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PCR # 113 (Vol. 3, No. 21) This edition is for the week of May 20--26, 2002.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Star Wars: Episode II
Attack of the Clones"

Movie reviews by:
Nolan B. Canova 3 stars
Terence Nuzum (see "Meter")
       Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars       
PLUS: Palpatine/Sidious? and
The Nature Of The Force
theater seats

La Floridiana
Matt's Rail
Deadguy's Dementia
Digital Divide
Mike's Rant
Archives 2002
Crazed Fanboy
PCR 2002 Home
20th Century Fox    
Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christopher Lee
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Rated: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

I went into this movie with a lot of baggage: Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks, Videotape "filming", CGI characters and backdrops....my god how could this film EVER succeed? Well...somehow it did. While I'm not quite as enthusiastic as my compatriot, Mike Smith, in his review, after seeing this film now several times, I can give it a strong three stars.

Ten years have passed since "Menace". "There is unrest in the Senate" the opening footage reads and there certainly is. After a near-miss assasination attempt on Senator Amidala (formerly Queen, played by Natalie Portman), the Jedi Council are summoned to provide protection and security. The two Jedis who score the gig are Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). When Anakin and Amidala meet for the first time since "Anny" was ten, the sexual tension is almost instantaneous. Obi-wan has his hands full trying to control Anakin's raging hormones, while trying to protect Amidala. Anakin wants to play detective, Kenobi wants to obey orders. Lots of conflict throughout the movie as Anakin feels he's already "ready for the trials" and Kenobi is "holding him back".

A second assasination attempt unleashes the movie's first and weirdest chase scene. After cornering the villain, a female shape-shifter, the revelation of who is behind the attempt is snuffed out by a toxic dart. Long story short, this re-routes the investigation toward bounty hunter Jango Fett and Son. It also leads to the highest levels of power, with a back story that implies an incredible decade-long plot.

Clones Meter
"Clones" went for a level of drama it did not successfully attain, despite its improvement over "Phantom Menace". I think repeated viewings would reveal more depth and improve the impact. I now rate the Star Wars movies like this:
# 1..Empire Strikes Back
# 2..A New Hope
# 3..Attack of the Clones
# 4..Return of the Jedi
# 5..Jar Jar Menace

And since I didn't get this in last issue:
Spider-Man Meter
"Spider-Man". One of the better super-hero movies, sticking very close to the source material. Problems with the CGI affected my rating, but "web" of drama more than made up for deficiencies in the CGI. A surprisingly downer ending appealed to me as an unusual and risky move for an American release with this level of commerciality.

   --Terence Nuzum

There's a lot more. But how they are all tied in and how Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Jar Jar Binks (in a brief, but meaningful-yet-still-annoying, CGI part), Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and company manipulate the start of war is a long story, but well worth the attention. The politics are very integral to this film and it took me three times (with a fourth--digital--on the way) to feret out the details. This depth is what turned many critics off of "Clones" as a "talky" Star Wars episode. But, rest assured it is very action-packed and very violent. One pivotal scene, involving Anakin's reaction to his mother's fate (he's not happy), was meant to show the brutality of his rage and I'm sure was cut dramatically shorter in editing.

There is no puppet playing Yoda, he's entirely CGI now. While I think this worked well, some may not agree. To his credit, director George Lucas kept the puppet-like mannerisms originally instilled by Frank Oz faithful in the CGI version. Yoda is a central character in this episode, and his "performance" is one of the best(!).

Johnny Williams musical score is one of the film's major stars in my opinion. A great masterwork, it not only accompanies the action---it helps to almost explain it somehow!

The much-ballyhooed videotape-to-filmming process was apparent in many scenes, but not enough to bother me. I realized partway through the movie that most of today's action flicks go through so much processing, they all develop some of that artificial patina anyway. I haven't seen the digitally-projected version of "Clones" yet, but am scheduled to later in the week. The Computer-Generated Imagery should really jump out in that environment.

And the CGI universe of "Clones" is absolutely breath-taking, hands down. The scenery and cities on Naboo and Tatooine, the buildings on Coruscant, the factories on Cimino and Geonosis, all just stunning. If I had to say one thing all the CGI backgrounds remind me of, it's pulps. Covers of paperback sci-fi pulps of the 40s and 50s, particularly. Even when the backgrounds don't really work, they still work for me because of that nostalgic future/past thing happening. All battle scenes are the most amazing I've ever seen anywhere. The space-chase between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan through an asteroid field has got "thrill ride" written all over it---it also had cool and original sound effects to accompany explosions (kind of like a guitar power chord mixed in). And the battle between the Jedis and Yoda versus Count Dooku, well-gossiped about in the fan-press, is worth the price of admission alone. I agree with Mike that, on this level, Lucas has outdone himself.

But there are problems. First and foremost, I don't like Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. Despite the clumsy script (which definitely had problems), everyone managed to choke out Lucas's pseudo-Shakespearean nonsense with some dignity, but it just sounded ridiculous coming out of Christensen. He is too whiny and too shallow for anyone to believe he will become Darth Vader someday. I'm assuming he will have to have a throat implant so he sounds like James Earl Jones eventually, but his presence carries no weight right now. I do blame Lucas and Jonathan Hales somewhat for not re-writing lines Christensen was obviously having problems with (Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu is a close call in many scenes with this). To say nothing of believing the radiant Natalie Portman could fall for someone like him. But who knows, some chicks always fall for the wrong guy!

