“Attack of the Clones” is the fifth installment of George Lucas’ mega-successful sci-fi series and the second if viewed chronologically. It is easy to get distracted by the astounding imagery that Lucas generates via computer. We can marvel at the new planets, the new aliens, and the new battle scenes, but there’s always been something more to Star Wars than imagery, and that’s character.
In the galaxy far far away, it has been 10 years since the events of “The Phantom Menace.” Anakin has grown up to be a skilled Jedi padawan with Obi-Wan as his master, and Padme has transitioned from Queen to Senator. Palpatine has been acting as Supreme Chancellor, and his power play is a focus of the movie. Many Star Wars fans argue that too much screen time in the prequels is devoted to politics – that Episode II specifically plays like a bill hearing on C-SPAN. In all honesty, there is hardly any screen time in Episodes I & II devoted to the actual Senate. Rather, politics are discussed in very bland and dry fashion by the characters, which makes the inclusion of politics into the movies much more tedious than it needs to be.
Rather than having his characters convey emotion through their facial expressions, or advancing the plot through visual actions, Lucas resorts to having characters tell us, flatly and far too formally, what is going on in way of the plot. Star Wars has never been known for its dialogue, and the original trilogy smartly focused on the energy and charisma that its characters could provide. The prequels could have benefitted from adopting the same style. I have never felt a connection to any of the characters in the prequel trilogy, perhaps excluding Obi-Wan and Yoda, who had the benefit of crossing over.
Two new worlds are explored in “Episode II,” those being Geonosis and Kamino. The first hour mostly takes place on Coruscant, where a sensational chase takes place through the crowded skyscrapers and canyons of the city. Much of that first hour, however, is taken up by flat dialogue used to establish plot points. Sadly, I cannot think of a single line worth quoting from Episode II. There is not a single ounce of wit or style in the manner in which these characters speak.
The rest of the film is devoted to Anakin and Padme falling in love. Their romance is unbelievable, as both characters regard their love as a sort of chore to be endured rather than cherished. Hayden Christensen’s acting is incredibly wooden, but considering the dialogue he must deliver, it’s no wonder he comes across as talentless. Hayden’s and Natalie’s scenes together are cliché and cringeworthy, as they utter inconceivably terrible lines that don’t reflect what two people would actually say when they are in love. Anakin is portrayed as more of an immature frat boy than a psychologically disturbed Jedi unsure of his future path. It’s hard to detect any sort of chemistry between the two, and their fateful love feels more forced than natural.
“Attack of the Clones” falls short of “The Phanton Menace” in its lightsaber duels. Obi-Wan taking on Jango Fett is one of the few highlights, and the chase in the rings of Geonosis, though it has nothing to do with lightsabers, is also quite well done. The arena sequence is exhilarating, but after all that, Dooku’s duel with Obi-Wan and Anakin feels dull. It is certainly less exciting than what we got at the end of “Episode I,” though it would be hard to outdo the pure scope of that battle. Part of why Dooku vs. Obi-Wan and Anakin seems so lethargic is because of Dooku’s age. Christopher Lee is a brilliant addition regarding his role as an idealist, but for action sequences, he doesn’t deliver much adrenaline. The rather mundane setting also has an impact on the energy delivered, as a small hangar is a far cry from the setting of the duel in Episode I. Fortunately, Lucas does give us a glimpse into Yoda’s lightsaber skills, although his frantic spinning and jumping feels more like experimental CGI gone too far than thrilling discovery of character.
What really sets back “Attack of the Clones” is that Lucas was clearly more focused on providing inventive and imaginative computer-generated imagery than he was on the dialogue. There is a certain amount of lifelessness in the acting, and that could be due to filming in front of a blue screen. Actors prefer having surroundings to draw on, and Lucas didn’t provide that for many of the scenes. It’s a shame that the images don’t have the impact they deserve. On the positive side, John Williams provides yet another outstanding score. His main theme for the movie, “Across the Stars” is so beautiful that it almost saves any scene involving Padme and Anakin.
There is a sequence at the end of the film where Palpatine and a handful of Senators are looking over the new clone army boarding what look like early incarnations of Imperial Star Destroyers. The scope of this scene is incredible, and with Williams’ score booming behind it, it illustrates when CGI does work. I wish Lucas had been craftier in balancing between practical effects and CGI. “Attack of the Clones” ends up being a technological exercise that lacks real delight and amusement. It does little more than to move us closer to the story we really want to be told. The title is too appropriate for the plot.