ATTACK OF THE CLONES
Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones : USA 2002 : George Lucas : 143 mins
Were always being told that the Star Wars movies are primarily aimed at 10 to 12-year-old boys, and are supposed to be in the style of 1930s adventure serials. So a certain amount of clunky cheesiness goes with the territory. But when were dealing with something so grindingly inept as Attack of the Clones, its debatable whats being insulted the most: the memory of the serials or the imaginations of todays younger moviegoers. Lucas may try to hide behind Yodas comment Truly wonderful the mind of a child is, but he tells us more about himself when he has Obi Wan-Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, on cod-Alec Guinness autopilot) tell his apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) that the Jedi mind-trick only works on the weak-minded.
Phantom Menace was Lucass first turn in the directors chair for over 20 years, so a little rustiness was to be expected. And he’s never been much good with actors, or with dialogue (its no coincidence that the excellent Empire Strikes Back was the only one where he isn’t credited as at least co-writer). But Clones plumbs a new low, suggesting that the talent that produced American Graffiti has long since dematerialised. The suspicion remains that a decent writer, editor and director could rattle through the whole Luke-Anakin saga in a single, two-hour movie. Instead, we have to endure a script like Clones: relentless in its atrociousness impossible to follow, packed with the dopiest excuses for characterisation and dialogue.
The only exception is when McGregor refers to the Jedi Council the old folks home, in an under-his-breath aside which must be an ad lib that sneaked under Lucass radar. McGregor, visibly fighting a constant, losing battle with boredom, never pretends to take the nonsense at all seriously – and nowhere else do Lucas and his senior-citizen co-writer Jonathan Hales display anything remotely resembling this kind of wit or originality (perhaps he tried to get John Sayles, and ended up with Jon Hales by mistake)
In terms of the series mythology, the functions of Attack of the Clones are simple : (1) bring Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) together, (2) show the first signs of Anakins fall towards the Dark Side and (3) kick off the Clone Wars. All three tasks are carried out in the clunkiest, most unconvincing ways possible, summed up by a roll-in-the-meadow romantic interlude in which Anakin starts expounding the virtues of dictatorship to an unimpressed Padme.
Lucas is most comfortable with virgin births its bizarre that, in a franchise that boils down to various characters quest for missing parents, two of the key characters (Anakin and bounty-hunter Boba Fett) are both the result of immaculate conceptions. But Lucas has painted himself into a corner with Anakin and Padme, whose relationship should form the emotional crux of these first three episodes. So far, its an embarrassment – Christensen and Portman have both showed plenty of acting ability elsewhere, but Lucas makes both of them look and sound ridiculous. The pair are stuck with characters whose non-existent motivations are purely a matter of plot mechanics, padding things out until the next slam-bang effects sequence.
Its just as well that veterans Christopher Lee (as the very Saruman-ish Count Dooku) and Ian McDiarmid (as Senator Palpatine) are around they can look after themselves, and whenever their villainous characters are on screen Clones becomes miraculously bearable. And no film that features the imperious, fighting-fit octogenarian Lee zooming over a red-duned desert on a turbo-charged mini-chariot can possibly be all bad. But there are too many long, boring stretches when were stranded in the barren outer space of Lucass imagination.
Whole sections desperately rip off other, better movies, with the Gladiator homage in the latter stages being only the most blatant. Even the special effects aren’t anything specially effective by todays high standards, Lucass cock-knocker insistence on filming Clones with the latest digital cameras meaning that, for the vast majority of the worlds audiences stuck with old-school cinemas, the whole thing looks dank and fuzzy. Were probably not missing much, however the only sequence with any real visual flair is Dooku and Anakins light-sabre fight, which takes place in almost total darkness, illuminated only by their flashing laser-blades.
Theres another striking moment when a huge ballbearing-shaped spaceship slowly takes off from a dusty desert floor then gets bombed messily back to earth, but Lucass handling of the scene is so typically cack-handed its impossible to tell whether this is supposed to be a positive or negative development for the good guys. As an image to sum up Attack of the Clones, however - clumsy, expensive, disastrously earthbound its hard to resist.
14th May 2002
(seen 12th May, Warner Village, Newcastle)
by Neil Young