Written by: Jonathan Hales & George Lucas
Directed by: George Lucas
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson
My Advice: Matinee
It's been ten years since we last visited the Star Wars universe in Episode I. In that time, Amidala (Portman) has fulfilled her term as queen of Naboo and is now acting as their representative in the Senate. Anakin (Christensen) is now a strapping young lad who's been galavanting around with his mentor, Obi-Wan (McGregor), having a buttload of adventures. But there's a disturbance in the...politics. A group of separatists is trying to throw the Republic into chaos by signing an alliance between multiple federations--entire star systems are on the verge of leaving the Republic. Because Amidala is such an important figure in the Senate (though I was never sure why this was, I must admit), these separatists are after her head. An attempt on her life leads her path back in line with that of Anakin and Obi-Wan--and the investigation into the incident leads them all into the machinations that have been going on behind the scenes for the last ten years, dragging the entire Jedi Council with them along the way.
First, the answer to the obvious question: is it better than Phantom Menace? Oh yes. Menace was more interested in being Lucas' twisted notion of a family film than it was in being an actual good flick, much less a good Star Wars flick. But in this one, the balance between all the political blah-blah and the action is nicely struck. In fact, the action sequences rock immense balls with the exception of a conveyor belt sequence that screamed "Look for me soon in a video game!" at the top of its CGI lungs. The ginormous action sequence that forms the climax actually feels like a climax, which is good--and as the stakes keep growing, the suspense starts to go off the scale. But the main thing is that there's actually something that propels the movie along, rather than being an absolute snoozer. Also, I'd like to mention that Ewan McGregor is even more in form as Obi-Wan that last time--getting the facial mannerisms down pat so much that at times it was chilling.
But it's a damn shame, because this thing feels a whole lot like Pearl Harbor, to be perfectly honest. You know what I mean: there's a romance that plays a huge role in the film, but it's so badly written, so poorly acted, and so downright unimpressive--that you find yourself begging to cut away to another part of the plot. Part of this blame rests on the backs of Portman and Christensen, because they're too young to know what to do when you have bad material. Contrast their performances with that of Christopher Lee--Lee's entire career was built on a foundation of dealing with bad material and coming out smelling like roses, as he does here. But the dialogue is just excruciating, cringe-a-minute and non-stop. None of it makes any sense. Amidala doesn't want to fall in love with poor Anakin, but she'll wear sexy dominatrix-esque outfits around him. Okay. Sure. If you want a better acted love story than that of Anakin and Amidala then...I don't know, find any local high school that's doing Romeo & Juliet.
Lucas has lost all trace of subtlety as well. I think he might have been able to fake a smidgen during Menace, but if there was anything there--it died a horrible death on this film. I kept wanting to say, during the scenes in which Anakin expresses his almost maniacal need to control things, "George! For the love of Christ! I get it! I get it! He's arrogant! Okay? Just stop bludgeoning me with it!" It's so sad to learn that Vader is nothing more than a spoiled whiny prick of a padawan.
Also, and here's a tremendous flaw--he keeps trying to inject humor where it's neither wanted nor needed. C-3PO and R2-D2 (who reveals a special option we've never seen before--oops, just cringed again at the memory) are along for the ride, and manage to almost destroy the climactic battle. It's such an odd thing--between the action sequences and the romance and humor--it feels like two directors were struggling to make a single movie. God knows they should have lost the latter flick, because it drove this down from what could have been a four-and-a-half cup flick to three.
I'm recommending this as a matinee because some of the stuff just has to be seen on the big screen. I wish I could, like I did with Harbor, tell you when you could come in and leave in order to see the good parts. Unfortunately, they're all jumbled up--so take off your belt and bite down on it when the pain gets too bad. Or for when you need to stop yourself from laughing.