STAR WARS EPISODE TWO: ATTACK OF THE CLONES early cut review
I saw Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones hours ago. The ‘how’ of that will be a thing of mystery buried in a passed piece of paper from my book signing with a hotel, a room number and a time listed upon it. You don’t want to know about that room or the person(s) in that room, you want to know about Episode Two.
Jar Jar Binks. Jar Jar has a 15 second StepInFetchIt shuffle speak routine he does as he goes to first let Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker into the Amidala’s quarters that is so offensively awful, that it will not only make you recoil in horror, but it will remind you of all of the worst aspects of his character from THE PHANTOM MENACE. I wanted to burn the film, destroy, maim and murder it at this stage. I was steeling myself from the impending incompetence, the horror of my childhood being molested. I was prepared to have a very bad time.
I found myself not liking Anakin Skywalker at all, he’s a punk spoiled brat… A snotty nosed ego trip, that angry evil high school football quarterback that wants the head cheerleader. He whines like a Mark Hamill squealing about going to Toshi Station to get some power converters. There is much anger in him. He’s impulsive, conflicted, out of control and a mass murderer. Everytime I saw him and Natalie Portman together, I wanted to tell her to run, fly you fool. But am I not supposed to feel that way?
So did George Lucas drop the ball? Did he rape our childhood? Has he turned into nothing more than flannel wearing toy salesman without a soul or an eye for storytelling anymore? Was I disappointed to such a state that I wanted to yell and scream and break my original 12 inch Boba Fett and defecate upon it in a ritualistic purging of all that was once sacred to my childhood?
To answer all of those questions…. THANK GOD NO!!!
Lucas succeeds with the film beyond my wildest dreams.
I was scared and thrilled to be watching Episode 2. The entire time I was in that hotel room, I was convinced that agents of Lucasfilm were going to knock down the doors and I knew I was being set up for a fall. I mean, it isn’t possible to see STAR WARS early. I know that, but there I was watching it. Listening to the sounds of drunk SXSW revelers falling into the door outside.
After about 20 minutes of that awareness everything but the film ceased to exist. The lights in the room dimmed in my mind. The person(s) in the room shrank like Scott Carey into the microverse. Everything about me was concentrating upon the film. The movie was not complete. There were moments where the effects were quite rough, but the work that was finished, was beyond reproach.
How do I explain the success of ATTACK OF THE CLONES? First, I must say that this film makes THE PHANTOM MENACE a better film. In fact, I would have to say that not only does it do that, but suddenly you will realize with horror, exactly why Jar Jar Binks is in the series at all. Upon first viewing, in less than ideal circumstances, I must say that I feel that this is by far the most entertaining Star Wars film to date. It may not have that innocent sense of wonder for the first film. It doesn’t have that sense of intimacy that EMPIRE STRIKES BACK had, or that film’s desperation. However, it also doesn’t have the trivial frivolity of JEDI or MENACE. ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a turning point in the saga. The point of no return.
I love this film desperately. I want to continually watch it for about a week with my best friends. I want to see it digitally projected with sternum shaking sound. I want to watch as friends discover the twists that Palpatine/Sidious/Dooku have in store for us. I want to have the conversations about what this all means, the speculative conversations about how these elements will play out in the final chapter of the prequels.
What is great about the film?
Obi Wan Kenobi / Ewan McGregor. He just owns the role now. There is a moment in the Cantina/Sports Bar on the surface level of Coruscant, where he and Anakin have chased an assassin. As they enter this packed sci-yuppie-scum club, they realize they can’t seem to be able to see ‘the assassin’ anymore. Anakin wants to rush in, tear the place apart looking for the suspect. Obi Wan tells him to slow down or something then turns to head in a different direction, Anakin asks him, "Where you going?" to which Kenobi dryly responds, "To get something to drink." Kenobi is just that calm about things. He is the king of cool. He’ll get his suspect, but he’s going to get a drink first. Priorities. I was reminded of him telling Luke to let go and to trust his feelings. He doesn’t repeat that here, he simply lets go and trusts his feelings. We see it as an action, a path he chose. Then when he gets to that bar, leaning on it, sipping that odd drink, a drug dealer comes up to him and asks, "Wanna buy some deathsticks?" Obi Wan responds, "You don’t want to sell me death sticks." Drug dealer says, "I don’t want to sell you death sticks." "You want to go home and rethink your direction in life," Kenobi continues. "I want to go home and rethink my direction in life," the dealer says as he blankly turns and walks out of the club. Before he can get too smug about his little trick he senses the assassin behind him and he pulls the patented Obi Wan pivoting light saber at a bar strike that you’ve seen in the trailer. He gets his suspect and he’s never broke a sweat. He is the master. Kenobi is just plainly cool in the film. Watch how he handles things on Camino or the way he doesn’t betray a single thought in his conversation with Jango Fett there. He knows his game, his methods and his ways. He is confident and completely on the clock. Ewan is relaxed in the role, clearly having fun and is very very very good in the film. Contrary to Moriarty’s assertion that he would be more ‘Han Solo’ he is in fact much more Master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat from CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON) but without the romance.
