Release Date: 5/16/02
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Music: John Williams
Special Effects: Industrial Light & Magic
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Jimmy Smits
Yes! I really needed to see this film, and now I can go back to being a "Star Wars" fan again! A notable improvement over "The Phantom Menace" (1999), but like the previous films, it still suffers from weak writing, corny dialog, and bad acting. Ten years since the events in TPM, tensions are rising in the Republic, and more star systems are attempting to break away from Galactic Senate rule. When Senator Amidala (lovely Natalie Portman) becomes a target for assassination, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and an adolescent Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) are assigned to protect her. They eventually stumble upon a massive plot to overthrow the government, which is being engineered by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Darth Sidius (Ian McDiarmid). And thus the Clone Wars begin...
First, and most importantly, this film doesn't pander to the kiddies like "The Phantom Menace" did. No fart jokes, no stupid sports announcers, and no inane Jar Jar antics. While Jar Jar Binks is still in the film, he's not the obnoxious and clumsy oaf that he was in the last film, and his presence is kept to a comfortable minimum. That's not to say that he isn't "the fool," and the cleverly sinister role that he finds himself in will evoke sympathy and even bring a smile to the most ardent Jar Jar hater. Maybe George knew what he was doing in the last film afterall... With Jar Jar out of the picture, C-3P0 returns as the most annoying character, and his dialog is guaranteed to make you cringe. Hayden Christensen takes on the role of Anakin Skywalker, and while his delivery is a bit stiff, you can certainly sense his adolescent rage and frustration. While there's not any real chemistry between him and Natalie Portman, their picturesque romance is overflowing with the innocence and awkwardness of youth. Ewan McGregor really takes over in this film, and his transformation into Alec Guiness's Obi-Wan character is fascinating and quite compelling. Natalie Portman is growing into an extremely beautiful young woman, and George Lucas takes full advantage by providing her with a very exciting and somewhat scandalous wardrobe. While a lot of her shots are gratuitous and sometimes embarrassing fan service, the adolescent boy in me certainly can't complain. She also gets to pack some heavy artillery while her clothes get strategically torn away, to which all I have to say is "THANK YOU GEORGE!!!" Samuel L. Jackson returns as Master Mace Windu, and proves to be a serious bad-ass. Very cool. The always welcome Christopher Lee also adds a touch of clout to the film.
Visually, the film is spellbinding. Lucas has always been a visionary, and despite some of his creative weaknesses, he continues to be one of the best visual story tellers in the business. The realization of the "Star Wars" universe is spectacular at every level of detail. It's vast and beautiful as well as functional and profound, and there are really no extraneous or unnecessary effects shots. It may all be eye candy on the surface, but every effects element serves the purpose of supporting the world and propelling the story forward, not to just serve as filler material. Well, except for maybe C-3P0's involvement on Geonosis - I could have done without that altogether. In traditional "Star Wars" style, the scenes of wholesale slaughter and devastation are both magnificent and horrifying at the same time. The entire last hour of the film is a jaw dropping spectacle of highly stylized violence and idealistic heroism - classic good guys vs. bad guys stuff on a MASSIVE scale. Of course there's also the traditional lightsaber showdown, which is actually toned down quite a bit from the amazing climax of "The Phantom Menace." A more traditional and subdued European/Japanese sword fighting approach was taken this time, instead of the more flashy and kinetic Chinese inspired swordplay of TPM. In this regard, the duel is much more reminiscent of the original trilogy, which favored fencing over kung fu. A lot of the fighting also takes place in the dark, with the focus being on the outcome of the duel rather than the intricate physical details of the duelling process. It's not disappointing, though - just toned down.
And lastly, there's Yoda. George decided to go totally digital with Yoda this time around and the results are pretty impressive. While it's obvious that he's a digital and not a physical being, it's not particularly distracting, and seeing him in action is the realization of a dream that I've been waiting to see since the conclusion of "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980). Utterly awe-inspiring and nothing short of what you would hope and expect to see. And much like "Empire," the film ends on a note of dread. There's no victory or celebration for the heroes - only the death of loved ones and the impending doom of all-out warfare as the Republic begins to crumble. Yoda's wise and solemn comment about the beginning of the Clone Wars haunts the viewer and sets up Episode III marvelously.