If you’ve seen The Phantom Menace, then you already know what to expect from every film in this trilogy: stilted performances, overly-complex plotting, and far too many computer generated characters and environments. I can accept that this is Lucas’s chosen style—I’m using that word generously—and will attempt to judge the remaining films on individual merit. In this spirit of critical sufferance I present Attack of the Clones, or, How I Learned to Stop Building Sets and Love Digital Matting.
Attack of the Clones deserves praise for improving its pacing and streamlining its storytelling. Two notable character adjustments also make a big difference: Jar Jar is cut down to only a handful of scenes, and Jake Lloyd is gone entirely.
In Lloyd’s place, however, is the controversial and widely ridiculed Hayden Christensen. Now I’ve seen Christensen give a good performance—2003’s Shattered Glass—so I won’t be too unkind to the young man; at the same time, I have eyes and ears, and the criticism he receives for these films is absolutely deserved--he’s awful, but I believe this is the influence of George Lucas more than it is a true representation of Christensen’s abilities; don’t forget that Lucas turns Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Academy Award winner Natalie Portman into hacks more than once during this trilogy.
It’s taken me this long to even mention the love story between Anakin and Padmé—which is the crux of the film—and that’s because it stinks. Lucas expects us to believe that Padmé--an accomplished, career-focused beauty--would suddenly fall for a sulking, ill-tempered teenager, and in the span of only a few days. It’s a laughable concept and not even a well-executed one; you could rub two tongue depressors together and generate more heat than Christensen and Portman.
Episode II was in position to out shine its predecessor, but Lucas again failed to tell a concise, engaging story or create excitement around his characters. The plot remains confusing; it’s tough to tell who is in league with who, who put what plan into motion, etc.; Lucas continually tells us “the dark side clouds everything” and expects that to forgive every ambiguity. Anakin’s path towards becoming Vader is again a secondary storyline when it should be the main attraction, a choice that strikes me as incredibly counterintuitive especially considering there’s only one film remaining to tell that story; you know, the story we’ve been itching to see since 1983? The reason we’re all here? Come on George, don’t screw this up.