Jango Fett – Boba Fett / Temuera Morrison – Daniel Logan -- I love this pair. I love them because they are the renegade Father and Son. They have their own set of rules, they are a self contained functioning unit. Jango wanted a son to raise his own way, that doesn’t mean he beats him and does evil things. He loves his kid. He’s training him to be a good Bounty Hunter like he is. There is very much a father/son – Master/Apprentice style thing going on here. And they have my favorite moment of the entire film, which is a tiny little moment between these two. Jango and Boba are headed to Genosia when they pick up that Kenobi is tailing them. They dive into the asteroid belt surrounding Genosia, Obi Wan trails behind them, not being lost. Jango tells Boba something like, "Prepare the sonic mines, we’ll give him…" something, I couldn’t make out… but Boba presses some buttons while doing what I can only describe as an evil giggle… a delighted giggle. Jango looks at him smiling, as if to say… "That’s my boy!" The moment is so honest and real. I’ve never seen a father – son moment like this in science fiction. Completely classic.
Anakin Skywalker - Padme Amidala / Hayden Christensen – Natalie Portman -- First Anakin is just an ass in this film. Like I said earlier, I can’t stand him. He’s like that boy in the TWILIGHT ZONE movie that has too much power and thinks about using it too much, but sometimes it goes terribly astray. Portman’s Padme in this film has mostly dropped the ‘high speak’ that she had from the first film…. Injecting into her character far more vocal variety than the droll monotone of the first film that killed the performance. Here she infuses the character with more of herself, which is a very good thing. I like that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with Anakin. That she constantly is aware of all the reasons they shouldn’t be together. Of the scandal. Of their careers. Anakin hates being told no. She can see all the reasons, but when they go through what they go through… When the emotional binding takes place between these characters through a brief adventure, a loss of a loved one, a decent into hell… When faced with certain doom, they realize that life is too short to worry about the ifs and buts… And when it happens… John Williams’ love theme kicks in. This really kicks in just as Anakin and Padme kiss before being taken out and strung up in the arena (you know the sequence when they are chained against the pillars.) It actually starts from the shot (which we see in the trailer - of the arena with all the Geonosis creatures seated and cheering - the long shot looking from high to low). It consists of maybe three instruments playing at first, classic violin, very sorrowful and warm. It almost sounds a little bit like the theme for the Incredible Hulk TV series with Lou Ferrigno. The intros are similar before other instruments join in. It also reminded me of Francis Lai’s theme from Arthur Hiller’s LOVE STORY. Although it is strikingly different from other parts in the film, IT FITS IN BEAUTIFULLY. Elegant but not soppy. Gentle but not melodramatic. Williams thinking differently (after all, a very different relationship from Han and Leia!) and succeeding. It starts to crescendo as the lovers are wheeled out into the arena (reminded me of the shot of Luke with the twin suns) - same type of crescendo. It continues through the cuts between Obi-Wan chained and them being taken over to the same place but changes into a military drum style (you know, the thumping dictatorship heavy beat - almost like the 'sacrifice has arrived'). This changes the whole tone as we realize their 'moment' has been intruded and they are in serious poodoo. The romance is handled in terms of familiarity and proximity. This is that sort of romance where one loves the other, but only at the point of an emotional precipice where the other could see that they shared that feeling and embrace it. I liked this.
