Blu Review: STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES
PG – 136mins – 2002
Story by: George Lucas
Screenplay by: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Directed by: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGreogor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Temuera Morrison, Daniel Logan, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Jimmy Smits, Ahmed Best, Pernilla August
“A change is as good as a rest” so the proverb goes; well, there was never any chance of me defecting to another franchise, but in the run-up to last week's “The Complete Saga” Blu-ray release I had decided to rest any repeat viewings of the six films set in a galaxy far, far away, so to increase the impact of seeing the saga with fresh eyes in super-glossy remastered 1080p HD. For that reason, it had been a fair good while since I had sat down to watch 2002's Attack of the Clones – a couple of years, maybe? – and, wow, what a difference it made! A change was indeed made: a change in my opinion of this oft dumped on sophomore instalment.
Set a decade after the events portrayed in The Phantom Menace (reviewed HERE), Episode II is set in a much changed galaxy: The Galactic Republic is in crisis as an ever-growing Separatist movement – led by former Jedi Count Dooku (screen icon Lee) – peels away from the pack and leaves harmony in jeopardy: they could attack the remaining loyal star systems at any moment, and the Republic - even with protectors of the peace, the Jedi Knights, on their side - do not have the military force to counteract such a threat. What they need is an army all their own – but will the Senate ever vote for such a revolutionary proposal?
With Senator Padmé Amidala's (Portman) safety at risk, Chancellor Palpatine (McDiarmid) requests she be placed under the protection of Jedi Knight Obi Wan Kenobi (McGregor, replete with ginger beard) and his brilliant-but-willful padawan, Anakin Skywalker (Christensen). A further attempt on the former Queen of the Naboo's life sees the bodyguards separated as Obi Wan follows the trail of the bounty hunter responsible to a surprising revelation on the ocean world of Kamino, while Anakin opens up to the girl he has dreamed of since their first encounter on Tatooine ten years previous...
If we are to compare middle episodes, then, obviously, Clones doesn't hold a lightsabre to saga-pinnacle The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, there is much to love about this all-too-quickly derided picture: from the atmospheric opening as the Senator's sleek cruiser tentatively punctures the mist above Coruscant, to the explosive final battle as a Geonosian ampitheatre plays host to the start of the Clone Wars. Sandwiched between these two events is a high-octane speeder chase admist Coruscant's bustling skyscape, Obi Wan faces off against the under-suspision Jango Fett (Morrison) on a rain-lashed landing platform, Anakin vents his rage at a entire camp of Tuskan Raiders, a droid Assembly Line makes for an inspired makeshift arena, and the diminutive Master Yoda (Oz) finally gets to kick some ass with a lightsabre!
Even the film's biggest detractors cannot deny that the expertly choreographed set-pieces definitely impress. Unfortunately, it is in Clone's quieter moments that its flaw manifest themselves: Anakin and Padmé's forbidden love feels horribly forced and fails to convince, primarily because of Padmé's ridiculous about-face concerning her “true” feelings towards an almost sinisterly-arrogant man who she hasn't seen since he was nine years old! Furthermore, it is hard to believe that anyone could fall so hopelessly in love with a guy who comes off more than a little strong (“When I'm around you my mind is no longer my own”) and more than a little stalkerish (“I've thought about her every day since we parted”).
Many a critic has bemoaned the ensemble cast's wooden delivery of some rather clunky dialogue (he may have had a hand with the screenplay this time around, but George Lucas is renowned for it; he's not an “actor's director”), but I found watching the film with the subtitles on – a recent tendency I have come to miss when a DVD doesn't have subtitle tracks – made me appreciate the intricacies of the script over “Manakin” Skywalker's (thank you, Clerks II) leaden articulation. “Don't worry, R2 is with us” is one such off-hand witticism the then-newcomer absolutely destroys by saying it like he is reading it off the page for the very first time.
Picking up on further intricacies, Lucas makes many much-appreciated nods back to the Original Trilogy, helping to ingratiate this prequel into the entire saga. Be it major details such as the Geonosian's passing of the Death Star plans onto Count Dooku, Anakin's first step between man and the machine he will one day become in the form of a mechanical hand, or even something as brief as Jango banging his head on the door to Slave I (a retro-fitted trait his clone army retain in the now iconic blooper in 1977's A New Hope), these all help to feed into the franchise's ever-expanding legacy and help people to view the saga as one long film rather than six individual segments.
Whilst Episode I's humour was embarrassingly juvenile, frequently toilet-based and often given to bumbling clown Jar Jar Binks (Best, who returns in a much reduced role here), the majority of laughs in Attack of the Clones come courtesy of some dryly sarcastic wit (“Then we decided to come and rescue you,” Anakin fills in his master. “Good job!” deadpans Obi Wan, motioning to the chains which bind his hands to the arena's podium) and some genuinely chucklesome – though admittedly far-than-subtle – camp quips from goldenrod C-3PO (Daniels, in his fifth appearance) which nicely counteract the conflict raging around him without reducing Star Wars to a farce (“I'm quite beside myself”).
In a CR@B Shell: So, the Chose One has shown a less-than-appealing side to his nature and betrayed his allegiance to the Jedi Code, while a grand army of clones has risen to combat the growing Separatist threat and war has engulfed the galaxy – when faced with such beautifully rendered and bombastically entertaining spectacle I can forgive the occasional awkward delivery of dialogue and even an overtly elaborate plot. Attack of the Clones: in the eyes of this CR@B, you are reprieved.