It arrived at local theaters under a veil of secrecy, in cartons bearing a code name (gee, why are they shipping prints of an old Fred Astaire movie?) with the film itself bearing yet another code name! Take that, you would-be film pirates! But then, another label was affixed reading, “SW/EP 2 — ATTACK,” rather negating the whole point. First the bad news: Ewan McGregor neither sings, dances nor takes off his clothes in Star Wars: Episode 2. There are millions of dollars worth of often breathtaking special effects and about $1.75 worth of dialogue. Most of the gab in the film is strictly utilitarian and not very interesting. At other times, it aims for romantic and/or emotional impact and then it’s even worse. (As someone commented to me concerning George Lucas’ handling of the film’s romance, “I don’t think Lucas gets out very often.”) With the exception of Ewan McGregor — who makes a fine, slightly bemused swashbuckling hero — and veteran horror icon Christopher Lee — who makes an equally fine villain — the acting ranges from indifferent to just plain awful. McGregor and Lee alone seem to understand that this is more good-natured nonsense than Holy Writ, and it helps that Lucas has patterned their exchanges very much on such classic swordfight dialogue as that spouted by Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood, or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Henry Daniell in The Exile. Hayden Christensen is every bit as bad — at least when speaking (he does a good job of looking sincere, and, as Carol Kane says of movie acting in Ken Russell’s Valentino, “Believe me, lookin’ sincere in this town is a lot of hard work”) — as I feared from the trailer. Indeed, most of the cast isn’t much better. (It’s sobering when you find yourself thinking that a film would be improved by incorporating Swedish dialect comedian El Brendel — as the 1930 science-fiction musical Just Imagine actually did — into the proceedings.) However, I’m surprised that I actually enjoyed it — all 135 minutes of it — and more than any of its brethren. And I could enjoy it without trying to sort the entire mythos out, or indeed much consider it at all. (Series fans will find more resonance than will the casual viewer, though. There’s a notable frisson when we see what Lee’s Count Dooku escapes with, if you know the series well enough to know what it is.) There’s something here to please just about any genre fan — ranging from a reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “The Speckled Band,” to intimations of special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. The sequence where Anakin (Christensen) attempts to rescue his mother takes us back to Lucas’s fixation with John Ford’s The Searchers (a major influence on the original Star Wars) and actually has at least some of that film’s dark tone. Nearly all the action scenes are wonderfully achieved (anyone who doesn’t at all respond to the film’s last 45 minutes probably needs to have his pulse checked for signs of life) and it all comes across as a tidy amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and swashbuckling. The effects tend to be stunning and the art direction is fascinating: The Metropolis-like art deco futurism and the Venetian-styled ersatz Maxfield Parrish settings are fantastic. I’m still not keen on Lucas’s penchant for cute aliens — what once was a brief bit in a bar in the first film is now peppered throughout the film — and Yoda and his tortured sentence structure still gets on my nerves (though his encounter with Lee is a neat surprise). The much-criticized Jar Jar Binks is back (voiced by Ahmed Best) and still an embarrassment, but perhaps no more so than the usually unremarked upon Watto (voiced by Andy Secombe, son of British comedian Harry Secombe), who gives Alec Guinness’ Fagin in Oliver Twist a run for his money in the Jewish stereotype department. It’s easy to want to slam Attack of the Clones just out of reaction to its myriad commercial tie-ins (Ewan McGregor on a cereal box???) and the sheer pomposity of George Lucas with his “I knew the fans wouldn’t like this aspect of the film, but it was the story I had to tell” bombast. He seems to think he’s the Richard Wagner of pop culture. (In all fairness to Lucas, boiled down to its essential storyline, Wagner’s Ring cycle isn’t especially more profound than Star Wars.) With these things working against it, I really expected to hate the film. Instead, I liked it — rather a lot, for what it is.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke