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Cloning Around

May 17th, 2005

First, there’s been a disruption to my plans for a Week of Star Wars: my dad called last night and told me that he was in the hospital with gall stones. Apparently, they’re going to remove his gall bladder sometime this week, but we don’t know quite when yet, as he takes blood-thinning medication and they have to wait until his blood returns to normal. So, everything’s up in the air right now, and I may (or may not) have to leave on fairly short notice. While I’m not especially worried about it, it is surgery. And it didn’t help that the premise of last night’s Everybody Loves Raymond finale was about a brief hospital scare when Ray had trouble coming out of anesthesia after a minor surgery.

And, of course, what really bugs me is that I have tickets to the midnight show at the Lorraine tomorrow evening. Darn these parents and their inability to schedule their health problems so as not to conflict with my moviegoing plans!

But, for now, it’s back to the galaxy far, far away…

The Phantom Menace was pure, undiluted George Lucas–the film he would’ve made in 1977 if he’d been unfettered by money, technology, studio interference and common sense. Many story elements harkened back to his earliest treatments for Star Wars, and goodness knows, so did the dialogue.

For the second film in the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, Lucas showed a bit of wisdom, pushing Jar Jar Binks to the sidelines, and bringing in another screenwriter to punch up the script. The results are…better.

People who complain about the leaden line-readings in the prequels forget that all of the Star Wars films have had their share of clinkers:

“But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”

“You look strong enough to pull the ears off a Gundark!”

“I know. Somehow…I’ve always known.”

So, when teen Anakin begins comparing would-be girlfriend Padme’s smooth backside to the rough sand of Tatooine, absolutely no one should be shocked. Crappy dialogue is so much a part of the series, it’s even commemorated in the form of the oft-repeated line, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

That said, it’s a bit disingenuous when Lucas blames some of the films’ problems on the 1940s style he’s attempting to emulate. It’s not as if sparkling wit was alien to the time period.

I still firmly believe that if Attack of the Clones had been Episode I, there would’ve been far less bitching about the prequels. It brought Star Wars fans more of what we expected in that it centered around the master/student relationship of Anakin and Obi-Wan. It was also a bit closer to the look and feel of the earlier films.

The production designers made a conscious decision to move incrementally nearer the style of the original trilogy, and the surroundings (with the intentional exception of the cloning facility of Kamino) are more angular and much less anticeptic. Coruscant looks like a real city rather than a series of architectural studies, and this adds a lot of energy to an extended chase through the aerial traffic lanes.

The pacing is still awkward, particularly when Anakin takes a side trip to Tatooine just as events are heating up elsewhere, but the action set-pieces are both more frequent and more evenly-distributed.

As with The Phantom Menace, there are some appealing secondary villains, most notably bounty hunter Jango Fett. While I’m not certain that we needed to see the origins of his more famous offspring Boba, nor to tie the two of them into the creation what would eventually become the Stormtroopers, I very much enjoyed Jango’s role. One of my biggest disappointments with the original trilogy was that Boba Fett was more promise than performance; despite an outfit full of death-dealing devices, he never did anything, and he died like a pud. Jango, however, had the opportunity to clear the Fett name.

In general, there’s a great deal more ass-kicking in Attack of the Clones. We finally get to see all those Jedi warriors at full power, and they face a fresh horde of marauding droids and menacing creatures, my favorite being the dinosuar/crustacean known as the Acklay.

Ian McDiarmid continues to impress as the Emperor-to-be. He is smarmy and devilishly devious. I can’t wait to see him fully revealed in Episode III.

Not so good is the romantic subplot. This is one those movies in which you know the characters are in love because they tell you so.

The meadow picnic scene is especially unfortunate. The dialogue once again rears its ugly verbiage, though there’s one good exchange in which Anakin “teasingly” speaks out in favor of dictatorship. However, the visuals are goofy and provoke unintentional laughter, with one shot bearing an unexpected resemblence to the opening of The Sound of Music, and another featuring an unconvincing creature which has been dubbed the “tick-pig.”

Still, in the end there’s a certain power to the doomed love of Padme and Anakin, if for no other reason than that we know just how badly it will turn out. The finale montage is arguably the most effective of the series to date, countering the rise of the Empire with an ill-advised, secret marriage. The preliminaries are out of the way: the Clone Wars have begun, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker will soon follow.

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