by Stephen Notley
Holy crap, I don't believe it either, but it's true: Attack of the Clones is freakin' incredible.
1999 was a dark time for the galaxy. George Lucas unveiled the first installment of his new Star Wars trilogy, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and audiences around the world came to know and fear the name "Jar-Jar." Farting animals, two-headed race announcers and clumsy, hamfisted writing caused fans and regular moviegoers alike to collapse into a super-dense ball of disappointment and frustration.
The Episode I post-mortem revealed that George Lucas had forgotten everything he ever knew and had become fat and complacent, more interested in playing with digital toys or appeasing his children than in making a good movie. Or at least, that's what it appeared to reveal.
That's why my jaw dropped off --all the way off-- as I watched Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. George Lucas has done what seemed impossible; he's made a movie worthy to be called Star Wars.
In describing Attack of the Clones, you'd hope to use words like huge, epic, spectacular, action-packed. But wouldja believe "subtle"? Or "serious-minded"? Or even "elegant"? It's true.
The triviality, the childish lame-brained jokiness of Episode I -- it's just not there. Instead we're left with an intelligent political thriller that just happens to also have some of the most shattering action scenes ever done.
Actual political relevance? In Star Wars? Well, it's the story of a well-meaning republic with a corrupt executive that seeks to create a situation of permanent war to cement its own power -- sound familiar? If you think a movie with spaceships and robots can't be about anything real, think again.
Miracles abound. In Attack of the Clones, the character stuff -- the stuff that computer-crazy Lucas was most sure to ignore or fumble -- comes across as strikingly, intelligently done. For instance, consider Anakin Skywalker, formerly and futurely known as Darth Vader, played here by Hayden Christensen. The trailers make him seem like a whiny, arrogant jerkoff. And that's in there. But what the trailers don't reveal is that he's also a *Jedi* -- with a keen intelligence and a monastic sense of duty and control. Yes he's impulsive -- but he's no fool, either. The movie plays his arrogance against his training, and it sucks you in.
Lucas seems to have rediscovered drama, the idea that two people talking in a room can be interesting. Without Jar Jar hooting and hollering in every spare scene, we can actually see some real acting. Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin click together perfectly as master and apprentice. They have a rhythm, two super-knights who've been working together for years, a relationship with wit, respect, and tension that supplies many of the movie's genuine laughs. R2D2 and C-3PO finally get some scenes together, elegantly demonstrating how comedy relief is supposed to work. And there's a father-son thread with bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temura Morrison) and young Boba (Daniel Logan) that pays off beautifully.
Hell, even the love story is believable. Anakin and Amidala are serious people, and *smart*, and their tense, evolving relationship makes sense. Okay, yes, there are a couple of bafflingly goofy love scenes that look like they bounced in from Episode I, but the overall effect is still strong, given life and gravity by one of John Williams' best Star Wars musical themes. Can you buy it? Well, I did.
But, c'mon, man, what about the explosions? Rest assured, folks, there are explosions. Huge explosions, great explosions, along with zippy spaceships and totally funky alien clone factories and some of the coolest *sound* in a movie, plus a good handful of scenes or shots that just make you go *whoa!*, plus about a million other things I don't want to spoil for you.
Attack of the Clones is huge, big, almost too much. Three quarters of the way through, when you take a moment to think about everything yet to come, it's almost wearying. I liked Spider-Man, but Spider-Man was popcorn. Attack of the Clones is a huge 24-oz. steak dinner at the Keg, when you're already filled up on bread and mushroom caps. You leave the theatre absolutely stuffed. It's a real movie. It's a real film.
And if Yoda looks a little computery, who cares?