Prove Lucas' ability to direct a straight story
A point that has been critically argued by fans and pros alike since Episode I was released was that the movie had no direction, no motivation, and was climaxed by a deux ex machina. This movie fixes many of those things. The storyline is much easier to follow, and events flow into one another much better, tying up in a neat resolution that doesn't leave any noticeable threads hanging (except for those that will be resolved in the next movie).
The settings are also much more pumped up than before. The actual city of Coruscant is no longer constrained to a few rooms, but an entire landscape filled with heavy traffic, skyscrapers, and a seamy district reminiscent of Hollywood New York, right down to the sleazey neon adverts and bars. Lucas is certainly going for a mix of such familiar stereotypes in creating some of the settings. One of my favourites is the *almost* all-american diner where Obiwan meets Dexter Jettster. The place is a futuristic version of the diner seen in Lucas's old American Graphitti, with a little bit of retro-Archiekins-Americana thrown in. Even Dex fits right in as the Pops figure, the friendly yet somewhat uncouth uncle right down to the butt-crack and the moustache. It's a strange addition to the world of Star Wars, and some people may not like it, but I for one found it as an interesting reminder of Lucas's desire to include an aspect of classic Hollywood in his movies.
Other familiar setting that Lucas plays with are things like the Library/Jedi Archives, right down to the grand old lady librarian who turns stuffy at first sign of insult; the Geonosian arena, which cannot be helped but be compared to the Roman Colossuem in Gladiator; and the Droid factory will surely be something that video-gamers will certainly be able to relate with. New environments are also interesting in their own way. Kamino looks like a cross between a hospital, a factory and a prison, while the Geonosian landscape is just a big flat planet of dust, an excellent backdrop to the troops, droids and ships that engage in battle there. I think overall this movie has much more contrast between environmental settings, unlike Episode I, where a lot of it was just Naboo, and everything was just beautiful. Here, the variation creates much more distinct impressions that makes this movie much richer than the first.
Lucas still isn't god, though. He's an excellent action director, but as I said before, he seems to be in unfamiliar territory when it comes to romance and emotions. The scenes with Anakin are the hardest to bear. Already upset by the unsatisfactory acting abilities of Hayden, Lucas makes it worse by doing too many rapid cuts that do not allow scenes to develop. In his enthusiasm to follow both Obiwan and Anakin on their separate adventures, he makes very frequent cuts between the two. For Obiwan's story it isn't as distracting since he is mostly involved in information gathering and action. Anakin, on the other hand, has to work his way through emotional trauma on many levels, and the almost immediate cutting away from one of his scenes just as the dialogue halts is terribly jarring. It's as if you are almost given a glimpse of his developing emotion and before that dramatic rhythm climaxes there is a cut to somewhere else. This exacerbated the problems that I had in connecting with the Anakin character to a point where I just stopped caring, and felt like I just wanted to get back to the adventures of Obiwan instead.
Overall, I liked this movie, save for the same flaw that really had me disappointed in Episode I. I didn't feel for or like Anakin. In Episode I he seemed aimless and too lucky; in this one as a character he seemed too distant and unemotive. That wouldn't be a problem if he wasn't the pivot point for the prequel movies. But the rest of the movie holds up extremely well, in my opinion. The old and new are mixed with great success, and the last 40 minutes of the film is where I think Lucas's abilities really shine through. Impossible as it may seem, he has topped the fantastic lightsabre duel of Episode I with something even more surprising and fantastical. It's a great moment when you walk out a theatre with a fanatical urge to twirl your own lightsabre around. For me, that's one of the things that made Star Wars, and this movie, great.
PS: Just seeing Yoda is MORE than worth the price of admission.