George Lucas has spent the last three years battling the backlash that his previous Star Wars film, 'The Phantom Menace' caused when it became obvious that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. So does 'Attack of the Clones' make up for it?
Oh yes, and then some too. In fact, for its 140 minute runtime, it will blow you away. Not only does it redeem Lucas as a visionary storyteller and a film director of some calibre, but it even manages to justify some of the nadirs of Phantom Menace as well.
Perhaps somewhat inaccurately titled, the film begins some ten years after TPM concludes, journaling the last few weeks of the Galactic Republic before the Clone War begins. We see the relationship between Anakin and Amidala blossom into romance and the peace of the galaxy slip between the fingers of the Jedi as the Sith's plans begin to unfold. And, like the Sith, we finally start to see how Lucas plans to bond his two trilogies.
Indeed, the whole film is revelatory. Where you might have expected simplistic words and facile plot devices, you in fact get the first mature set of storylines and dialogue seen in the Star Wars saga. There's political intrigue, a burgeoning love story, rebels without causes, plenty of action sequences (of course), and for the fans, so many points of reference both forwards and backwards in the saga that it's hard not to salivate. Barring the obvious connections to Episodes 4 to 6 (i.e. Emperor, Obi-wan and Anakin), TPM only set the foundations for bridging the story arc to A New Hope. It's truly fascinating to watch the links begin to form throughout the course of the movie and hideously frustrating to know that you have to wait another three years before Episode 3 will see them completed. Thank heavens for Jonathon Hales co-writing of the screenplay for this film. It's hard to justify the word streamlined for a film well over two hours in length but there's very little extraneous material here and the time does fly by, even in repeated viewings. Given TPM, one shudders to think how it might have turned out had George tried to go it solo again.
For what is essentially a dark film, there are some genuinely funny moments. There's some classic C-3PO, R2-D2 banter and, having been name-checked in almost every op-culture film since it's creation, it's nice to see a Star Wars film give nods to others in return, deliberately or otherwise. Watch out for Amidala's Sound of Music moment and Yoda's nod to the Matrix and others besides.
On screen, Hayden Christiansen is the best lead Lucas has had since American Graffiti. He's annoying, petulant, cocky, quick to take offence and generally unpleasant - exactly what he should be. It's only when he's trying to woo Natalie Portman as Amidala that he (and she too) starts to lose credibility. Still, intimacy has never been a Star Wars strength. This aside, Portman and Ewan MacGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi are both much more comfortable in their roles this time around and even bring a sense of personality and humour to their roles. Christopher Lee proves a Jedi can be as classy as Samuel L. Jackson even if he is on the dark side of the force and Ian McDiarmid continues to be the quintessential schemer in his role as Palpatine.
For the first time, the actors are almost as interesting as the special FX too. The some two thousand CGI shots are nothing short of breath taking, as you would expect of ILM and Lucasfilm. The gamble to shoot the film entirely with digital cameras seems to have paid off in the main, although there is a noticeable difference in the quality of some parts of the film between having it shown in an 'analogue' theatre and on a digital projector, as it should be. If you can make it to a theatre with a digital screen, do. Ditto if your local flick pit has a THX sound system. You won't miss anything if the screen you watch it in hasn't the latest set-up, but you will appreciate it if you do then see and hear it as it was meant to be.
Any downsides then? Well, not really. Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, you'll still thoroughly enjoy the film. There's no obligation to have seen Episode 1 to know what's going on and it is quite spectacular. In fact, at times it's almost too much of an eyeful, with so much action onscreen, you can't keep track of what is going on, but that's why you watch it more than once, yes?
A worthy addition to the Star Wars canon then, and another three year wait until the whole story is finally told. Let's hope George doesn't die in the meantime.