It’s ten years after Phantom Menace. The Republic is starting to fracture; the Separatists from Phantom Menace have started to gain ground on several planets after the battle on Naboo. Naboo Senator Padme Amidala is being hunted by assassins hired by the Separatist forces so the Jedi Council assigns Anakin Skywalker to protect, not knowing that Anakin still has the hots for her 10 years after first meeting her. While that’s going on Obi-Wan Kenobi goes off looking for who it is that’s trying to kill her and finds his way to the planet Kamino where he discovers a clone army that was commissioned by a deceased Jedi for eventual use by the Republic. Some things happen and Obi-Wan ends up on the planet Geonosis as a prisoner along with Padme and Anakin before a big rescue happens, setting off a full fledged war across the galaxy.
What worked for me
Ian McDiarmad shined as Chancellor Palpatine. In all the prequels, Ian was the only one who consistently overcame Lucas’ limited directing skills and a not very good script. Palpatine was supposed to be creepy and conniving but also persuasive enough to woo a naive Anakin Skywalker over to the dark side, and Ian pulled it off. His performance was clearly the best of anyone in the prequel trilogy.
As was the case with all three prequels, the visuals were outstanding. Lucas strength as a filmmaker has always been in imagining new worlds and creatures. He doesn’t fail here. Everything from the planets Coruscant and Kamino to the alien Geonosians to the spaceships looked great. John Williams musical score came through once again, punctuating every scene and conveying every emotion greater than any of the cast members did. Lastly, the action. There was lots of it and it was great. Lightsaber work all over the place. Yoda in action for the first time in the series.
The dialogue. In a word it was downright painful. Anakin’s forbidden affection towards Padme coupled with his struggle to grow and properly channel his Jedi Powers are supposed to be the emotional core of the film. These twin struggles are what ultimately pave the way for his downfall, and the way that they are conveyed on film was always going to be what made or broke the movie. And…….they broke it. Instead of sounding like a young man trying to navigate and balance love, ambition, concern for his mother, and anger while having pledged to live by the rigid rules of the Jedi Anakin came off like a perpetually whiny, emo, annoying brat. All why saying things that no human being with even a rudimentary command of the English language would ever say. And while he was doing that, damn near everyone else in the movie was a step or two removed from ‘reading the cue card’ syndrome. Now look, corny lines are not all bad; pretty much every epic fantasy tale has them. But there is a distinct difference between the cheesy but endearing lines in the original trilogy and the eardrum torture we’re given here.
I blame Lucas for this. Of the Star Wars films he wrote and directed, only Episode IV did not have groan inducing performances throughout. My guess would be that it was the one he’d been working towards all his career, whereas the other ones were just stuff he had to do to meet a deadline. And it shows. When Episode IV was being made Lucas, then still a fledgling filmmaker, could be challenged by Harrison Ford to change the what he’d put in the script to something that sounds like actual people talking. But this time around he was George F-ing Lucas, God of the Realm, and even veteran actors were just happy to be there working in a Star Wars movie. So we got what we got, and boy was it bad.
The other thing that stuck out in a bad way is the complete discombobulating of the timeframe that took place in the final act. During the Battle of Geonosis the separatist leaders are packing up to run, and a computer image of the Death Star is shown. Now this is twenty-plus years before A New Hope, when the Death Star makes it’s physical debut to the galaxy. Later in Revenge of the Sith it’s under construction. So it takes over 20 years to build the first one, but then in Return of the Jedi the second Death Star is over half competed in less that a quarter of the time it took to finish the first one. Come on George…… I know you wanted to fit in callbacks to the original trilogy whenever possible but this one didn’t help at all and only messed things up.
Overall Verdict: B-/C+
Why am I not giving this film a D or an F after all that complaining? Two reasons. One, I’m a Star Wars nerd at heart so they all get graded on somewhat of a curve. And two, the things George did well he knocked out of the freaking park. This isn’t one of the Matrix sequels we’re talking about here. But unfortunately this one left a bad enough aftertaste after some scenes that when it was over you kinda knew that he wasn’t going to ‘get it right’ with the third and final installment, you just hoped for something better. And they did achieve that.