Thursday, May 16, 2002

Love story lifts 'Episode II'

By Margaret A. McGurk,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones contains plenty to cheer hard-core fans. Such as:


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        • Multiple light-saber battles.

        • Yoda finally showing off his fighting skills.

        • Faultless special effects.

        • More Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

        • More Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu.

        • More Boba Fett.

        • Less Jar Jar Binks.

        Even more heartening to fans who felt let down at the lack of emotional heft in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the new movie makes room for a love story featuring a pair of gorgeous young stars.

        Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), now 19, has grown into a fine warrior, as well as a bundle of youthful conflicts. He chafes at authority, blurts out rude comments and complains about father figure Obi-Wan Kenobi. (“He always criticizes! He doesn't understand!”)

        Anakin is also beside himself with excitement at being assigned to protect the lovely galactic senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), whom he met last when he was only 9.

   Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
   3 stars
   (PG; sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence) Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson. Co-written and directed by George Lucas. 142 minutes. AMC 20, Colony Square, Danbarry Middletown, Great Escape 14, Midway Bethel, National Amusements, Princess Oxford, Showplace 8.
        While Obi-Wan flies around the galaxy discovering a secret clone army ostensibly created to protect the peace-loving republic from dangerous separatists, Anakin and Padme fall crazy in love.

        The relationship is sketched out, like almost all Star Wars relationships, in skimpy terms. Yet the two young actors are so sincere (and so incredibly attractive) that the romance works. Mr. Christensen in particular smolders with the best of them and brings the movie a badly needed emotional wallop.

        The parallel adventures of Obi-Wan — and Yoda and Mace Windu — meanwhile, are interesting in themselves, but not really engrossing. The technique of jumping across space to follow one story line then another has been used throughout the Star Wars series, but in this case it feels particularly leaden.

        Often, the movie seems like a series of set pieces, each smartly composed on its own but uncomfortably disconnected from what comes before and after. Transitions are tricky business in any medium; in Episode II they point up Mr. Lucas' particular weakness as a director in weaving together the pieces of his fantasies.

        In the plus column, workmanship on this movie, shot entirely on digital cameras, is a blessed marriage of imagination and sophisticated skills.

        The always-stunning Star Wars F/X crews reach new peaks repeatedly, including a sprawling arena showdown where dozens of Jedi warriors fight hundreds of battle droids, a high-speed chase through an asteroid belt punctuated with sonic detonations, and another through deadly urban traffic in three dimensions.

        The sights and sounds ofthe clonesdo not disappoint; neither do the new villains Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison).

        Yet Episode II falls short of the magical thrills that made the first three installments so beloved. It has all the moves; it never quite catches the rhythm.

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