Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Directed by:  George Lucas

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, and Frank Oz

With the release of a new Star Wars film imminent, Sobriety Test Movie Reviews continues its retro review series of Episodes I through VI.  Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones marked the second installment in the tale of Anakin Skywalker’s descent (or ascent depending on your perspective) to the dark side.  While Attack of the Clones is a much better film than its predecessor Star Wars: Episode I - Phantom Menace, it still fails to the reach the greatness of the films in the original trilogy.
Set ten years after The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones finds the Galactic Republic facing a plot from the dark side of the force to overtake the Republic.  The Jedi Council, led by Master Yoda (Frank Oz) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), is tasked with protecting the Republic and its leadership.  Padme (Natalie Portman) is actively trying to defeat the insurrection.  However, multiple assassination attempts are made on her life.  Initially, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are assigned to guard Padme.  After an attempt is made to murder Padme in her sleep, Yoda and Mace decide to take action.  They direct Obi-Wan to investigate the assassins; and they instruct Padme to return to planet Naboo with Anakin as a guard.
Obi-Wan is concerned that his talented, but young padawan is not ready for this type of solo assignment.  He is overruled by Yoda, and Anakin is sent off with Padme.  Anakin is not the little boy that Padme left behind, and he struggles to get her to see him as a grown man.  Initially, Padme still views him as little Ani.  As time passes on, Padme and Anakin grow closer and love develops between the two. Meanwhile, during his investigation, Obi-Wan discovers that a former Jedi, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is leading the dark side’s insurrection and secretly building a droid army.  Adventure ensues as the Jedis attempt to fend off the attack on the Republic.
Interestingly enough, when I first saw Attack of the Clones in 2002, I really liked it.  I was thrilled that it was better than The Phantom Menace.  However, The Phantom Menace set the bar so low, that it was an easy hurdle to overcome.   On the positive front, the supremely annoying Jar Jar Binks is reduced to a few painful, but brief scenes.  Moreover, Attack of the Clones focuses on Anakin at an older age, so the film necessarily has more weight to it.  Ewan McGregor shines as Obi-Wan and he actually brings some of the charm and wit that Star Wars’ characters are known for.  Moreover, the film’s focus on the force, the inner workings of the Jedi Council, and the inclusion of more impressive light saber battles is successful.  Although the battle between Darth Maul and Qui Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace is legendary, Attack of the Clones takes it to the next level by giving fans a scene of Yoda in action.  That alone is worth the price of admission.
With that being said, when I recently watched Attack of the Clones to review it for STMR, I was almost bored to tears.  The film felt incredibly long and tedious.  As an initial matter, casting is everything.  I certainly do not want to backseat drive (although that is what movie critics do). However, Hayden Christensen was not a good selection for the role of Anakin Skywalker.  As a huge fan of the original trilogy, I personally did not envision Anakin as a Beverly Hills 90210 spoiled brat-type. I saw him more as a talented, ambitious Jedi with the potential for darkness, like a young Joaquin Phoenix or a similar actor.  An edgier Anakin would have given the character more weight.  
In my mind, Darth Vader was more than just some petulant teen with a bad attitude.  There was a complexity there and an inner struggle within Anakin that Christensen simply cannot deliver on. Christensen’s acting, frankly, is painful to watch at times.  Granted, Lucas’ dialogue is not exactly Shakespeare prose.  However, when Christensen states that he finds Padme “intoxicating,” it is just not convincing.  Christensen and Natalie Portman do not have any chemistry, in part due to Christensen’s acting. Thus, the film slows and becomes somewhat tedious during the sections where Portman and Christensen are falling in love on Naboo.  Imagine Joaquin Phoenix (or any skilled actor) and Natalie Portman engaging in the same romance onscreen.  I would wholeheartedly believe Anakin’s passion for Padme; and I would believe in his incredible talent and his rebellious spirit. Most importantly, I could see the darkness in Anakin.  Instead, by casting Christensen, Lucas gives us Anakin-light.
In addition, while computer generated imagery can be successful in the right hands, it goes awry here.  Aside from Yoda, much of the animation, the settings, etc. do not look real at all.  The human actors simply do not blend in well with the backdrop, and thus the universe created is not believable.  Lucas’s heavy reliance on CGI resulted in the 2002 Attack of the Clones looking less real than the original 1977 Star Wars film.  It was difficult to lose myself in the film while I was continuously noting how fake it looked.  
All in all, Attack of the Clones, while better than The Phantom Menace, was still disappointing for this die hard Star Wars fan.  Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones earns a 0.09%.  Have a Menkooro whiskey with this one.