Episode II : ATTACK OF THE CLONES

General impressions:

For Star Wars fans who weren't too enthusiastic about Lucas's dumbed-down experiment called The Phantom Menace, Attack (AOTC) comes as a literal New Hope for breathing new life into the Star Wars franchise.

The good news is that on many levels, it lives up to this. I feel this movie had 3 aims:

i) Appeal to the long time fans of the Star Wars series, as a redemptive effort for Episode I

Fans will be pleased to know that it happens. AOTC is almost explicitly blatant about the way it tries to cater to the fan niche. Viewers will find many hidden references and in-jokes that foreshadow things to come in Episodes 4-6. Much of the criticism by fans of Episode I have also been taken seriously. Annoyingly idiotic characters that were extremely unpopular with fans, like Jar Jar Binks, Nute Gunray, and even the N'sync cameo, have had their roles cut down (or even cut off, in the case of the boy band). Subtitling for alien languages is back, even for the Ree-Yees like Alien species, although it was established that they spoke English in Episode I.

The camaderie aspect, a staple of the original trilogy in the form of witty banter between Luke, Leia and Han, returns in this movie, as old and new relationships are established onscreen. Of special interest is the return of 3PO to the main character list. Having been little more than a cameo in the first prequel film, 3PO has now been retrieved by Anakin, and almost immediately begins his comedic duo relationship with R2 D2. This film pushes 3PO's humour further, giving him even more absurd situations to handle than before, and it works remarkably well. Even the mighty Yoda, seen as old and grim in Episode I, flexes more (facial) muscle in this film. Being completely CGI this round (And looking very good, both in terms of acting ability and likeness to the original puppet), and Lucas has taken advantage of his technology to do some very very amusing things with the character. We even see some hints of his lighter, humourous side, something that was very much present in Empire Strikes Back, when he pretended to be a senile old coot for Luke.

Draw more female audiences into the Star Wars saga.

The marketing for AOTC as a film has a very clear romantic element in connection with the Anakin / Padme love story. Within the film, the mood setting is breath-taking. Now we are shown the purpose of having the planet Naboo. The exotic castles and architecture now plays complement to the extreme, almost Eden-like gardens and scenery, besting even the most awe-inspiring landscapes seen in Lord of the Rings. CGI manipulation creates dreamy, fantastical spaces filled with lush vegetation and waterfalls of unearthly beauty.

Unfortunately, Lucas is a much better action/adventure director than a romantic one. The Star Wars movies have not been well-known for their romantic content, and this foray into new territory doesn't work as well as it should. The movie sports cheesey lines and acting that cannot carry the scenes. Nothing too new since the same problems have plagued the original trilogy as well. However, this time it is worse.

Natalie Portman is perhaps the most natural thing in a romance scene. She carries her self well, and is somewhat believable as a young woman falling in love. Hayden Christensen, on the other hand, is terrible. His acting is stone-faced, forced and amatuerish throughout the film, with little chemistry with Portman nor McGregor.

As a romancer, he has not the charm nor the suaveness of Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and his come-ons to Amidala appear weak and emotionless, a point made worse by the corny lines he was given. It was unfortunate, but noticeable that his performance lacked, as the romance sequences were the point where many theatre-goers in my screening took the scenes as opportunity for a toilet break. And many of these were female, people I assume were the target audience of such scenes.

Similarly, Hayden's portrayal of Anakin as the rebellious, angstful Padawan doesn't carry either. I personally found his portrayal to be neither likeable, or vicarious. This is certainly one of the major flaws of this movie, for 2 of the 3 important plots running through this film are resting on the actor's shoulders. He doesn't impress in his romancing, and also fails to give Anakin the dramatic power he needs to really pinpoint the loss of his mother as a major turning point of his life. I do not think that this is something that cannot be done. Many other youthful actors have been able to carry such difficult roles before. Hayden seems to need many more years of experience and acting classes; perhaps it was unwise to cast someone so young and raw for the part. Personally, I think even Hayden lookalike James (Harry Osborne) Franco might have done a better job, as evidenced by his excellent performance in Spider-man.

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