I've finally realized what I am. No longer am I a Star Wars fan. Now, I'm a Star Wars junkie, selling my soul and my time in a desperate and futile attempt to witness the Lucas magic that was... and isn't really anymore.
This time around, I wanted to be first. And so I found myself sitting in a theater at 12:01am, having been there four hours in wait, holding my breath with hundreds of others of the Star Wars faithful bearing light sabers and laser blasters as the Lucasfilm logo once again graced the silver screen. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is an attempt at redemption. The path back to the power and presence of the original films. I wanted that. I needed that. Everyone knows The Phantom Menace was a disappointment. Lucas cannot fail us this time! But he has... sort of.
In this Star Wars outing, we find the annoying young Anakin Skywalker all grown up and struggling with the teenage emotions of a Jedi apprentice. His mentor, Obi-Wan, fills the role of father figure, guiding him through the ways of the force. But as Anakin's power in the force grows, so does his arrogance and resentment. Left to protect his former companion Senator Padme Amidala, Anakin explores his troubled emotions as Obi-Wan Kenobi leaves to investigate rebellion on the edge of the galaxy.
Obviously Director/Writer George Lucas learned a few lessons from his Phantom Menace flop. Well, scratch that, he learned one. People hate Jar-Jar. Thus, Jar-Jar Binks is practically not to be seen, aside from a few brief moments in the Republic Senate where his unique brand of screw ups dooms everyone in the galaxy. His role is essential, but small, which makes him surprisingly palatable compared to the incessant jabbering we were all forced to endure from him throughout The Phantom Menace. Sadly, other than acing out Jar-Jar, Lucas has learned nothing, though I may have figured out a thing or two. Originally I had thought The Phantom Menace's dialogue suffered because Jar-Jar hogged screen time, talking so unceasingly that he prevented more important and interesting characters from speaking. However, it is now apparent that none of Lucas' characters really had anything to say anyway. Freed from their gooey Gungan shield, the characters of this new brand of Star Wars wander about spouting dialogue so bland and ordinary that even accomplished actors like Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor cannot make it engaging.
In the beginning, this is especially evident, since the film's first hour is used primarily to let characters wander about babbling meaningless and boring political mumbo jumbo or in the case of Anakin and Amidala, reading lovey-dovey lines of seduction ripped from the pages of cheesy dime store romance novels. In that sense, Attack of the Clones is in fact worse than The Phantom Menace, suffering from an opening act so slow to get moving and lacking in pace that even garish chase scenes through the overcrowded airways of the ultra-industrial Republican capital fail to break the tedious monotony. At least The Phantom Menace opened with a bang. Attack of the Clones can only offer a bratty teenager and a bevy of self-serving politicians blessedly held together by another moving score from composer John Williams.
The funny thing is, that by the time the movie was over, I'd almost forgotten all of this. I walked out to my car at 3:00 in the morning smiling. The second half of this film is almost a different movie. Everything about it is better. Everything. Watching it, it LOOKS like there was more effort put into that last 45 minutes than the rest. Even the special effects are better. The CGI more streamlined, the settings more interesting. I don't understand how one film can manage such a GIGANTIC flip-flop at its midpoint. The second half is redemption. The second half is everything that every Star Wars movie should be.
Suddenly, things start to happen. I'm not just talking about action either. Yeah, those last 45 are action packed. What a spectacle! But even though there is LESS time spent on talking and more spent on fighting, I learned more about the film's characters in those 45 minutes of out of control galaxy hopping than I did in the previous hour and a half of convoluted gabbing.
Ewan McGregor wakes up and breathes some LIFE into Obi-Wan as he matches wits with the Sith Lord Count Dooku. Anakin stares down personal torment on Tatooine facing his dark side... and then finally stops with the angst ridden teenager act long enough to flash a smile or two. Christopher Lee steps in, late in the film, to don the mantle of villainous scum. Portman's Padme starts channeling Princess Leia; a blaster in one hand, a peace treaty in the other. Sam Jackson's Mace Windu finally develops a definable personality and Yoda owns the film. I mean it. He OWNS it. This is not some bit role for Yoda. The diminutive green master takes charge and rules over AOTC, fulfilling even the wildest fanboy dream. Truthfully, except for the entertaining antics of the newly united R2D2 and C3PO, Yoda is the only character consistently entertaining outside the second act.
At last Episode II gains its emotional footing, and Lucas' actors stop delivering flat-line readings that sound exactly like what they are... people standing in front of blue screens acting to empty rooms instead of living, breathing actors and lavish, imaginative sets. Because of that, the failure of the opening act doesn't matter. People will love this film. The last half will make them forget. The pure BRILLIANCE of the last 45 shines so brightly that it is impossible to walk out of this movie thinking of the hour of mediocrity that came before it.
So now I'm a Star Wars junkie. I'm in love with an ending. I love this movie because it gives me what I've been looking for my entire life... all the things I've only dreamt of since I first saw Luke fly down that Death Star trench to glory. I've sold my soul for a fix I've been waiting decades for. So maybe I've got to sit through a bland hour or so of Lucasite pontificating that tries to cover over bad directing with excessive technology. That's only a reminder that maybe we haven't given Harrison Ford enough credit for making George Lucas look good all these years. In the end, Attack of the Clones pulls its ass out of the fire and delivers the kind of Star Wars adventure we've all really been waiting for.