Hello, Dolly 

*Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
20th Century Fox

Dumb ta ta duum duuuuumb, dumb ta ta duuumb dumb, dumb ta ta duuum dum, dumb ta ta duuumb. That's about what I expected from the second prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy after the flailingly pedestrian, and disturbingly racist, Phantom Menace.

Lo, as the movie and the door to Padm Amidala's open on the senate platform on Coruscant, the darkly urban capital of the galaxy, an explosion blows the ship and the action into fifth gear. Amidala (Nathalie Portman) appears to have been assassinated, but she pulled the old switcheroo again and turns out to be the hottie in body-guard drag who just clears the blast. Smart, sexy and action-packed heroine. Like it already.

What follows is a vindication of the epic first trilogy's mythical legacy. "Annie" Skywalker is no longer a precocious young boy; he's the strappingly handsome Annakin (Hayden Christensen) with all the dark character flaws we know will land him his heavy-breathing future gig behind the dark helmet of Vader. Oh yeah, and he's already into black leather!

And what do two young hotties do in a movie? Duh! They fall in love. Far from the sappy romance you might also be expecting is a love story filled with the foreboding thorny conflicts of a Romeo and Juliet. After Annakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) are sworn to protect Amidala, Obi-Wan is forced to set off alone to unmask the miscreants behind the assassination attempt, leaving Annakin to spend plenty of time with her hottiness. But lest we forget, Jedis are sworn to celibacy and aren't supposed to have those buggering things also known as "emotions." Oops.

But why dally with the finer points of the plot when we all know the shadowy fate of the entire cast. Fact is, Phantom Menace may just have been a really big-budget setup for the payoff that's just beginning to unfold in Attack of the Clones.

And believe it or not, there are enough brilliant plot twists and "historical" explanations of characters and plot points in the later (previous?) episodes to keep your head spinning.

Acting: Perfectly two-dimensional for a fantasy adventure.

Sets: George Lucas must've spent years studying Blade Runner, hoping to one day up the ante. The architectural artwork on the hyper-urban Coruscant is ga-ga, perfectly grey and brooding.

Digital Animation: Get ready to disbelieve that Yoda was actually animated this time. Modeled on Frank Oz's puppet-work, the Star Wars team was forced to animate him for a booty-whoopin' Kung Fu scene with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) that got the crowd up out of their seats. Plus plenty of other unbelievably non-digital-looking digital action that strips away the schlocky look that plagued Menace.

As you might have guessed, the movie plays from start to finish like a video game. Big surprise. But there's lots of campily great nods to the other Star Wars films, a brilliantly clich space-car chase scene made absurdly perfect by the improbable leaps you'd expect to see in a Bruce Willis film. Great creatures, new vehicles, brilliant rehashings of the classics in both film and literature. Simply put: smarts and imagination at their best.

Thanks for keeping the dream alive, George.

-- Noel Black


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