Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (PG)
ACTION calls the shots in the penultimate instalment in George Lucas’s science-fantasy sextet, and in that respect Attack of the Clones doesn’t disappoint.
Mass battle sequences between overwhelmed Jedi knights and legions of winged, bat-like cave dwellers backed up by super androids, one-on-one duels between Jedi and various nefarious bad guys and the obligatory chase sequences make this fifth story – actually the second in the soon-to-be-completed saga – a distinct improvement on its predecessor.
Yet Lucas hasn’t got it completely right. One again his scripting (this time in collaboration with Jonathan Hales) is limp and his characterisation is weak, but Attack of the Clones gets away with it thanks to the sheer energy piled into the setpiece action scenes.
Set a decade after The Phantom Menace and the introduction of Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala and a host of other new names in the Star Wars universe, Episode II picks up the various threads of the story.
By this time Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen) is a trainee Jedi under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor returning for a meaty re-run at his character).
Both he and Obi-Wan are ordered to serve as protectors to Padme, now a Republican Senator, who has recently been the victim of assassination attempts.
Padme is certain the attacks were orchestrated by enemies within the Trade Federation – the powerful body which, ten years earlier, invaded her home planet of Naboo.
What no one can know, until Obi-Wan stumbles upon it by chance, is that sinister forces are at work to undermine the Republic. Chief among them are the duplicitous Senator Palpatine and the enigmatic Count Dooku, the latter a former Jedi now busily forming a vast army of clone warriors with which to fight a war with the ailing Republic as more and more star systems break away to form a Separatist movement.
Into is into this treacherous arena that Anakin, Obi-Wan, Padme and other old favourites finds themselves catapulted as the Republic starts to rot from within and the peace and tranquillity it offers are cast aside.
Attack of the Clones starts as it means to with an act of terrorism that Padme is fortunate to survive. From there it rockets pell-mell into dark territory as it rapidly becomes apparent that, this time, Lucas has abandoned the kiddie formula that so tainted The Phantom Menace.
The corruption within the Republic quickly becomes apparent, and Lucas seizes on this to present what is arguably the most adult-orientated of the five Star Wars pictures so far.
Still, such lofty ambitions don’t prevent the movie from stagnating during its first 60 minutes, particularly during the burgeoning (i.e., drawn-out ) love affair between Anakin and Amidala. All the better, then, that Lucas punctuates the slow moments with some eye-popping, rollercoaster action.
Among the best are a breakneck chase through the towering skyscrapers of the imperial planet Coruscant as Anakin and Obi-Wan pursue a would-be assassin; a stand-off in a gladiatorial arena between Jedi and Dooku’s forces; and the final, protracted, battle sequence.
But too much of Attack of the Clones appears to have been borrowed from the earlier films. Lucas seems too often to fall into the trap of identifying something that worked once before, re-hashing it, and presenting it to a new audience.
Of course he conveniently forgets that the established Star Wars audience is now more than 25 years old and, if they’ve seen something once, they’ll remember it.
Hence we are treated to another cantina sequence (from Star Wars), a star chase amid asteroids (from The Empire Strikes Back) and the hint of a death star (from Star Wars again).
It occasionally smacks of desperation. Lucas has always spoken of the Star Wars saga being a lengthy affair, but I for one do not believe that all six films were mapped out in advance.
Certainly Attack of the Clones looks like an exercise in putting together a particularly troublesome jigsaw, always mindful that it has to somehow link together to another, existing, puzzle made by a different company.
In that respect Attack of the Clones looks to be over-ambitious. It has to continue the various threads of The Phantom Menace while setting up the next story (the as-yet untitled Episode III) and leading into the second trilogy.
It doesn’t always succeed, especially when the vast universe of thousands of worlds appears to boil down to a handful of characters, all of which are, somehow, conveniently interlinked.
It makes a mockery of the later films and their grand scale, while Lucas’s own inability to prevent himself from slipping in some embarrassing moments, such as a lightsabre duel involving the diminutive Yoda, result in it being just plain silly.
As for the actors, most come a poor second to the over-the-top CGI effects, though McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson (enjoying himself enormously as the lightsabre-wielding Mace Windu) and the great Christopher Lee as Dooku, aka villainous Darth Tyranus, score highest.
While it is a tad overlong, Attack of the Clones is not dull. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it (also the middle film in a trilogy) it leaves a lot of questions unanswered and piles the pressure on the third film to tie up all the loose ends.
Nevertheless, it delivers thrills, spills and the occasional chill in abundance and, despite its faults, still manages to be 500 per cent better than any of its rivals.
The final film comes out in three years. Roll on 2005, I say.