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Robogeek Reviews ATTACK OF THE CLONES!

Hey folks, Harry here... Let me set up this review a bit by telling you where Robo is coming from here. He hates THE PHANTOM MENACE without so much as there being a single real redeeming feature for him. For the past 6 months of trailers, he has been picking apart Hayden's performance, the romance, the CG... Just about everything. He has very much gone into a film that is about enjoying yourself, to the point of seeing what is wrong with it. The facts are at screenings of this movie to large audiences, people are screaming for joy repeatedly through the film. People are left cheering about Yoda, Obi-Wan, Count Dooku, Jango Fett, the various battles, the ploting destruction of the Jedi by the Sith, John Williams' score and on and on and on. I think a lot of this is about letting go. In LAST CRUSADE it was about the grail, here it about a memory of childhood. Not many of us were jaded nitpickers when we were children fussing about realism in the STAR WARS universe. Instead it was all about that Saturday Morning Seriel being given the treatment and scale that it never had before. I love my old Larry 'Buster' Crabbe seriels. Not in the haha aren't the effects bad sort of way. Not in the, God the romance between Flash and Dale is hokey and unrealistic sort of yuk yuk am I not superior sort of way. But in the 'Oh shit Buck, how ya gonna get out of this!?!' way. Suspending disbelief and being taken into that world of oval view screens and cardboard robots and stylized dialogue that was never meant to win any awards anywhere. It is sort of like talking shit about GUN CRAZY because the dialogue is better in WHITE HEAT which you talk shit about because THE GODFATHER has more realistic portrayals. Fuck that. You judge each on its own. Otherwise, you sit in a crowded theater agreeing with a small selection of 12 or so other smug frowning head-shaking types not enjoying a wonderful fucking movie. Now prepare for an autopsy of EPISODE 2 with tons of spoilers. Frankly, I couldn't disagree more...

Greetings, citizens of the Republic/Empire! ROBOGEEK here.

These days it's rare for ol' Robo to find the time to pen a review, but I felt compelled to do so for STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES given some of the reviews I've seen on AICN. Read or read not.

For those of you keeping score at home, EPISODE II is incontrovertibly better than EPISODE I, but ultimately falls (considerably) short of the original trilogy (yes, that includes RETURN OF THE JEDI). This is either good news or bad news, depending on how you choose to look at it. But before I get into my [SPOILER-FILLED] review, allow me to provide you with three paragraphs of context, if not altogether necessary disclosure.

I despised THE PHANTOM MENACE with an ineffable depth of contempt. Three years ago, I didn't even have the stomach to review that astonishingly soulless (and racist) two-hour toy commercial that basically raped my childhood. When the movie started, I had been a devout STAR WARS fan for twenty-two years; by the time it ended, I no longer was. Something died in me (and many, many others) - and George Lucas killed it. Bastard.

However, if it so happens that you, dear reader, found any enjoyment whatsoever in MENACE, I certainly don't begrudge or judge you; on the contrary, I'm genuinely grateful you didn't suffer as I did. No one should.

As for the Holy Trinity, my opinions are pretty much in line with the majority of my generation that consider(ed) themselves STAR WARS fans: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK reigns supreme (it's a nigh-perfect, transcendently brilliant film); STAR WARS is great (charming imperfections and all); and RETURN OF THE JEDI is a flawed but enjoyable mixed bag.

Now, then...

EPISODE TWO has considerably more (and better) action than EPISODE I, and the word "midichlorians" isn't even mentioned once. It actually gives Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi something (interesting!) to do besides sit in a starship, and Natalie Portman's Padme Amidala more to do than just show off ridiculously exotic fashions. It at long last shows us what Boba (er, Jango) Fett's badass armor can do - as well as dozens of lightsaber-wielding Jedi. It treats us to tantalizing worlds old and new with lots of yummy eye candy (including Ms. Portman). It has CHRISTOPHER LEE. It reveals once and for all exactly who Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are/were. It has freaky Kaminoans. It shows us precisely how the Republic transforms into the Empire (though it's Jar-Jar's fault, btw).

If that's all you hope for, if that's all you want, if that's all you need to be satisfied, then read no further. Enjoy. Merry Christmas. Rock on. Glory to the hoi polloi.


If you hope, want, and need more - like, well, a really good movie that lives up to the original trilogy - then be warned that EPISODE II still sucks more than it should, or has any right to. I mean, think about it. George is on his fifth STAR WARS movie now. What possible excuse does he have for not nailing it, especially when he's demonstrated the capability in the past? EPISODE II has no right to suck at all. And yet it does at annoyingly regular intervals.

EPISODE II opens like all STAR WARS movies, though after the title crawl, the camera pans up. Now-Senator Amidala is en route to the Republic's capital at Coruscant, via a gorgeous Art Deco chrome flying wing. (Ooo, ahh.) Upon landing and disembarking, a sudden explosion destroys the ship, and seemingly kills the Senator. Immediately, however - before we have time to register any loss - it's revealed that she was merely a decoy; Amidala was actually in one of the escort fighters, and is of course fine. (How many times have we seen this before?) Yet she blows her cover senselessly/selflessly, exposing herself to risk so she can (fleetingly) mourn her servant before being hustled off to safety.

