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On May 16, 2002, George Lucas unveiled Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones in theaters, where it would go on to gross $645 million globally. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The good news about George Lucas’ new Star Wars movie is that the universally loathed Jar Jar Binks is little more than a dress extra, action scenes are pumped with lightning-quick effects and choreography, R2-D2 and C-3PO are together again for the first time, and the whole thing feels more adult than The Phantom Menace, which launched his second space-opera trilogy. The not-so-good news is that Lucas still struggles to replicate the spirit of fun and adventure of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Those films were pure adrenaline rush. That feeling returns only near the end of Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, during a rescue operation and climactic battle that occupies the last quarter of the film.
The Lucas legions will be out in force opening day, of course, and will return for further study of the political turmoil, nefarious plots and character misalliances that cloud that galaxy far, far away. Predicting a long, hot summer for Clones is the easiest possible forecast to make.
Other than a CG-enhanced chase through the airwaves of an urban metropolis near the beginning, the film gets off to a slow start with much exposition and characters getting reacquainted 10 years after the events of Phantom Menace. Surprisingly flat-footed dialogue scenes that feature wooden acting, dreary art direction and old fashioned optical wipes are either intended as an homage to the sci-fi of the ‘50s or reflect the director’s impatience with exposition.
In the script by Lucas and co-writer Jonathan Hales, chaos rules the galaxy. A separatist movement threatens the Republic. Padme (Natalie Portman), the former queen of Naboo and now a senator, returns to the Senate to cast a key vote for the Republic. An assassination attempt forces the Republic to protect her with a detail consisting of master Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his protege, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen).
A second attempt on Padme’s life causes the story line to split in two: Obi-Wan journeys to the galaxy’s outer rim to locate the source of these foul plots, while Anakin stays behind to guard Padme, leaving the two to fall in love.
Tracking the bounty hunter behind the assassination attempts to a dark, isolated planet whipped by winds and driving rain, Obi-Wan discovers an army of clones quietly readying itself for combat on the Republic’s behalf. But no one in the Jedi council can recall ordering such an army. No doubt, we will learn more about this in Episode III, but in this film the army causes confusion: It is initially portrayed in an evil light but winds up fighting for the Republic.
Meanwhile, the lovebirds’ story veers into camp. These two fall in love not because romance sparks but to suit the needs of subsequent movies. Worse yet, the actors woo to the most stilted lines of the movie: Anakin to Padme, “You are everything soft and smooth.” Or later, “I am haunted by the kiss you should not have given to me.” And by lines that should never have been written.
In the Jedi council, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) gathers power as Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) offer wary advice. Eventually, all roads lead to Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), a rogue Jedi master who leads the separatist movement. Obi-Wan, Padme and Anakin wind up captured by Count Dooku and readied for execution. A gladiatorial battle pitting this trio against a host of CG creatures evolves into a rescue by Jedi knights and the clone army. These rousing sequences, reminiscent of those in Empire, bring this film to a conclusion and set the stage for what looks like a very busy final film.
Other than McGregor, who continues to cut a dashing figure as the sagacious Jedi, the movie is plagued by bad acting. Barricaded behind neo-Elizabethan costumes and outfitted with strained dialogue, Portman delivers lines in an unconvincing and often abrupt manner. Christensen, too, makes a dull romantic lead, who must foreshadow Anakin’s move to the dark side with moments of unmotivated rage and jealousy. Lee’s manner is so glacial one doesn’t even enjoy hating the villain. Such good actors as Jackson, Jack Thompson and Jimmy Smits barely register.
Meanwhile, does anyone fondly recall the day when creatures in a Star Wars movie were guys in funny costumes? There’s no doubt the digital realm has enriched Lucas’ vision with unimaginable worlds and creatures, but there can be too much of a good thing. A multitude of cartoon animals scurry around actors’ feet, zip overhead in aircraft and engage humans in dialogue. Even worse, the sci-fi world created by digital masters looks all the more unreal when contrasted with scenes shot in Seville, Spain, or Lake Como, Italy.
On the music side, John Williams has shown restraint — at least by his own bombastic standards. While his score comments on every scene, it is not as intrusive as other Williams scores in recent films. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published May 5, 2002.
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Roe V. Wade