Then there are the robots...er...'scuse me, 'droids, C-3PO and R2-D2. With a few notable exceptions, generally an odd mix of jarringly worthless cutaways. It was always part of the plan to have them in all six movies, but C-3PO's role is totally comic-relief oriented in this movie, with some of the most annoying lines. HOWEVER, regarding R2-D2...

I've developed a theory that as much as Star Wars is Anakin Skywalker's fall-and-redemption story (it never really was Luke's story)...it's also R2-D2's story of occasional intervention that saves the universe! I mean, face it: he's always at the right place at the right time to fix/manipulate/doctor machines to help our heores and always the one carrying vitally important messages! And yet, he's the one who talks in bleeps--no one understands him but C-3PO, who regards him as a nuisance. Ha ha.

It would seem that as much fixation as Lucas has on mythical themes, his most oft-recurring one is that of David and Goliath: that the smallest, most humble, simple, seemingly fragile characters--Yoda, R2-D2, (gulp) Ewoks, and to some extent, Luke--are the ones who make all the difference. It's a worthy lesson in any universe.

OK, OK, I don't really take this topic all that seriously anymore. But for a little while, I got wrapped up in internet discussions about whether Senator Palpatine is indeed Darth Sidious as we have all pretty much assumed. I bring it up now as sort of post-facto entertainment. It went a little something like this...
1.) It is unrealistic that no Jedi can sense an evil as powerful as Palpatine/Sidious standing right there in the room among the most powerful Jedis and no one catches even a hint, especially over the course of several years. Unless Palpatine is not Sidious.
2.) Speculation abounds that some Jedis can detect the Dark Side: Obi-Wan could sense Darth Vader in episode IV (altho there is some confusion as to whether he sensed the evil or the person he knew.)
3.) Darth Sidious always seems to be working from a remote place.....usually sending someone else to do his dirty work, while he hides behind a holographic projection or something, only coming out in person to talk directly to his trusted underlings. Senator Palpatine commonly keeps company with large numbers of people at once.
4.) (Seen on only one message board:) Palpatine and Sidious seem to have different knowledge of the same events.
5.) Since cloning technology is radically advanced in this universe, Sidious could have cloned himself as Palpatine to avoid detection...then "programmed" the clone to take over the Republic--then kill him off and move into place at the right time.
6.) Confusion over where and when Palpatine/Sidious learned to be a Jedi! This brings up the "nature" of the force (see next column over).
1.) Lucas himself has referred to them as one man.
2.) The Dark Side of the Force has had a "diminishing" effect on the Jedi's ability to sense evil. Even for Yoda, who admittedly expresses much frustration over this.
3.) The "different knowledge" of events and different behaviors is likely the way this cosmic liar plays both sides against the middle--exactly how he manipulates the galaxy into war.
4.) The novelizations of the Star Wars movies and behind-the-scenes go into much detail of how Palpatine "becomes" Sidious.
5.) The early toy market listed The Emperor as "Emperor Palpatine".
I had this interesting discussion with fellow columnist Drew Reiber about the nature of The Force. It is Drew's contention the The Force itself is somewhat cognizant. That there's a "good" Force and a "bad" Force that manifests as Light and Dark; and that the Dark Side is as much in control of Palpatine/Sidious as he thinks he is of it. And further, that the "unbalance" in The Force is caused by forces of nature, I suppose like whirlpools and hurricanes, except on a cosmic, spiritual level. And it is these perturbations that "cause" evil to gain power from era to era.
   While I love his theory, I don't exactly agree with it. I'm not an expert on all the books and behind-the-scenes and everything, but I believe The Force is neither good nor bad, nor male or female, nor light or dark. It just IS.
   The "imbalance" that causes a rise in The Dark Side is not caused by the Force per se, but by the number of practitioners who gain power from it, and how much power is gained.
   The way I see it, all beginners to the Jedi Order start out as good. Then human frailty takes over, and greed and corruption surface. Those who now seek wealth and power (or who were one vane short of a windmill from the git-go) have a useful ally in The Force. If there is no one to stop them, they grow in power. The good Jedis become outnumbered by the Dark Side. In religious terms, the comparison to "Fallen Angels" springs to mind. This is what happens in Luke's time.
   Harder to figure out---and this will likely be explained in Episode 3---are those who never start with the legitimate order of Jedis. Recall in "Phantom Menace", Darth Maul was trained by Darth Sidious--someone with apparently no history in the Jedi Order. And in Episode 6, Darth Vader tells Luke "I will complete your training", when it's not clear (yet) he ever completed it himself. UNLESS...
   There might be revealed that the Sith are their own Order and have their own version of Force magic/martial arts training. Then it would be possible to be "trained in the Dark Side" without ever meeting a Jedi.
   I guess we can expect in Episode Three that Anakin does indeed fall out with the Jedi and his training is completed by The Sith Lord. Then the legendary show-down with Obi-Wan happens which tragically certifies Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader.

This week's review of "Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones" is ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova. Terence's Movie Meter reviews of "Attack of the Clones" and "Spider-Man" are ©2002 by Terence Nuzum. All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2002, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.