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ATTACK OF THE CLONES Script Review: THE SPOILERS!!

Okay. You're back. I guess that means you want to know some specifics. I don't want to ruin the film's surprises, but I do have some examples of what Lucas has done right and wrong this time out. Let's do this by grouping together some quick thoughts on different topics:

THE JEDI

Since I was a child, I have dreamed of seeing The Jedi in their full glory. It's that simple. It's that primal. I'm not going to dress it up or intellectualize it beyond that. I was seven years old when I saw STAR WARS for the first time. It marked me. So many hours of my childhood were spent playing with the toys Lucas gave me, and despite what my parents or today's collectors think, those toys weren't made of plastic, and they don't have resale value. Those toys were the images and the ideas and the permission to dream that the films gave me. The idea of owning a lightsaber, of leaving my home behind to ride into Mos Eisley in search of a ship that would take me away from my planet, into whatever adventure my life was going to be... that's the dream Lucas gave me.

And in this film, you'll see The Jedi in all their glory. You'll see them in a fight that is, quite simply, one of the greatest action set pieces I've ever read in a science-fiction script. You'll see more of the way the Jedi Temple works. You'll see children in training, and you'll get a glimpse of their history. You'll see that there are personalities, imperfections, friction. They're not some passive, bland, flawless superheroes. There's political infighting that has led a number of Jedi to leave the order over the years.

I have no complaints at all about The Jedi or the way they're portrayed here. It's a dream fulfilled. Reading the passages of the script that had to do with The Jedi in action or in council gave me a singular joy, an almost chemical buzz. Anyone who saw the Toy Fair photos or who has paid attention to the excellent work of Cinescape's T-Bone or TheForce.net or Episode-X or even such outlaws as darth psychotic or TFN-Sucks has got to have a pretty good idea of how the big climactic Jedi battle in the arena on Geonosis plays out, but it's all about the details. It reads amazing, and by all accounts, it got much, much better on the set. We're going to get to see just why the Jedi were once feared and respected throughout the galaxy. And no matter what else you think about the prequels, you can't be a true fan of the saga if this material leaves you cold. This is what it's all about, what we've all been waiting for. Knowing that Sam Jackson's Mace Windu is a major player this time out gives me an indecent amount of joy, and I can't wait to see Yoda, who sees his own share of action this time out. Watching him weild a lightsaber in a classroom will be strange enough, but seeing him actually engage an enemy in hand-to-hand battle is one of the riskiest things I've read in recent memory. It's either brilliant or completely retarded, and it's a real fine line. I also can't wait to see the way Lucas fleshes out all these other Jedi characters. Here's a chance for the design team to give us something genuinely eye-popping to look at. People who charge Lucas with being a racist are obviously deranged; his universe is overloaded with a multitude of races and species, all communicating, all living together, all dealing with one another. It's as inclusive a fantasy vision as one could ask for.

The Jedi are framed in this movie, set up to look like they wanted to start a war, and now it makes sense to me. Now I can understand how the Republic looked the other way while the Jedi were destroyed in the great purge that is sure to follow the end of this movie. A lie is told that the Jedi never manage to overcome. At the end of this film, the Jedi have no idea who has set them up. They also still don't understand the true nature of the Sith threat against them. And again... the echoes of the future nearly broke my heart, thinking about how Yoda's final years played out, hidden in squalor on Dagobah. The fact that we don't see Mace Windu in the original trilogy speaks volumes about his eventual fate, but we're spared it in this chapter of the film. At the end of the movie, he's ragged and definitely singed from battle, but he's still alive. To me, Samuel Jackson is the winner in the all-time Biggest STAR WARS Geek In the World Sweepstakes. All of us have imagined having a lightsaber of our own. He has managed to go from being a viewer in the audience, herbed up and blown away by the original 1977 film, to having one of the coolest roles in any of the films, a noble Knight in the waning days of the Jedi Order.

And how about the relationship between Anakin and his adopted family? How does he do as a Jedi? God knows he tries, but it seems like he's never really suited to the life. His growing pains reach a dangerous peak in the middle of this film, and much of the plot is driven by his repeated drive to disobey orders. No matter what size role Liam Neeson does or doesn't have in this film (how's that for vague?), the shadow of Qui-Gon looms large over everything we see. Both Obi-Wan and Anakin are obviously influenced by him, by his almost arrogant obstinance, and we see where it came from when we meet the Jedi who trained him in the first place.

ANAKIN AND AMIDALA

Here's the thing that scares me the most.

If there was anything that threw me in those first three trailers, it was the tone of the romance footage in the "Forbidden Love" trailer. There's a fair amount of it in the film, and as I read some of the scenes, I found myself wincing, imagining how wrong things could go. The way the storyline builds to its eventual finish, though, pays it off to such an extent that I think it ends up being worth the trip. The truth is that when you are young, you fall in love with a sort of reckless ferocity that frequently burns down logic and reason, and Anakin is in desperate need of a family. When he sees where Amidala came from and sees the way she's connected to her siblings and her parents, it strikes him deeply. And when his bittersweet reunion with his own mother ends in horror, longing turns to desperation. Anakin turns his back on what he sees as his destiny in order to embrace his one chance at love, and we understand. It is the secret wedding of Anakin and Amidala which concludes the movie, and that's what I was referring to when I said that this normally joyous image chilled me more than anything.