And we don't care. At all. What should be the emotional point of entry, the dramatic springboard for the next two-plus hours just sits there, as flat and lifeless as the green screen it was shot against. And thus begins the dreadful first act, which is consistently as painful as EPISODE I - weighed down by far too much turgid, wooden, stiff dialogue, particularly in terms of excessively intrusive exposition. Didn't we have enough of this last time around? Why are people still having meetings and talking as though they're reading a bad babelfish translation? Not good.

What unfolds is a plot just as hopelessly, needlessly convoluted as EPISODE I's, which doesn't even really make sense. The original STAR WARS movies had an elegant simplicity to them that resonated, with clear dramatic through-lines and crescendos. There's little of that to be found here. Once again, Lucas seemingly goes out of his way to prevent you from getting caught up in the movie, and I only cared about what was happening to the characters marginally more than I did in EPISODE I (which was not at all). Far too much of the film is mired in tedium.

EPISODE II is almost all artifice - and as snazzy as said artifice often is, it all looks and feels more like an intro to a PlayStation 2 game than a movie. All in all, EPISODE II is more like a cross between WING COMMANDER and THE BODYGUARD than it's like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. In fact, it consistently invites unfavorable comparisons with other movies upon itself, due to a striking lack of originality...

Yes, there's a dizzying airborne chase through the cityscape of Coruscant - but we basically saw that same scene done better in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Yes, there's a mechanized factory chase through the bowels of Genosis - but we basically saw that same scene done better in CHICKEN RUN.

Yes, there's a gladiatorial combat in a coliseum on Genosis - but we basically saw that same scene done better in GLADIATOR.

Yes, there's an harrowing chase through asteroids above Kamino - but we basically saw that same scene done better in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

This is perhaps the biggest surprise of EPISODE II, that when all is said and done, it's all stuff we've more or less seen before - with few notable exceptions. Hell, even John Williams' score - save for the beautiful new "Across The Stars" love theme - seems remarkably uninspired and rehashed. (He even goes so far as to steal a few bars of the Nazi March from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE for the scene when Obi-Wan first sees the Clone Army on Kamino.)

Granted, the fight between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan is very cool. And the duel between Yoda and Christopher Lee's Count Dooku has to be seen to be believed. Cool, yes - but also quite ridiculous and unintentionally hysterical.

(And in case you missed it, let me just reiterate - his name is Count DOOKU. Please.)

The other big surprise in EPISODE II is how unfathomably stupid so many of the characters seem to be - particularly the Jedi, which is particularly disillusioning/depressing.

Why would the Jedi approve assigning the clearly unstable "young Padawan learner" Anakin as sole Jedi protector of Senator Amidala when she's in clear and present danger?

Why can't any of the Jedi sense the Dark Side in Palpatine/Sidious? Especially after Dooku spells it out for them - via Obi-Wan?

Why isn't Yoda - and the entire Jedi Council - more alarmed when Obi-Wan discovers that the Jedi Archives have been tampered with, and internal security has been breached?

Why doesn't Yoda - upon learning that an entire solar system's existence has been erased from the Jedi Archives - assign more than just a single Jedi to investigate something of that magnitude?

In fact, it's hard - if not outright impossible - for anyone with even half a brain not to watch EPISODE II without question after question coming to mind...

If ten years have passed since EPISODE I, how and why is it that Anakin now appears older - or at least the same age - as Padme? (In reality, Hayden Christiansen is two months older than Natalie Portman.)

If size matters not, why does Yoda struggle with that pillar?

How did this movie manage to get a PG rating with all its PG-13 violence?

And by the way, who paid for the Clone Army? Hello?

While the consistently bad dialogue is annoying, the enormous plot holes and lapses in logic are unforgivable. For instance, the primary dramatic fulcrum of EPISODE II - and now the entire STAR WARS hexology - is how and why Anakin turns to the Dark Side of the Force. What pushes him over the edge? In EPISODE II, this is revealed - but it doesn't make sense.

When we last saw young Anakin, he had just (unbelievably) saved Naboo at the end of EPISODE I, yet his beloved mother remained in slavery back on Tatooine. In the ten years that passed between then and EPISODE II, don't you think it would have occurred to him (or anyone else, for that matter) to secure her freedom? No one thought to do this for what, ten years? Don't you think Queen Amidala and the people of Naboo - out of compassion and gratitude - would have offered to buy Anakin's mother's freedom? Don't you think Anakin would've at least asked, after he saved them all?

Apparently not, because in EPISODE II we find that Shmi Skywalker is inexplicably still a slave on Tatooine. Only when Anakin finds himself in the middle of his first assignment as a Jedi - serving as Senator Amidala's bodyguard - is he suddenly compelled to jeopardize his charge, defy the orders of the Jedi Council, and head to Tatooine to find his mother. All because he had a bad dream, or something.

