants the seeds for the chosen one who is destined to bring balance to the force only to self-destruct and turn to the dark side of the force. Hayden, as the newcomer to the core group, channels Jake Lloyd’s youthfulness but adding the flair of rage, desperation, and anger set out in the characters path.

Like The Phantom Menace, most of the problems of this planned prequel trilogy stem from the screenplay and dialogue. Performances are fine enough; the actors can only do so much with the given material however, the character development instead of pushing forward, does a complete 180 and reverts backwards. Opposite that, there is a bigger upside in this middle film. Returning to score the second episode Is John Williams who never fails to disappoint – conducting the music to stand on its own but complimenting the film simultaneously.

Hints of ‘Dual of the Fates’ plays softly yet pronounced as Anikan hunts down the Tusken Raiders who kidnap his mom, Shmi (Pernilla August). Or when Anikan is in a great deal of pain, Williams’ ‘Darth Vader’ theme starts, foreshadowing the transformation into the villain we all know.

As I said, seeds are carefully planted from the knowledge gained in the original trilogy. Getting to that moment of realization means sitting through story that weighs the film down, preventing any real character and story development. Oftentimes Lucas will shift between Obi-Wan on his mission from Jedi master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) and master Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) to investigate the people behind Padmé’s assassination attempt and Anikan and Padmé on Naboo, falling in love.

Any momentum gained from Obi-Wan, and others is stopped once the focus is back on Anikan and Padmé. Their entire relationship is shoehorned in to fit the timeline of events, hurting the overall narrative. Added to it is the poorest writing of the film. “I hate sand, it’s coarse and gets everywhere”. Listening to Anikan complain about sand or have dialogue and the emotional maturity of a younger kid makes Star Wars a tough sell. Time is impossibly still during these moments between Hayden and Natalie – their chemistry together does no good for their characters.

On the other hand, Hayden and Ewan are kinetic together. Their relationship and chemistry feels more natural and lived in despite it being their first time with one another in this expanded universe. Beyond Ewan, Samuel L. Jackson and Frank OZ are the films backbone. When they are given the time, Lucas makes the most out of their characters presence. 

Where Attack of the Clones succeeds the most is in its breathtaking visual effects. Ships and star cruisers have never looked better, the galaxy is well within reach instead of it being far away. Lightsabers prove to be deadly while the force is used in new and dazzling ways. That does come with a downside, Lucas does rely too heavily on CGI over practical effects, causing the second half during the battle on the planet Geonosis leaving the newly formed clone army looking animated.

Finally, after sitting through a slog of the first hour and a half, Attack of the Clones lives up to its franchise’s namesake. War, not a battle for a town but as Yoda says in the final moments, “Begun the Clone Wars have”. What little action there was in The Phantom Menace curbed the appetite, Lucas steps it up in this film. Lightsabers galore as hundreds of Jedi fight back against the new droid army. Not as intimate as the fight between Maul and Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is equally as dangerous.

An improvement upon its predecessor but not by much. Attack of the Clones is a close resemblance of what came before it. Ambitious an undertaking as ever and beautifully constructed, orchestrated and made up, the fundamentals are lacking along with the main character both trilogies focus on.

Screenplay By: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales

Story By: George Lucas

Directed By: George Lucas

Music By: John Williams

Cinematography: David Tattersall

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz

Release Date: May 16, 2002

Running Time: 2 Hours 23 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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