My initial reaction to Star Wars Episode II was relief. All the worst elements of Episode I were effectively gone: child actor Jake Lloyd, Liam Neesonís stolid Qui-Gon Jinn and Jar Jar Binks (now relegated to a thankless cameo).The storytelling of the preceding The Phantom Menace was like that of a breathless kid: ďAnd this happened and then this happened and then something else really cool happened....Ē. Attack of the Clones has a stronger narrative drive. Creator George Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Hales also sufficiently advance the Star Wars ďbig pictureĒ by having Anakin and Padme falling in love, revealing glimpses of Anakinís dark side and setting up the catastrophic clone wars.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is continuing the Jedi training of apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Anakinís skill already outshines his master and heís become arrogant and impatient for greater testing. With a bounty hunter on the trail of Senator Padme (Natalie Portman), Anakin is assigned to protect her. Kenobi tracks the assassin and discovers an army.
Never underestimate a great opening - remember those oriental stereotypes from last time, and Qui-Gon Jinnís yawn-inducing lectures on intergalactic economics and trade embargos? When Anakin and Kenobi take to the skies of Coruscant City to pursue a bounty hunter, Lucas is sensibly playing to his strengths - extensive special effects and minimal dialogue.
The digital effects consistently amaze. Anakin, Padme, R2-D2 and C-3PO become trapped on a conveyor belt, and itís like the pie machine rescue in the animated Chicken Run come to life. Occasionally, the energy level of the performers dips as theyíre required to perform extensive scenes opposite yet-to-be-added characters. But the digital aliens are seamlessly integrated with the physical action and locations. The computer-generated settings are also beautifully rendered: particularly the Coruscant cityscape, strongly reminiscent of Blade Runner, and the rainy world of Kamino that houses the embryonic clone army.
I had a lot of fun spotting the Aussie stars in their fleeting appearances (Joel Edgerton, Jack Thompson, Rose Byrne, Susie Porter). Temuera Morrison makes for a charismatic Jango Fett and Christopher Lee relishes his villainous role in another big budget ďevent ď movie, following The Lord of the Rings. Itís nice to think heís being paid properly after years of cheap horror films. The climax - featuring Yoda as youíve never seen him before - elicited cheers from the enthusiastic first night crowd. Also reunited for welcome comic relief are C-3PO and R2-D2.
Portman and McGregor are energised by their expanded roles. Christensen is more assured in his darker moments; he manages only an awkward, lifeless charm in his courtship scenes with Portman. All the noise and excitement stops during these romantic moments, which is unfortunate because even the most experienced of actors would struggle to make the clichťd dialogue interesting.Attack of the Clones looks to be the first guilty pleasure of 2002; I revelled in its silliness. Itís overlong, and the numerous battle sequences eventually grow monotonous. But by the end, I was contemplating the hitherto unthinkable - anticipation for Episode III.