Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones

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Cleolinda: ***

Starring Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Temuera Morrison

Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

Trailers (yours may vary): Like Mike, Die Another Day, Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Men in Black 2, Undercover Brother, Minority Report

Well, unexpectedly I got to see AOTC on Saturday, a day sooner than I'd planned, and my reaction wasn't what I had expected either: genial indifference.

It was a good movie. A solid three stars’ worth of good. From everything I’d been reading, professional critics were flogging the film for its stiff acting and non-script and blah blah blah blah blah. Second verse, same as the first. Fans were leaving the theater in raptures, though. Which was no big surprise, either. So I sat down expecting a love or hate response. I had neither.

I think a lot of this comes from my
lack of Star Wars background. I keep repeating this fact in nearly every SW feature I write, but I’ll say it again: I’ve never really sat down and really watched the original trilogy, all the way through, as an adult. I saw bits and pieces repeatedly as a child. Also, I am a girl. Not that girls don’t ever have Star Wars fetishes; I’m just saying. Let’s put it a completely new way: I have never seen a Star Wars movie in the theater. Only on tape--not even DVD.

As a result, I did not have the classic grandeur of The Empire Strikes Back in mind when I saw Attack of the Clones—mostly because my recollection of ESB is those elephantine snow-walker machines and Leia actually getting to wear pants. So I had, basically, no expectations. In fact, I wonder now if my expectations weren’t hideously low after all the reviews I’d glanced over this last week.

But Attack of the Clones is a good, solid piece of entertainment. I’m not sure why people are complaining about the pacing—maybe it’s because I’d so recently seen
The Phantom Menace, but I felt like the political scenes where quick and evenly distributed, as opposed to the 15 solid minutes of intergalactic C-SPAN that constituted the Senate sequence in PM. Maybe it was just because I knew so much about the plot (occupational hazard), but I was continually surprised that the film bopped along so quickly (“Whoa, we’re already at Kamino?”).

The romance wasn’t as stilted as I was expecting, either. Granted, whoever came up with the “sand is rough but you're smooth” bit should be spanked. However, I found a similar exchange (“I hope your kiss won’t become a scar”) to be rather touching. Mostly because Hayden Christensen does his damnedest to sell it. You can see him visibly fighting the Dark Side here—struggling against bad writing and commands that he “act whinier” in order to pull the Anakin character off. Sometimes, he wins. Some of the courtship was a little silly (okay, roll over in the grass—maybe—twice. Not sixteen times, please?), but I thought the apple-feeding trick was cute. (Padmé’s peck on the cheek in the Geonosis arena? Too cheesy. Just my opinion.)

I’d also heard a (female) reviewer’s complaint that Anakin was way too stalkative; after some thought, I realized that we girls just don’t have access to what goes on in a young, overeager guy’s brain. So we find it a bit shocking to hear Anakin mutter things like, “I can sense everything going on in that [bed]room.” (Eww.) As for their romance not being all that mutual, well—you don’t put on your backless chiffon or your black leather corset if you’re creeped out by the guy: Girlfriend is dressing to impress.

And I don’t blame Padmé, because Christensen’s really, really cute in his less bitchy moments. I suppose if the character is written as immature, hotheaded, arrogant, and whiny, Christensen plays that perfectly. I guess I have issues with the fact that Anakin is written so over-the-top on that level that, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, he takes on Cartman-esque dimensions (“Seriously, you guys--someday I will be the most powerful Je-dah in the universe!”).

His issues with Obi-Wan at once ring true and sound like BS, although I admit that’s the nature of a teenager. I know because I blamed everything on everyone but me when I was thirteen, too. What? Anakin’s twenty? Honestly—I don’t know how you go into Jedi school and come out
more attitudinal than usual, but apparently that’s what happens when you don’t get ’em young enough. But if I’d been discussing senatorial security with a group of adults and suddenly My Young Friend with the lame-ass braid/ponytail combo started mouthing off about how we were obviously supposed to run off and investigate possible assassins, forget verbal reproach—I’d have popped the kid one right there. Which is also why I’m not Jedi material, apparently.

It’s not just Obi-Wan who lays the smack down on Anakin, though—Padmé herself does, too, most memorably in front of the new Queen of Naboo. And yet in a moment of tragedy on Tatooine, Anakin blames everything on…Obi-Wan? The hell? Of course, you also hear him wail that someday he’ll prevent death altogether, which is your clue that he’s in Adolescent Angst Fantasyland anyway. It’s all gloriously, obnoxiously consistent in a psychological sense, which is more than can be said for that whole “Obi-Wan is impulsive and Qui-Gon’s a wild card” mess in PM, when the both of them barely raise an eyebrow through the whole movie.

The one thing both prequels do consistently, in fact, is the CGI scenery, which is gorgeous (if you know of any vacancies on Naboo, let me know). The Coruscant traffic, in fact, almost seemed 3-D, and that car chase was one of my favorites scenes in particular. Kamino’s also wonderful, although I, unlike
Correspondent Vladimir, am not sure I’d want to live there full-time. Unfortunately, any CGI that involved actual human beings—Anakin getting shaken off by that giant tick-cow on Naboo, for example—was horribly reminiscent of the bad stretches of CGI in Harry Potter. Yoda, however, was great. Still, I have one question about him: If Yoda can get all Cirque du Soleil on Christopher Lee, why in the Sam Hill does he hobble around on that cane?

Strangely, that was the only scene that drew any laughs in the theater where I was—Yoda’s duel (though I think that was more the laughter of glee than of mockery), and Obi-Wan’s “Good job” line in the Arena of Sandy Death. (And the beasties there, by the way, seemed to be a definite Ray Harryhausen shout-out. And I mean that in a good sense, not an “It was cheesy but I liked it anyway” sense.) Also, I still crack up any time an already-famous actor invokes the Force (“May the Force be with you.” “May the Force be with
you”), but that’s my own problem. Any attempt at humor by C3PO (“This is such a drag! I’m beside myself!”) failed utterly, and in fact drew groans from the audience. Also, inquiring minds still want to know how C3PO and R2 got back to Naboo for the last scene if they got left in the Geonosian dust. And why R2 can fly now but couldn’t fly in the original trilogy when it really would have done him some good. But that may be the point: This is not the kind of movie that’s going to give you answers of any kind, deep or otherwise. If George Lucas was seeking to evoke the pulp-fiction roots of the serious, he succeeded there well enough. Now, if only he would get a decent co-writer…Tom Stoppard? William Goldman? Hey, not only can we at the Digest help you, but we also come cheap. Seriously—think it over, before someone uses the roughness of sand as a pickup line again.
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