Published at: May 13, 2002, 6:05 a.m. CST by staff
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.
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
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
(And in case you missed it, let me just reiterate - his name is Count
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
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
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
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
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
"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?"
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
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
In other words, go see ABOUT A BOY instead this weekend. You'll thank
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."