|Star:||Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee|
|Cert / Year:||PG / 2002|
It is ten years since the Battle of Naboo, and it is a time of galactic unrest in the old Republic. A number of planets have broken away to form a union led by an outcast Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). Meanwhile an attempt has been made on Senator Amidala's (Natalie Portman) life, and Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his young apprentice Anakin (Hayden Christensen) have been allocated to protect her. While Anakin protects Amidala, Obi Wan uncovers a plot that could lead the Republic to war. A war between an army of clones and new generation of super warrior droids. A war which even the Jedi may not be powerful enough to stop.
The second Star Wars trilogy did not start well with The Phantom Menace. While entertaining in parts it was filled with annoying characters, poor pacing and lacked a sense of scale. Certainly the weakest of the Star Wars movies it really put the future of the franchise in question, so a lot was riding on this film. Could George Lucas recover some of his long lost form, or were we all going to have a really bad feeling about this. Well after hyping the release of the film with our two preview articles and after reading the early scripts I for one was a little more optimistic.
There is something about the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far away..." which always takes me back to the excitement of my childhood. After seeing the original film three times at the cinema I was and always will be a devoted Star Wars fan, and despite the disappointment of the previous film I did feel a thrill to see those words again. All of the standard Star Wars opening scenes were here culminating on a grand upward pan to reveal Coruscant, and while the models of yesteryear have become CGI this felt like Star Wars. Fortunately the film carried on as it began political intrigue, assassination attempts, and a brilliantly thrilling speeder chase really kicks things off well.
The only minor dampener in the opening part of the film was the reappearance of that intergalactic space donkey and all round pain in the butt that is Jar Jar Binks (thank heavens his screen time is strictly limited). The wheels do fall off rather when Anakin and Amidala get packed off to Naboo. I know we need to establish the love story, but it is over long, full of awful dialogue, and really gets in the way. Better editing and writing (from maybe a different director) would have fixed this fault. Things do pick up however when we meet Jango Fett (although I do believe that Temuera Morrison is woefully miscast in the role) and this culminates in the impressive fight with Obi Wan.
Via a superbly exciting space dogfight (good to see Slave one again) we get to the stunning final battle. From the chase through the droid factory, to the attack of the beasts, to the huge climatic battle things just get bigger and better. The end battle is the largest ever seen in Star Wars, and by far the most impressive. With stunning cutting edge effects it is simply mind blowing in a way only Star Wars is capable of. Top this of with some brilliant light sabre duels fought between Dooku and Anakin and Obi Wan and things couldn't get any better. But they do because Yoda finally gets to fight, and boy can he fight. Its simply superb.
If the action is great the dialogue still remains awful. It is especially bad for Anakin as it seems that George Lucas is on a mission to ensure that he comes across as an insufferable prat, a fact not aided by the less than perfect casting of Hayden Christensen. No where are these faults more obvious than in the painfully bad love scenes. I really wish that Lucas would hand writing duties over to someone who is more qualified (and on current evidense that is pracitcally anyone).
There are other faults apart from those previously mentioned. For a start Ewan McGreggor has a real problem acting with virtual characters, and he seems ill at ease with the whole concept. Fortunately apart from this he really is getting into the role. Amidala is suffering from Princess Leia's disappearing costume syndrome, as someone seems to have stolen most of her clothes and all of her underwear. There is a little too much CGI in places and while it works well for technology, creatures (especially in the Naboo scenes) don't look quite right. But these are all minor points, and are more than offset by the fantastic action and superb performances from Christopher Lee and Samuel L Jackson (and the voice of Frank Oz). Also the welcome return of the C3PO and R2D2 double act which is great, despite my earlier reservations.
This film is a vast improvement over The Phantom Menace, however that said so is cutting off your own head with a toothpick. There is no doubt that it looks great and that the battle scenes are simply stunning, but it is still hampered by a relatively poor script. It's worth it to see Yoda finally getting to go to work, but the sooner that Obi Wan puts the smackdown on that annoying prat Anakin the better. Lacking anything like the skill of the orginal trilogy this is fun to watch but less than intelectually rewarding. It does feel more like Star Wars than Episode 1 but it looks increasingly like George Lucas has lost his touch. Let's hope that the story finally gets to match the visuals in Episode 3.