Anyway, after some wandering around and all-too-easy detective work, Anakin finds his mother - just seconds before she dies, of course. (What amazing, cosmic timing!) Her death sends him into a Dark Side rage (didn't see that coming, did you?), and he slaughters the entire tribe of grunting Tusken Raiders who had abducted her (though why they did this in the first place, we don’t know).

It gets better. After committing genocide (largely off-screen; PG), the sullen, brooding, whiny Anakin returns to Padme, yet again ranting how "Obi-Wan is holding me back!" for the kazillionth time while confessing not only his crime, but his enjoyment of it. Does this trouble Senator Amidala? Does it occur to her to report it to the Jedi Council, or some other appropriate authority? No. Apparently she finds the act and enjoyment of genocide endearing, and gives him a hug. Awww...

This pretty much describes the entire insanity of the Anakin/Padme relationship, which just doesn't make any damn sense. We've seen romance work - and resonate - in STAR WARS movies before (THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, anyone?). But here, it's just bizarre to the point of embarrassment. Bi-polar Anakin has apparently obsessed over Padme since he met her as a kid; now, he almost immediately starts professing his love for her, then demands that she love him - over and over again. It's more creepy than romantic. What does she see in him? No one knows. He's a punkass.

The best thing I can say about Hayden Christiansen's performance is that he is entirely convincing as a grown-up Jake Lloyd - equally whiny, annoying, and dense. But then again, he has apparently had to endure a decade of Obi-Wan calling him "my young Padawan learner" every other sentence. No wonder he turns to the Dark Side.

And while Jar-Jar is thankfully limited to just three scenes or so, he still irredeemably sucks every single moment he's on screen. Even worse, he actually speaks Spanish at one point ("I'm muy, muy happy," or something). Worse still is that Palpatine's rise to ultimate power is enabled by Jar-Jar's stupidity. Really. Is this supposed to be resonant, or a joke? Because it doesn't work either way.

EPISODE II isn't a tenth the movie that, say, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is, nor even half the movie SPIDER-MAN is. It isn't a "return to form" for Lucas and the STAR WARS franchise, nor does it inspire any great hope for EPISODE III.

Why? It simply isn't compelling in human, dramatic, emotional, or narrative dimensions. It feels like a purely technical exercise, as everyone involved goes through the motions of needlessly filling in back-story to the original (and classic) STAR WARS trilogy. And in doing so, they cause more harm than good. Hereafter, those films are now retroactively damaged, as future viewers will be confronted by a myriad of continuity-challenged questions, such as...

"Why don't Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru recognize C-3PO and R2-D2 in EPISODE IV?"

"Why doesn't R2-D2 ever fly in EPISODEs IV-VI?"

"Why doesn't Boba Fett ever use his other weapons? And how could he possibly be killed so easily in EPISODE VI?"

Etc., etc.

At one point early in the film, Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan actually says to Anakin, "Why do I get the feeling you're going to be the death of me?" All too often, EPISODE I hits you with this sort of groan-inducing, eye-rolling cheap shot, rather than doing something truly resonant and poetic. Do we really need to hear a legendary Jedi Master say "This party's over!"? Do we really need to see C3PO and an Battle Droid swap heads? It's bad writing vs. good, and bad is winning. And in turn, it undermines the potency of the classic films.

For instance, when the enraged Luke slices off Darth Vader's hand with his lightsaber near the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI, it's a powerful moment, crystallizing Luke's realization that he's on the precipice of turning into that which he has been struggling against. But when we now see Anakin getting his entire arm chopped off by Count Dooku near the end of ATTACK OF THE CLONES, it all begins to get a little ridiculous. It doesn't add resonance, it subtracts it.

And you're struck with the depressing realization that we'd have all been far better off if Lucas had just left well enough alone, leaving EPISODEs I-III to our imagination (just as he now says he will EPISODEs VII-IX).

In other words, go see ABOUT A BOY instead this weekend. You'll thank me.

- Robogeek

P.S.: If you're still on the fence about EPISODE II, do yourself a favor and read...

A.O. Scott's review for THE NEW YORK TIMES
"It is not really much of a movie at all, if by movie you mean a work of visual storytelling about the dramatic actions of a group of interesting characters."

Roger Ebert's review for the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
"Episode II - Attack of the Clones is a technological exercise that lacks juice and delight. The title is more appropriate than it should be."

Christy Lemire's review for the ASSOCIATED PRESS
"It's still a rush to sit in a packed theater (equipped with THX, naturally) when that first blast of John Williams' fanfare sounds. Then you have to endure the rest of the movie."

Lisa Schwarzbaum's review for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
"Here we are again: not entertained, not nearly enough, by an installment of the Star Wars epic that, for the first time, exhibits symptoms of...nerves. And a chill, conservative grimness of purpose, rather than an excited thrill at the possibilities of cinematic storytelling."

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