Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Posted by Joel Copling on July 12, 2015

Taking on the tone and sense of adventure shared by so many Saturday-morning serials, from which Jonathan Hales and director George Lucas' screenplay clearly and liberally drew its inspiration, "Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones" is a troubled but solid piece of sci-fi entertainment that has so many things going on in its narrative continuation of a trilogy of prequels to the original saga in the galaxy far, far away from the 1970's and '80's that it would at least be difficult to become disinterested in the proceedings. Simultaneously, the movie works as an addendum to mythology and world-building, an intriguing mystery for its protagonist to solve, and a rollicking space adventure that features some truly impressive craftsmanship.

Set ten years after its predecessor, the film finds Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), now a senator on her home planet of Naboo after relinquishing her royalty and crown, the target of an assassination attempt that leaves one of her decoys dead. Jedi masters Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Yoda (voice of Frank Oz) are insistent that their occupation is the establishment of peace, not the invocation of war, but Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who is of course hiding alterior motives as a Sith Lord that somehow remain close-to-the-chest despite every audience member's knowledge of them, is equally insistent that the situation is far graver than the Jedi give it credit for.

And so Padme is put into the protective custody of Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), who has long dreamt about seeing the former Queen again and is disappointed to discover that she barely recognizes him after so many years. The reunion sparks a serious connection between the two, most especially following another assassination attempt that remands Padme into Anakin's sole custody and the two fly off to his home planet of Tatooine. Anakin has been having dreams of a dying mother, and it's only when the dream becomes tragic reality that the darker aspects of Anakin's newfound arrogance under Obi-Wan's tutelage come to light in a scene performed pretty well by Christensen; the rage, grief, and fear of mass murder as a form of vengeance are palpable, at least. It's a compelling first glimpse into the Dark Side of the Force's influence on the Padawan.

Obi-Wan, meanwhile, has his own thread to follow: The dying words of the assassin, a changeling named Zam Wesell (Leanna Walsman), are interrupted by a toxic dart that leads the Jedi knight to a distant planet whose records have been destroyed. There, he finds a race of alien beings who bring him up to speed on the Republic's army of clone troopers; its donor is a bounty hunter named Jango Fett (Temeura Morrison), who has also kept one of those clones, named Boba (Daniel Logan), as a sort of offspring. Fett's daring escape from Obi-Wan's attempt to arrest him brings them to Geonosis, the operation center of Sith master Count Dooku (Christopher Lee in a terrifically vindictive performance) and the corrupt Trade Federation (led by Silas Carson's Nute Gunray).

That's a lot of stuff to cover, even in two-and-a-half solid hours. Not all of it works; there is a forced political commentary that was more relevant to the year the film was released than it would be now, with the corruption of the Trade Federation and of the Republic from within somehow getting a backseat to a mostly ineffectual love story between Anakin and Padme that neither Christensen (who is perfectly fine as a whiny brat but a block of wood when asked to become a hopeless romantic) nor Portman (whose Padme seems to shift randomly from uncertainty about her future with Anakin to accepting it outright) is able to sell convincingly.

It all seems like small potatoes, though, to the other things the film does work perfectly well to accomplish. Obi-Wan's investigation of Fett and, eventually, the clone army is the kind of hair-raising stuff that should intrigue anyone with a soft spot for involving mysteries. This one seems to raise a question for every answer it gives, always shifting in a new direction when one least expects it. Action scenes are spectacular, such as the chase through Coruscant between the bounty hunter and the Jedi and the final climactic battle between the Jedi Council and Dooku's droids. Lightsaber action, which sort of warrants separate mention from the usual spectacle, is also terrific, such as when we finally get to see the extent of tiny Yoda's powers. "Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones" might be a case of the fun stuff overwhelming what works less well, but hey, it works.

Film Information

Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Natalie Portman (Senator Padme Amidala), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus), Temeura Morrison (Jango Fett), Daniel Logan (Boba Fett), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Silas Carson (Nute Gunray/Ki-Ai Mundi), Leeanna Walsman (Zam Wesell), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Rose Byrne (Dorme), Veronica Segura (Corde), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Jack Thompson (Cliegg Lars), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Ayesha Dharker (Queen Jamillia), Joel Edgerton (Owen Lars), Bonnie Piesse (Beru Whitesun), Jay Laga'aia (Captain Typho).

Featuring the voice of Frank Oz (Yoda).

Directed by George Lucas and written by Lucas and Jonathan Hales.

Rated PG (sustained sci-fi/action violence).

142 minutes.

Released on May 16, 2002.