If the chemistry between Christensen and Portman pays off, then this romance could ignite, and it could become powerfully affecting as it unravels later. If Lucas is unable to create a real sense of intimacy between them, then this is going to be the material that causes the most dissent this time around.

I've got my fingers crossed.

OBI-WAN

Obi-Wan does all the work this time out. Anakin gets to bounce around the galaxy, swept along on a sea of hormones and resentment, but it's Obi-Wan who's doing the legwork, piecing together the mystery that lies at the heart of the film. He's the one who first stumbles upon the clone factories on Kamino. He's the one who learns of the nature of the relationship between Jango Fett and Boba Fett. And it's he who leads the Jedi to their final confrontation with Count Dooku and the Trade Federation and the Commerce Guilds and the Geonosians, setting the stage for the titular attack of the Clones. Obi-Wan is given real personality, even if he is etched on the run. The fact that he's so familiar with Coruscant's underworld is a telling detail, and the way he digs into the mystery, doggedly following each lead says volumes about who he is. He's a man of action, his impulses disguised by his calm Jedi exterior.

He butts heads with Anakin here, but there's a great deal of caring that's developed between them. I don't want to see Obi-Wan face off against Anakin. I dread it. Nothing good can come of it. In my mind, Obi-Wan is the biggest loser in all of this, the one who suffered the most. He is the witness of the destruction of the entire lifestyle he had given his life to, the last one alive, the one who remembers all the misery, who gets to carry all the scars. And that's just beginning here. We see him starting to realize that something's very, very wrong, but he still doesn't know what.

COUNT DOOKU/DARTH TYRANUS

Did Christopher Lee sign some sort of deal with the Devil to guarantee that he was going to close out his career on an impossible high note? Playing both Saruman and Count Dooku is one of the all-time great one-two punches in the history of geekdom. Dooku is my favorite new character in the prequels so far, a former Jedi who left the Order, only to become a leader in a movement that threatens to cause the collapse of the Republic. He's a presence in the film even before he appears, and it's a great build-up. And unlike Darth Maul, we don't lose this guy as soon as he comes interesting. He'll be back for the next film, and I can't wait to see what happens with him. He's the wild card, the thing we weren't counting on when imagining how Anakin took his final steps over to the Dark Side.

If the climactic lightsaber battle involving Count Dooku doesn't become one of the highlights of the saga so far, I will be shocked. As written, it's got all the mythic power anyone could want. Dooku strikes one particular blow that will brings fans to their feet, and there is an elegance to his evil that should make him unforgettable.

JAR JAR

You knew we were going to have to talk about him at some point. The good news is that there's very little Jar Jar in the movie. The even better news is that he's used just right. Here's proof positive that Lucas listened to fan reactions. The introduction of Jar Jar is a direct response to fans, and once it happens, there's no way for the audience to bash Jar Jar. Lucas beats you to it, allowing the Galactic Senate to boo and hiss his introduction.

It should also please Gungan haters to note that Jar Jar's major role here is as a decoy. He's set up to potentially die. Someone is trying to kill the Senator from Naboo. That's Amidala when the film begins, but it's Jar Jar after that. Laying him out there in the line of fire should give his biggest detractors hope that there might be a sudden, violent ending to his role in the prequels. And as Andy Dufresne once said, "Hope is a good thing."

Also, Jar Jar's annoying speech patterns have been altered substantially. He's learned a diplomatic dialect that makes him sound much more conventional. His occasional slip is played for humor, but this is verbal, far more low-key than watching him step in shit or stick his tongue in power couplings. Overall, there's very little to worry about here.

THE DARK SIDE

Sweet god... the scene with the Tusken Raiders. When Anakin takes his first steps towards damnation in this film, it is surprising just how dark those steps are. We understand the rage that leads him to kill, but we can't justify it. It's murder, plain and simple. And no one sees it. Anakin is alone, and the only one who will ever judge him for these actions is him.

It takes great restraint to define The Dark Side properly. Lucas doesn't fall into the easy trap of making it something flashy or superficial like magic powers. Instead, it's compromise and anger and fear that Anakin gives in to, and it's a lack of control that causes his downward spiral. The saddest part of all this is that he's being pushed toward it by unseen hands, and if he was able to step outside of his own frustration for even a moment, he'd realize it. Instead, Anakin lets himself be manipulated. He can't help himself. We see just how much he is held captive by his emotions in this film, and now it's obvious how Luke is his father's son. That impulsiveness, that impatience... it feels familiar.