After the cinematic travesty that was Phantom Menace I think that it is safe to say that very few if any of the die hard Star Wars fans were eagerly anticipating this next installment of the prequel series. But to be fair "The force" is strong with this movie and to be honest this is the film that Phantom Menace should have been.
There is a good story which retains a degree of continuity for the later/earlier films. Plenty of action with lots of battles and some cool special effects. This is a much more darker and meatier movie to the last which was shamefully targetted at kids. The weighty atmosphere for the film sets a more appropriate tone for the story which is unfortunately overshadowed at times by an intrusive romantic spin. Loads of impressive special effects work, although one or two effects look painfully CGI. The speeder chase through the skies of Coruscant is superb and far superior to the similar chase scene in The Fifth Element in both pace, style and effects. I have to admit that I quite liked asteroid field chase and subsequent battle between Jango Fett and Obi-Wan which is breathtaking and reminiscent of the battle in The Empire Strikes Back between the Millenium Falcon and Tie Fighters whilst evading Star Destroyers.
The well thought out story has good symmetry and has progressed to a sufficiently pivotal point in the overrall story arc and fleshes out more of the backgrounds to certain characters. We see the origins of "Stormtroopers" and the fledgling Empire's plans for the "Ultimate Weapon" (guess what that is). In addition to which we learn a lot more about the Jedi and are given a small insight into the some of the extent to Yoda's power. The diminutive Jedi master indicates what the rest of us already know about Obi-Wan's young apprentice as Yoda appears to be the only one of the Jedi who is unaffected by the influences of the Sith. I have to confess that in my opinion it is Yoda who steals the film as he has the most impressive lightsabre duel / battle that many of us have seen. Not only that but the duel is against Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) who is a truly menacing bad guy. If you have a villain that you want portrayed in a movie that is evil, sinister and menacing whilst incidentally being a "Count", who also has a surname that begins with "D" then there is only one actor you need..........the one and only Christopher Lee. The bastion of British horror cinema that is Christopher Lee is superb as Count Dooku and the whole final confrontation and lightsabre battle between him and Yoda is simply awesome. A stunning piece of choreography and special effects which leaves you unable to say anything other than "wow". Which is of course piggybacked by a phenomenal battle by the Jedi against hordes of Federation Battle Droids, including a great fight between Mace Windu (Samuel Jackson) and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) (Boba Fett's dad).
Natalie Portman seems to change her outfit for every scene (the white catsuit looks good though) but provides a good performance as Senator Padmé Amidala. Ewan McGregor finally seems to have settled into the role of Obi-Wan, and appears more comfortable this time around as the character takes a step closer to appearing like the Alec Guinness "original" from Episode 4 "A New Hope" whom we all came to love. McGregor hasn't gotten over his problems with blue screen acting yet and still has moments of pure rigidity. Newcomer Hayden Christensen surprisingly provides a pretty good performance as Anakin and manages to portray the "troubled" (and manipulated) Jedi Padawan to good effect overrall but he does falter slightly when it comes to the romantic scenes. The inclusion of Jango Fett explains the origins of the bounty hunter Boba Fett later seen in the original trilogy and shows a distinct "connection" between him and the Empire and several major characters. I thought Jango Fett was very well played by Temuera Morrison who gives a restrained performance really when you consider his physical talents. He does get some good action set pieces but he is capable of more and if allowed he could have brought more to the character, which in this form is barely more than 2 dimensional.
On the whole the film was worth the wait, and thankfully George Lucas seems to be back on form.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Anakin. Why do I get the feeling that you are going to be the death of me".
A brief word of warning, there were scene listed in the script book that did not make it into the film. This would lead me to believe that Lucas is planning a special edition. On past record this may not be include in the first DVD release so keep an eye out.