Star Wars—Episode Two: Attack of the Clones
**1/2 (out of four)
By Daniel Kraus

I think I've isolated what makes Star Wars movies feel so different than other science-fiction films: a sense of nonchalant detail. Not only is every frame obsessive in honoring every wart on every creature and every dent on every aircraft, but it is executed in an almost offhand way. While most sci-fi flicks seem to demand, "Isn't this the coolest thing you've ever seen?", Lucas simply reports that this is just the way the galaxy is. Didn't you know?

Each landscape he reveals is breathtaking but, more importantly, it feels lived-in. In Attack of the Clones we see, for the first time in Lucas's beloved "galaxy far, far away," such mundane things as advertisements for alien products, breakfast diners, and assembly-line cafeterias. It seems clear that this is a world that goes on with or without our watching it.

But we need to remember that viewing the new prequels is like finding old 8mm footage of your parents falling in love. Whether or not it's good cinema, it's IMPORTANT to us and involves characters we love. We are, in a way, required to like it, as much as we are required to like our parents.

Therefore, the only way Lucas can fail is by shaming the memory (and ancestry) of our beloved Luke Skywalker. Unfortunately, this is exactly what many fans felt he did in Episode One: The Phantom Menace, by turning the young Anakin into a shrill, Romper Room imp. Making our Jedi heroes consort with the likes of Jar-Jar Binks didn't help much, either.

In Attack, Lucas fares better, for the most part "honoring" the Star Wars lineage. However, Anakin—the lynchpin of the entire series—is still a problematic character and about the only thing preventing ATTACK from being, at least, impressively distracting.

It's ten years after Phantom, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and teen-aged Anakin (Hayden Christensen) are sent to protect Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) from a series of attacks. The story is as needlessly convoluted and confusing as Phantom was, but essentially deals with two things: the rise of the Dark Side of the Force, and the love affair between Anakin and Padme that brings to light Anakin's growing discontent with the Jedi ways.

The fact that Lucas is telling his tale out of order continues to work to his benefit, adding a veil of sadness over everything—we know that Anakin will fall victim to the Dark Side, we know that the Jedi Council will be destroyed, we know the galaxy will be put into slavery. It's like telling the story of WWII, but ending with the rise of the Nazi party—it's creepier because it's unfinished.

Phantom suffered from a lack of what I call "the Han Solo factor": every character was a Jedi or a Queen and there was no "Average Joe" to identify with. Although the "Han Solo factor" is still absent, Attack finally begins to draw us in to a human story by focusing on the tortured psyche of Anakin. With every "Yes, Master" he mutters, Anakin's struggle with the life he has chosen becomes more vivid.

It is most unfortunate that Christensen is miscast. Instead of going with a more sensitive, intelligent, Tobey Maguire-style actor, Lucas chose Christensen, whose unexpressive, inarticulate nature would be more at home in something like Larry Clarks' KIDS. His romantic scenes with Portman are terribly written and come off like spoofs, complete with rolling-through-the-grass scenes, coy figures of speech, and lines like "You are in my very soul, tormenting me." No, I'm not kidding.

When the dewy eyes and passionate glances are exhausted, Attack hurtles toward an ending of sheer, hyper-space delight. We learn the genesis of Boba Fett, see more light saber battles than we can shake a stick at, witness Yoda doing things that blow our mind, and feel a chill run down our spine when we see the first army of Stormtroopers being assembled. There's so much to get excited about that, only upon reflection do I notice a shocking lack of plot coherency. It's just chopped-up scenes, some great, some terrible; and actors, some great, some terrible. And this is the second film in a row without a strong, central bad guy. Who exactly are we rooting against?

Attack is entertaining in a way that makes all other "huge" movies—Gladiator, Titanic, Lord of the Ringslook downright Jawa-sized. If you let yourself, you will be taken away by it. Just don't think too much, or Lucas's carefully constructed universe will all come crashing down all around you.

Daniel Kraus is a nationally syndicated columnist and filmmaker.  Info on his latest film, Ball of Wax, can be found at