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My, What Big Ears You Have: Natalie Portman discusses galactic politics with Jedi wannabe Hayden Christensen.


'Attack of the Clones' outdoes 'Phantom Menace,' but that's not saying much

By Richard von Busack

IN HIS latest sci-fi epic, Attack of the Clones, George Lucas can't think of a better way to explain the decline and fall of the Space Republic than to claim that the dark side of the force prevailed. Saying that a "dark force" is responsible for a political event is too naive even for children. Children are the ones who tend to take the Star Wars lore the most seriously. Lucas could be teaching them their history while selling them toys. The Jedis' place in the fall of the Republic and birth of the Evil Empire is vaguer than ever in Attack of the Clones. Their own elitism has apparently nothing to do with it, but if you look closely, it's actually their faith in Jedi superiority that keeps them from noting that one of their members is whipping up an army of clones.

While the Republic falls, senator and former Queen Padmé Amala (Natalie Portman) has plenty of spare time to roll in the wildflowers with the Jedi-in-training Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). They swap romantic dialogue that would have been hooted at in 1926. Christensen's soft, even voice suggests a possible gift for sophisticated villainy, but surely the young Vader was a firebrand, a revolutionary? The only foreshadowing of Anakin's destiny is Lucas' inept 10-minute retelling of the plot of The Searchers (the kid finally remembers he left a mother back on Tatooine in chains; the space-Comanches get her ... ).

These new Star Wars movies sure miss old Darth. They need a character as big as John Williams' anthems and marches. In this story of the fall of a republic, they need a Napoleon, a Caesar--a man whom the public embraces to its eternal shame. Even Hitler was charismatic, and Ian McDiarmid, who plays Chancellor Palpatine, would have trouble promoting used cars.

The acting is dry throughout. Yoda, formerly such a likable little figure, is turning into Jiminy Cricket. Even performers like Christopher Lee and Samuel L. Jackson draw a blank. Is it possibly because they're actors who can't guess what they're acting against on the blue screen? Maybe Portman was computer-generated? Metro's Eric Carlson jested that Lucas' direction to Portman in The Phantom Empire was "No. More wooden!" It's apparent that she needs no such direction--she's a natural born plank.

There is action, yes: a rocket chase through the ring of a Saturn-like planet with a nasty "seismic bomb." The highlight is a scene on an assembly line, derived from the great Bob Clampett/Daffy Duck cartoon Baby Bottleneck: jumbo stamping machines try to make robots out of Anakin and Padmé. Too late! The lack of humanity in Attack of the Clones is less evident when the characters are fighting machinery. Caught in this assembly-line escapade is the one character I cared about: an effete translator robot, voiced once again by Anthony Daniels. That's the measure of Attack of the Clones: the only character with any light in his eyes is C-3P0.

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (PG; 142 min.), directed by George Lucas, written by Jonathan Hales and Lucas, photographed by David Tattersall and starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen and Ian McDiarmid, opens Thursday everywhere.

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Web extra to the May 16-22, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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