Palpatine-Sidious – Count Dooku-Darth Tyrannus / Ian McDiarmid – Christopher Lee -- Wow. Ok, read no spoilers about all of this. I remember thinking that Lucas could be soft in the head for trying to fool the audience into thinking Palpatine isn’t Sidious. I mean we can see that in the credits. What the hell? Right? See that is so like a self-centered audience. To sit there and think they are the center of the universe. The Palpatine-Sidious thing from the first film… The trade dispute… All of it not only makes sense with this film, but the way it unfolds. As you see the point of the various guises and names… How Yoda and Windu sense no ‘disturbance’ around Palpatine… There are reasons for these things… Just because you don’t know them yet, doesn’t mean Lucas doesn’t know what he’s doing… Upon seeing this film, seeing how he handles these two characters being 4 characters… It is genius. Compelling Machiavellian positioning and deception. There are points in this film where I wanted to scream at the screen and say, "Palpatine is an evil Sith Lord! They’re conspiring to destroy the Republic from within!" That’s when Christopher Lee essentially tells Obi Wan the same thing… My god. The evil. The evil of using the truth, knowing it could only be interpreted as being a deception and a lie. The Devil uses truth to betray mankind, because he is expected to lie… and the truth sounds better, but will never be believed. Just wait till you see how the Death Star plays into this… You’ll friggin die! FANTASTIC.
Yoda-Dooku fight… HOLY GOD! Right now there is a lot of speculation about Yoda with lightning. It is on one of the soundtrack covers. When you look at that. When people described the ball of lightning in Yoda’s hands from ShoWest, I thought they were insane. I thought only the bad guys did that. When I saw the film, well… I can tell you exactly how that moment plays out. So far as I have seen that hasn’t leaked and it isn’t a huge spoiler. When Yoda and Dooku first set up to go at it, Dooku hurls lightning at Yoda… Yes, Chris Lee’s character is that strong. Perhaps the strongest character with the force I have ever seen in Star Wars history. He attacks Yoda with lightning, Yoda captures it, twirls it around, balls it up and redirects it back at Lee. When I saw this, I screamed like a little girl. I mean it was like Uncle Tony grabbed my pantied ass. I jumped about 12 feet up in the air and squealed. WHAT A THRILL! The Yoda – Dooku fight is astonishing. I can not emphasize that enough. I have been thinking for quite some time that there was no way on earth that Yoda with a light saber could look cool. Folks, not only does it look cool, but there will be a collective scream of HOLY SHIT when what happens happens. Yoda’s fighting style is… well let’s just say he could kick all your asses. Oh and by the way, Williams’ DUEL OF THE FATES was nothing in comparison to this. Remember Vader vs Luke in EMPIRE… How overwhelmingly powerful Vader felt in comparison to Luke. Remember how weak Vader felt in comparison to the Emperor? Now imagine someone with The emperor’s powers in a full on battle with a master. Here towers of metal are torn asunder with the power of the force. The ceiling ripped apart. Seemingly unlimited strength with the force. You will quiver, shake and scream. You are warned.
You have to understand something in going into this film. What you have seen in Star Wars movies before were skirmishes… incidents… Remember, The Battle of Hoth was small, a minor hiccup. In ATTACK OF THE CLONES, you have the first REAL Star War. It isn’t a space battle, but you understand the scale of things. The size and scope of a MAJOR OFFENSIVE. And unlike in PHANTOM MENACE, where Lucas decided to cut up the action by trying to intercut three consecutive arenas of battle, here he portrays the action linearly… basically following Obi Wan and Anakin and Padme… who all basically stick together, with Padme taking a roll in some sand to miss out on the Dooku battle.
After the film was finished playing I was just beside myself with glee.
Right now it is a very interesting time for Star Wars fandom. PHANTOM MENACE polarized the audience into the faithful and those that felt it had all gone wrong. That everything was doomed. With the introduction of MATRIX and LORD OF THE RINGS into fan circles, there began to be a real angry mix. Fights, screamings and hurling of ‘love it or leave it’ style rhetoric.
Watching the trailers for STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES in theaters, the audiences seemed muted in comparison to the delightful screams of approval from the SPIDER-MAN trailers.
You know those guys that have been camping up in Seattle? The experience they are going to have in the theater upon that first showing… They will be so completely happy.
Now the cut I saw was still a bit rough around the edges, but folks… I can’t wait to see this on the big screen complete. To see what gets cut, what gets changed, what I notice when watching this movie the way Lucas meant for people to see it.
The source(s) that showed it to me were tired of all my LORD OF THE RINGS stuff. They were tired of all the rhetoric about Tolkien, all the focus I had on LORD OF THE RINGS. They wanted someone outside of the ranch, outside of the ‘circle’, someone that seemed to be straying from the fold to see what it was that Lucas had done. What Lucas has done, is to make a film that is so relentlessly entertaining and thrilling, that there will be no movie this summer that can stand against it. This is it.
This movie is the real deal. It is smart, beautiful (god digital photography is the glory and the future of the world of film, the palette is strikingly dramatically colorful), thrilling and electrical. Essentially it is a pure action adventure science fiction fantasy with a touch of romance. Line up now. This Star Wars is for real.