Let me start with the good news: if you're a fan of "Star Wars", and if you felt like impaling yourself on your lightsaber after the disappointment that was "The Phantom Menace", cheer up. George Lucas' second (actually, fifth) installment in the Star Wars saga is much, much better than his previous effort, and should leave you, if not completely ecstatic, at least fairly happy.
As with its predecessor, "Attack Of The Clones" does come with a plot, though it's so insubstantial that you might as well forget about it and focus on the action. Ten years after the events of "The Phantom Menace", the Republic is slowly coming under attack from a group of separatists who are building their own army. The Council, usually biased towards peace, is beginning to seriously look at the possibility of building a clone army to protect the Republic. And Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) is on her way to Coruscant to vote on the issue when she's targeted for assassination by persons unknown.
Enter Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his impulsive apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). The two Jedi are assigned to protect Amidala, and to investigate the attacks on her. They quickly realize that the attacks on Amidala are part of a larger plot to destabilize the Republic, and so Skywalker is left alone to guard Amidala while Kenobi makes his way to an anonymous planet at the edge of the galaxy to find out more.
Before long, Skywalker falls in love with the beautiful Amidala, and returns to Tatooine with her to meet his mother; the events that follow mark Skywalker's first step down the path that will lead to him ultimately becoming Darth Vader. Meanwhile Kenobi discovers a gigantic clone army, and a bounty hunter named Jango Fett, and slowly realizes the implications of what's he's seen. In the film's climatic scenes, the connections between the separatists and the clones become clear, and the stage is set for battle galore.
The story is complicated, but you don't really need to pay too much attention to it. Much of the activity around the clone army is irrelevant, and serves as a distraction from what we all know is the real centerpiece of this movie - Anakin's slow turn towards the Dark Side, his relationship with Amidala, and the impact they both have on the future of the galaxy. Since we all already know what that future is, the threads in "Attack Of The Clones" provide a tantalizing glimpse into the plot of the as-yet-unnamed third episode; you'll leave with your mind buzzing about the intricate web Lucas is in the process of weaving.
"Star Wars" has always been known for its effects, and "Attack Of The Clones" is no different. Lucas has gone all-out with his computers, and the movie looks magnificent as a result. There are some truly unforgettable scenes in this movie: the high-speed chase through the night skies above Coruscant, the gladiatorial contest involving Amidala, Skywalker and Kenobi tied to a pole in a pit of mutant beasts, and my personal favourite, the lightsaber battle between Yoda and the evil Count Dooku (this film is worth watching for this scene alone - who'd have ever thought old Master Yoda was so spry on his feet!)
That said, "Attack Of The Clones" is still an insubstantial shadow of the original trilogy. Lucas has yet to capture the magic and romance of the Luke Skywalker chronicles, which, though lacking the zing of today's special effects, made up for it with a coherent storyline and some unforgettable characters. Of all the actors in "Attack Of The Clones", the only one you're likely to remember is Ewan McGregor, who's gradually growing into his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi; everyone else seems to spend their time pontificating on "the future of the Republic" in gigantic councils. As the future Darth Vader, much was expected of Christensen; sadly, he fails to do this part justice, with his wooden acting provoking winces rather than outright fear.
If you're a "Star Wars" fan, you're going to watch "Attack Of The Clones" regardless of what the critics say. This time, you're sure to leave happier.This article was first published on 26 May 2002.