By making the greatest evil in this film something that we can relate to, Lucas takes an enormous risk. It's not popular to remind people of their own potential weaknesses. It's always more comforting to pretend that evil only ever comes from the outside, that it's something that can be fought back and killed, obvious because of how it looks. The truth is, we all carry the potential for great evil inside of us, just as we carry the potential for great good. Life is all about choice, and Lucas gently leads us down the path of compromise in this film. For escapism, this strikes surprisingly close to home.

PALPATINE

Quite simply, the best bad guy in popcorn cinema history. No one's smarter, and no one's a bigger sonofabitch. There's a moment late in this film when they offer him control of the Republic, where the Senate essentially tries to put the reigns of an army in his hands, and Palpatine demurs. We know just how much cunning and manipulation has gone into getting him to this point, but he plays it perfectly. The Senate practically has to beg him to do it.

I love the fact that Lucas still hasn't been crystal clear about the whole Darth Sidious/Palpatine issue. Nor has he made it evident how such a powerful Sith master could deal face-to-face with the greatest Jedi of the day without being detected. I think there are still twists to come here, and I think cloning might be involved. After all, it's "Sido-Dyus" who ordered the creation of the clone armies in the factories of Kamino. Who's to say he didn't create a new version of himself, free of the Force, to serve as a public face while gradually moving into a position of power? I am literally aching to see EPISODE III to know how Lucas finally answers these questions. Now I remember the delicious anticipation that I felt after I first staggered out of a theater in 1980, Vader's stunning revelation still burning my ears, knowing there were three years to wait before I would have resolution.

In fact, I've enjoyed the last few weeks so much, pondering various ways Lucas could answer the questions he's raised, that I have made a decision.

I'm going to go into EPISODE III spoiler-free.

I don't even want to see trailers for EPISODE III. Nothing. No stills. No news from TheForce.net or even official info from StarWars.com. Nothing. I want to walk into that last film the way I walked into the first film: blank.

It was my good friend Harry Lime who suggested this to me. Actually, he simply declared that he was going to do it. He's my best friend, my STAR WARS geek buddy, the one I can go to just to endlessly talk bullshit about the films, and if he's going to do it, then I'm going to do it. This script was so provocative that I want to savor every moment of anticipation between now and 2005. After all, this is it... the last time we get to wait for an upcoming STAR WARS film. I've been a spoiler junkie on EPISODE I and EPISODE II. Why not try another approach for this last time out?

THE FETTS

The worst-kept secret in the history of the STAR WARS saga has got to be the relationship between Jango and Boba Fett. They're not father and son in a conventional sense. Instead, Boba is a clone of Jango, being raised as a son. Jango is a great bounty hunter, and his fighting skills have also earned him the dubious honor of being the source material for the genetic material being used to produce the massive clone army that is the focus of all the skullduggery in the film.

Jango and Boba are written like Leone characters. Not a lot of dialogue to weigh things down. They are defined by what they do and by how they do it. Their fight with Obi-Wan and the subsequent chase are intense on the page, and the clips we've seen suggest that Lucas brought the sequences to life with flair and style. Jango's the winner of the Commemorative Darth Maul "Gone Too Soon" Award this time out, but the fact that his death at the hands of one of the most respected Jedi elders is witnessed by Boba Fett, who then manages to rocket to safety, his father's helmet securely in place over his own head, sets the stage for a revenge driven arc in the next film that should be quite chilling.

And on that note, I'm going to wrap this up. I could talk about this script for days, and I'm sure I'll have a hell of a lot to say once I've actually seen the movie. I've spoken to some of the actors from the film as well as guys from inside Lucasfilm and ILM and people associated with the various licensees, and what I keep hearing from all of them is a renewed enthusiasm about the world of STAR WARS. I hear people rediscovering something. I hear hope. I look forward to May with an almost unbearable sense of anticipation. Now, more than ever, I want to see this film deliver on all of its potential. Can you imagine what it'll be like if SPIDER-MAN and MINORITY REPORT and EPISODE II and THE TWO TOWERS all work out this year? Can you imagine how great it's going to be if they all deliver?

Until the day I day, I'll never understand rooting against movies, or wishing failure on anyone, especially someone making something as dear to my heart as a STAR WARS film. I'm sure some of you will feel the need to spray venom in the Talk Backs, but I want you to ask yourselves why you feel the need? If you love movies, shouldn't you be rooting for him to pull it off?

Thanks for your patience, even those of you who roasted me in the Talk Backs over the last few days. I hope this has given you something to chew on, something to rekindle your anticipation as we enter the home stretch. It's March this weekend, which means we're just under 90 days away from the release of the movie.

Maybe those psychos in Seattle weren't as crazy as I thought. Getting in line might not be such a bad idea after all.

NEXT TIME... I SWEAR...

I've got a RUMBLINGS coming sometime tomorrow or Friday that'll feature TWIN PEAKS on DVD, Ray Manzarek's book, a great new documentary on They Might Be Giants, new animation pouring out of Atlanta, all sorts of DVD reviews, and whatever doesn't make it into the first column will spill into another one coming up a few days after that. Here's hoping this review will be enough to hold you over until then.

"Moriarty" out.





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