After the bitter disappointment that was Episode I, Star Wars fans were understandably leery about the release of Episode II. The good news was that the second prequel was marked improvement over the first, but there was still enough wrong with the movie to have the faithful collectively pulling their hair out.
First the good news. Actors held over from the first movie are far more comfortable in their roles and manage to stretch their legs far more than they did the first time around. Samuel L. Jackson nicely recovers from his wooden indian cameo in The Phantom Menace to be the baddest Jedi in the galaxy. Ewan McGregor has his Alec Guiness voice down so pat that it might be worth remaking The Bridge on River Kwai in a few years just to see what he could do with the role of Col. Nicholson.
Natalie Portman and newcomer Hayden Christensen don’t fare quite as well but this is not really their fault. The bottom line is that George Lucas couldn’t write romantic dialogue if you held a gun to his head or you told him it would cure cancer and end world hunger. The sappy, cringe-inducing, faux-Hallmark scenes between the series two romantic leads aren’t enough to sink this film but makes it takes heroic levels of willpower to keep your finger off the fast-forward button.
Ian McDiarmid is effective as despot-in-training Palpatine and horror movie legend Christopher Lee is also on hand as his apprentice. Lee’s performance doesn’t have quite the depth and menace of his role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy but it is more than good enough for what is required here.
Shot entirely on digital video, the picture looks surprisely film-like, if a bit soft, especially if you are watching a film transfer in a traditional theater. Projected digitally or on DVD, the picture is of a much higher quality. The soundtrack for this film may be the best of any Star Wars film to date. The asteroid scene alone, with the buzz-saw sound effect of the sonic mines, should be enough to rid your home of termites and sterilize your cat if the volume is up high enough.
The biggest improvement in Attack of the Clones versus The Phantom Menace is simple: Less Jar-Jar.