Attack of the Clones Rocks

I have seen Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones twice now, and by the time many of you read this, I’ll likely have sat through it a third.

I’m of two minds about this installment, and I thought I’d let them both speak.

First, 27-year-old me:

Despite some truly horrible dialogue, Attack of the Clones transcends its title and takes its place as a very good installment in the Star Wars saga. The inevitable plot is moved forward a great deal, but not in a dry, exposition-heavy manner, as in Episode I. This film is paced perfectly, and features surprises, discoveries, and a superb concluding sequence that keeps building upon itself until its finale, the coolest lightsaber battle in the series thus far. Those that strayed after Episode I will be very happy with this one, and the perpetually faithful (like myself) will be rewarded with an engaging, eye-popping adventure flick in tune with the spirit of the original trilogy.

And now, eight-year-old me:


I have been wary of letting my inner eight-year-old out for this flick, lest he have his childlike sense of wonder stamped on by a mediocre Star Wars film. This is not a mediocre Star Wars film, and lately I’ve been less able to keep my giddy excitement in check. George Lucas, beyond all expectation, got it just about right this time. Sure, there are problems, but they’re the same problems that crop up all throughout the original trilogy, most notably in Return of the Jedi, and you don’t hear people griping too much about those. Attack of the Clones (nope, not even warming up to that title a little bit) captures most everything that was stirring and engaging about the latter three episodes, and gives you a lot more to look at and marvel over.

I attended a midnight screening on Thursday morning (technically), and my audience was utterly bowled over by this movie. I lost count of the number of times we broke into applause. If nothing else, I came away elated that other people apparently feel the same tingle at the traditional opening sequence. They applauded when the 20th Century Fox logo morphed into the Lucasfilm logo, they applauded at the appearance of “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” and they broke into hoots and hollers when the fanfare kicked in and the opening crawl began. Just that sequence of events is all it takes to send me back to my wide-eyed childhood.

And the movie didn’t disappoint from there. It opens with a bang, and leads shortly thereafter into a high-speed chase through a crowded city skyline, and then we’re off on what’s likely the most exciting ride Lucas has ever offered us. As I mentioned, the pacing for this film is perfect. I don’t know if it was Lucas or his co-writer Jonathan Hale who suggested having Obi-Wan discover the plot in pieces, rather than having it explained up front, but that decision made all the difference. The first half of Clones plays like an episode of Law and Order, with an investigation leading to revelation upon revelation.

There’s also a love story between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, and this is, to put it mildly, less successful. The dialogue is wretched, the acting is stiff, and the outcome feels rudely forced. The thing is, the outcome of this relationship is just as inevitable as the rest of the plot, but these sequences feel as though the actors know this, and are just marching in bored lockstep until they get there. Neither Hayden Christensen (quite good in most of the film) nor Natalie Portman (quite good in other films) is helped by the mind-numbingly dumb sentences they have to utter, and it’s obvious that neither of them are convinced by their words. This love story is an important part of the whole saga, and it should have resonated with wonder and tragedy. Even James Cameron did a better job with young lovers in Titanic, and that’s saying something.

But thankfully, you can just ignore those scenes, as they only make up about 15 minutes of the film. Clones is two hours and 20 minutes long, but it moves like lightning, and before you know it, you’re plunged into the final act, the greatest Jedi battle ever staged. Even though you know, because you’ve seen Episodes IV-VI, that Anakin and Obi-Wan get out alive, you’re still caught up in the excitement. Clones, droids, lightsabers, treachery, thrilling chases, and a definitive Jedi moment for Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu all lead up to what might be the coolest thing ever to grace a Star Wars movie.

Ah, Yoda. My screening audience broke into applause three times during Yoda’s brief scene, and even if the rest of the movie had sucked, this would have been worth it. We’ve heard for three movies now what a great Jedi master Yoda is, and I, for one, have wondered how that can be possible – he’s two feet tall, for Christ’s sake. I’m telling you, he goes all Crouching Yoda, Hidden Jedi on us, and damn. That’s all I have to say – damn.

Here’s the best recommendation I can make to those who left the fold after Episode I. When I came out of The Phantom Menace, I probably felt like you did. While the movie was fun, I had the sinking sensation that maybe Lucas had lost it. Maybe the new trilogy wouldn’t link up with the original one as well as it could have, and perhaps Lucas’ filmmaking skills had atrophied beyond repair. Worst of all, I thought that maybe the new trilogy would accomplish nothing more than to sully the original one.

I came out of Clones thinking we’re gonna be just fine. This movie has convinced me that Lucas knows exactly what he’s doing, and has all along. Harry Knowles was right – Clones makes The Phantom Menace a better movie. It’s all coming together now.

So, to sum up my thoughts on the future, here again is 27-year-old me:

All the elements are firmly in place for a rousing and heartbreaking finale in Episode III. Specifically, the final shots of Episode II bring the full reality of the situation home. Clones manages the neat trick of being fun and foreboding at the same time, making you cheer for all the wrong things and drop jaw in astonishment when you realize it. The shadow of the Empire is nearly upon us, and Episode III could be the best of the lot.

And finally, eight-year-old me:


See you in line Tuesday morning.