Review: Attack of the Clones
It's less than a year until Episode III comes out, so I figure it's time for me to give my little critique of Episode II. Sorry for the short notice, George, but I'm sure you can incorporate my recommendations into Episode III if you hurry.
Brief Retrospective on Episode I
Before I get to the meat of Episode II, let's take a look back at Episode I (which I've previously reviewed here). I tried to watch The Phantom Menace the other day (I figure it's a good time to introduce/indoctrinate my 20-month-old son), and I was blown away by how much fast-forwarding I had to do. There's way too much exposition. And the beginning is just all wrong: We have to watch a ship land. Then the Jedi sit around and wait in a room. Then the Jedi fight their way out. Then the Trade Federation invades Naboo and drives right down Theed's main street. Then the Neimoidians pop out and declare victory - without a single shot being fired. Why didn't Naboo put up a fight? And if they did, why didn't we see it?
Picture this instead: The opening scroll explains about the blockade, adds that negotiations with the Jedi Qui Gon and Obi Wan have failed, and the planet is under attack. Cut to a view of the Trade Federation landing craft heading toward the surface. Naboo fighters come up, and a short 2-minute battle ensues. However, the Naboo fighters are overpowered, and the landing craft make it to the surface. Trade Fed tanks and troops head to Theed while Naboo ground forces prepare. We then get to see some hand-to-hand (or blaster-to-blaster) fighting in Theed. The Naboo lose, and the queen is captured. THEN, the Neimoidians pop out and declare victory. I think I could watch that without fast-forwarding.
Anyway, Episode I is not a movie that improves with repeated viewings. At the time it came out, a common denial espoused by many (including me) was that we couldn't judge Episode I without the context of Episodes II and III. Well, after having seen Episode II, I preemptively declare Episode I to be bantha poodoo. Attack of the Clones added no depth to anything in The Phantom Menace.
Financially, Episode I outsold Episode II. I've read somewhere that the big heads over at LucasFilm interpreted the numbers to mean that Episode I was more well-liked than Episode II. WHAT? May I humbly offer another possibility: Less people saw Episode II because they were so strongly turned off by Episode I.
And here's one final observation on Episode I. In some way, it just didn't feel like a Star Wars movie. I don't know why it didn't; I can't describe it. There was just something missing in its atmosphere. Like it was written and directed by a George Lucas from a parallel universe. Or maybe I'm getting too old for this sort of thing.
On to Episode II
I found Attack of the Clones to be a major improvement over Episode I. The story made more sense (I never quite understood the whole political/blockade thing in Ep I) and was much more mature. There were no joking droids (except for C-3PO, more on him later). There were no farts. Jar Jar's role was extremely limited. The battle scenes were more realistic (less cartoony). And we got several beheadings by lightsaber.
Ewan McGregor's performance was a real bright spot. He's a joy to watch as Obi Wan, and any time he's on screen, the movie is immediately uplifted. He manages to give depth to Obi Wan's straight-laced character. It's a real shame he wasn't given this kind of role in Episode I.
Following the tradition of the Original Trilogy, C-3PO returns as comic relief in Attack of the Clones. During the arena battle, his antics and silly one-liners work fairly well. However, in the droid factory scene, it was just plain stupid when he was holding on to the big floating droid thing that tries to shake him off. I'm sorry, but 3PO just isn't that limber. Very bad effect. Not funny.
There were a few other effects in the movie that distracted from its magic. The most painful had Anakin "surfing" on the Shaak's back in the field. It was so bad, I don't know how it wasn't cut. The scenes where Anakin and the other heroes ride around the arena on the Reek also looked a little "off" somehow.
It's undeniable that the romance between Padme and Anakin was the major weakness of this movie. The dialog was painfully awkward, and there wasn't enough screen time to make the romance believable. We know Anakin's got a thing for Padme, but her love for him seems to come out of nowhere. What's worse, by making Padme - a senator - fall for moody Anakin for no good reason, Padme's character becomes less likable. I haven't heard anything that's made me see how she could love him.
The final lightsaber fight: Since Obi Wan helped Darth Maul lose some lower-body weight in Episode I, I found it a bit of a stretch that Dooku could defeat him so easily. (Granted, Obi Wan used the force to defeat Maul, not his lightsaber skills.) And Yoda fighting was kind of ... um ... I'm not sure what that was. The guys at ILM were right to question George on this one. Too much jumping around. I was sitting in the theater confused, one half of me saying "that's kind of cool" and the other half wanting to laugh. It wasn't quite bad, but it wasn't quite good either. I guess I try not to think about it too much. Maybe I'm in denial.
And once again, the toys managed to spoil part of the movie for me. Two figures were guilty of spoilers this time: Zam with changeling face, and Anakin with detachable arm. The Zam one was not such a big deal, but the Anakin one really annoyed me. These figures were released BEFORE the movie came out. HASBRO, WHY DO YOU DO THIS? Do you think everyone who buys the figures early is a spoiler junkie? Well, I get your message. For Episode III, I'll be sure to wait until I've seen the movie before I even SET FOOT on that toy aisle. You obviously don't want MY money early. (OK, I've gotten that off my chest. I feel much better now.)
Anyway, seeing how Episode II improved over Episode I, I have pretty high hopes for Episode III. The title "Revenge of the Sith" has me excited too. I was really worried that Lucas was going to recycle yet another old movie/serial title and give us "Episode III: I Was a Teenage Sith Lord".