Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Isn’t there anyone that writer-director George Lucas is close to who is willing to tell him the truth? Something like, “Hey George, you’re a wonderful storyteller and a brilliant filmmaker, but please stop writing screenplays.”

Indeed, Lucas is a master storyteller, and his continuing role as film innovator has allowed him to tell a story unlike no other. Is it any wonder why other successful film makers turn to him when they need help?

Unfortunately, Lucas hasn’t matured much as a writer, and his films suffer from clumsy, almost embarrassing dialogue. Even though the themes in the “Star Wars” series have become complex and multi-layered, the dialogue hasn’t graduated beyond the simple mechanics of the first film. Lucas was blessed when he teamed up with writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the screenplays for “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”

Kasdan, who went on to write and direct “Body Heat” and “The Big Chill” brought a human element to Lucas’s space opera that is sadly missing from the latest installment “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” a film that is almost as bad as the title.

“Attack of the Clones” is better than “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” but not by much. Lucas digs deep into his digital bag of tricks to come up with breathtaking landscapes and dizzying action sequences, but without strong characters to ground them, they’re all show.

Hayden Christensen, the perfect model of teen angst in “Life as a House,” is so wooden as Annakin Skywalker he could double as a totem pole. In this episode, his character is on his way to becoming Darth Vader, but you never feel his inner emotional tug-of-war.

Christensen has all of the appeal of an early infomercial spokesman reading from cue cards. While it would be nearly impossible for any actor to make the dialogue work, Christensen recites every line with the conviction of a super model on “Jeopardy.”.

Ten years have passed since “The Phantom Menace,” and while Annakin has grown from a precocious eight-year-old to young Jedi Knight, Natalie Portman’s Princess Amidala (now a senator) looks the same age. Must be those Jedi Knight steroids. Romance blossoms between the two when Annakin is assigned to protect Amidala.

While Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) looks for answers to an impending “Clone War,” Annakin looks for a way into Amidala’s heart and bed. Before they find true love, Annakin and Amidala must help Obi-Wan stop Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who has gone over to the dark side, from crippling the Republic.

The plot allows Lucas to introduce plot lines and themes that continue through the original “Star Wars” trilogy, but it also exposes a blatant disregard for continuity. What confuses me is that black actors play important roles in both “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” and will more than likely appear in the next film. So if the universe before “Star Wars” is filled with black characters, what happened to them in “Star Wars”? Is this an oversight or just clumsy plotting?

We’re told that a Jedi Knight is expected to lay down his life for the good of the Republic and to keep the peace. Yet when Yoda is faced with stopping the one man who has the power to destroy the Republic or saving two Jedi Knights, he opts to save the later.

If Yoda had let them die, there would be no series. Lucas unwisely attempts to generate suspense by putting key characters in peril. Since the characters appear in “Star Wars,” there is no doubt that they will overcome and survive. Then it becomes a waiting game to see how long it takes for the characters to catch up with the audience.

To his credit, Lucas does manage to surround us in spectacle, creating netherworlds and creatures that amaze and amuse us. The action becomes tiresome, especially an opening chase scene that feels more like a preview of a new “Star Wars” attraction at Disneyland than a pivotal plot point. Even the sight of watching Yoda engage in a duel with a light saber looks more like a parody of “Star Wars” than the real thing.

Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman approach their characters with a modicum of respect, breathing more life into them than the script requires.

Shot in digital, “Attack of the Clones” looks sharp and features a sweeping John Williams score that is more than just a rehash of previous themes. The costumes are just as colorful as the production design, and thankfully there’s less Jar-Jar Binks. Now if Lucas can just bring back common sense.

STAR SNORES Light sabers couldn’t cut through this bad scriptSTAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES

Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by George Lucas. Rated PG. 140 Minutes.


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