Alright kids, school is now in session, and our topic is Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. It’s been three years since our last class, in which we learned how George Lucas’ ego and self-delusion could crush your childhood like a beer can at a frat party. If the filmmaker had sabotaged that debacle on purpose (I said, “on purpose”), he probably couldn’t have done much worse. Twenty years of reading his own press and not directing made George an extremely rusty, self-deluded boy. Hell, Francis Ford Coppola and John Carpenter have been working that whole time, and they’ve churned almost nothing but crap for at least the last decade. Lucas had barely even executive produced anything in the years before Phantom Menace began production. After the pain of that film you’d expect that both its maker and its audience would become a little more wary, so let’s examine how Episode II has turned out…
LEssON I: THE STORY ^ Anyhoo, here’s the setup: ten years after the events of the previous episode, the Galactic Republic is falling to pieces. Many of its members have seceded to join a hostile rival alliance led by former Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, nearly 80-years-old and still EVIL!). As there seem to be fewer Jedi than member worlds, the senate is about to vote on the formation of a new army of the republic. As this appears to be the first step to an all out war, Naboo’s senator and one-time queen, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) travels to the Republic’s capital world of Coruscant to lead a protest. When enemies attempt to kill her the moment she arrives, president Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and the leaders of the Jedi council assign old friends Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his now 19 year-old cocky protégé Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen, the poor man’s Ryan Phillippe) to protect her. Wouldn’t you know it? A second attempt leads to shocking revelations, four more planets, a goofy teen love story, a whole lot of Temuera Morrison, lightsaber battles out the a*s, and enough CGI and plot for several movies.
LEssON II: WHAT LUCAS HAS LEARNED SINCE EPISODE I ^ I’m sure as painful as it was to watch Episode I, it was infinitely more excruciating to listen to the world bitch about it non-stop for the next year after its release. Unless you’re John Boorman (who against overwhelming evidence of his hubris and incompetence declared audiences were just too stupid to get “Exorcist II: The Heretic”), you’ve got to take something away from that experience. So, let’s take a look at what Lucas has apparently taken away from the last three years:
1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP ^ I don’t know whether it was just from ego or coming up in the film industry with the likes of Coppola, Speilberg, Scorcese, DePalma and company, but George seemed hellbent that Episode I would be his vision, and his alone. What did that get him? Well, hundreds of millions of dollars, yes, but the disappointment and scorn of his fans, too. This time out, at least, he hired a real, full-time writer, Jonathan Hale, to finish and polish it up. The difference shows. Of course, Lucas screened Episode I for most of the acclaimed auteurs listed above to find out what they thought, and none apparently to could bring themselves to be honest to him about the films, uh, “problems”.
2. THESE REALLY AREN’T JUST KIDS’ MOVIES ^ Yes, I saw “Star Wars” for the first time when I was nine, too, but from the moment Greedo shot first in the special edition, I had, to borrow a phrase, “a bad feeling about this.” Younger children never seemed to have a problem with the original, but years spent parenting instead of making movies seemed to have blurred George’s vision to this fact when he began work on the prequel trilogy. Thankfully, most of the cutesy s**t is gone with even Jar-Jar reduced to little more than a cameo.
3. GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT ^ What people don’t want are muppets. Well, except for Yoda, but he’s special. The people want lightsaber fights. They want big-a*s lightsaber fights with lots and lots of Jedi. They want big-a*s lightsaber fights with Yoda. And, the people want full-frontal nudity. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad.
4. LEAVE THE HUMOR TO THE GAY ROBOTS ^ Yes, we understand that Ahmed Best was attempting with Jar-Jar some sort of weird homage to Jerry Lewis, but he should have probably targeted the star’s films made before that holocaust clown epic. Best’s vocal performance was not funny to anyone over the age of five, if then. Thankfully, both R2-D2 and C-3PO are allowed to work together for (chronologically) the first time as a real comedy team, maybe more like a classical Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Okay, maybe more like a Casiotone with an attitude and Paul Lynde, but it works. Now does this mean that Episode II is a total masterpiece? Absolutely not.
George had made a few other films looong before slaying our collective childhood, and there’s a few lessons that he’s unfortunately never learned from them, either. This, of course, brings us to…
LEssON III: WHAT LUCAS WILL HOPEFULLY LEARN BY EPISODE III
1. KNOW YOUR INHERENT WEAKNEssES ^ You know George, looking back on all five of your directorial efforts (without making any mention of your personal life), maybe romance isn’t, uh, your “thing.” Watching the inept Christiansen attempt to romance Natalie Portman probably invoked a near universal reaction. I believe I speak for everyone when I say, “Ewwwww!”
Here’s an idea: In Hong Kong action films, a movie will often have a second director, the “action” director, to handle the highly technical fight scenes. In America, we just have the “2nd Unit” director who shoots the scenes the primary director has neither the time nor inclination to do. George, perhaps, should have had someone else come in when it was time for the kids to get a little “action.” Probably would have been a good time to drag John Hughes kicking and screaming out of directorial retirement.
2. EITHER CAST BETTER ACTORS ACROss THE BOARD OR DIRECT THE ONES YOU’VE GOT ^ People have tried to tell me that Jake Lloyd can really act, but I’ll probably never know as I refuse to sit through a performance by that sniveling little moppet ever again. Hey, fooled once, shame on Lucas; fooled twice, shame on me. Still, there’s no arguing that George failed to provide the young lad with much in the way of actual direction. The only real instance I’ve heard of him truly shaping one of his charge’s performance was when Mark Hamill claimed George told him to act like a whiny punk.
This brings me to the sad, extremely annoying case of Hayden Christiansen, the star of this little digital muppet show. In talent, it seems he rates somewhere between Jake Lloyd and (well) below Mark Hamill.
3. COME UP WITH A GOOD FRIGGIN’ REASON WHY THE DROIDS DON’T KNOW EVERYONE IN EPISODE IV WHEN THEY’VE MET EVERYONE IN EPISODE I & II ^ I think this one’s self-explanatory. By the end of this film the droids have both been on Tatooine, been there together, and should know nearly every speaking part from the original movie other than Solo and the walking carpet. Either Episode III will be subtitled “Reboot of the Droids” or maybe Lucas hasn’t really figured this out yet.
And finally, to be fair… WHAT GEORGE LUCAS HAS TAUGHT ME
1. WHAT THE OFFICIAL VIDEOGAMES WILL LOOK LIKE ^ Damn, If Episode I seemed like a big Kenner Toys commercial, Episode II does the job for LucasArts. All I’m saying is that nearly every action sequence will translate pretty well to the soon-to-be-released official videogames coming to a Playstation 2 near you, I’m sure. The story’s structure translates fairly well to sequential levels to the point where you even have the occasional level boss. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. This approach is still better than one built around the action figures.
2. NOTHING I’VE JUST SAID WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO ANYONE, NOT EVEN ME ^ You know, each and every person reading this right now will shell out their six bucks ($9-$14 in L.A./New York) to see this film no matter what I say. Hell, I feel ambivalent about it and I’m still going to pay to see it again. It’s just that important to our collective dorkitude. So, screw me and my whiny punk attitude and just go enjoy this thing for what it is. Being an adult doesn’t mean you can’t try to reach back to the feelings you had as a kid watching the originals for the first time. Being an adult just means you can get loaded first to help the process. Hey, another five more shots of Jæger and I’m off to Mann’s Chinese.