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June 2020
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Once again, we are transported to that galaxy far far away, to find that Anakin Skywalker is becoming a loose canon, while developing feelings for Padmé Amidala. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi investigates an assassination attempt, uncovering a conspiracy of galactic proportions.


Writer-director George Lucas (Star Wars, American Graffiti) and screenwriter Jonathan Hales (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles—TV, The Scorpion King) deliver a tight story of relationships on a lavish canvas. Or at least that was they hoped would happen. Let’s take the two storylines one at a time. Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge) begins his investigation in true CSI fashion by examining the markings on a projectile, questioning local underground sources, fact-checking at the library, and embarking on an expedition. In the Star Wars universe, this works brilliantly. It brings together elements from detective thrillers like The Maltese Falcon, but in a gorgeous science fiction setting. The mystery of a planet deliberately deleted from the galactic library is a excellent suspense-building plot point. In this way, Obi-Wan’s investigation bears strong similarities to both Isaac Asimov’s science fiction detective stories, and his legendary Foundation series, in which the obfuscation of the location of the Second Foundation plays a dramatic role in the second and third books. These connections come off as affectionate tips of the hat, as do most of Lucas’s borrowings (such as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy).


In classic Star Wars style, Obi-Wan’s investigation leads him to exotic and jaw-dropping locales and adventures. He encounters gorgeously presented aliens working on a deviously plotted project, and faces off with more than one effectively formidable enemy. All of this leads to a highly satisfying storyline, delivering all the excitement, plotting, and heroics that one expects from a Star Wars movie, which was for the most part replaced with political exposition in The Phantom Menace. Plus, the most irritating element of the first film (you can order the film essay from service), one Jar-Jar Binks, is relegated to a single scene and a half, played for the fool that he is. So far so good.


Unfortunately, the other story thread does not fare as well. Jar-Jar may be out, but he has incredibly been replaced by an even more cringe-worthy element, the love story between Anakin and Padmé. George Lucas, by his own admission, does not make films for their dialogue. Ostensibly, that’s why Hales is on board. However, even with such careful planning, the Star Wars flaw that we all accepted for so long becomes impossible to ignore, and difficult to tolerate. Hayden Christiansen (My Life as a House, The Virgin Suicides) may very well be a good actor, but this film would not be good support for that claim. We know Natalie Portman (The Professional, Where the Heart Is) is a fine actor, so it’s not her either. The love scenes, each and every single scene featuring these two actors, falls embarrassingly flat. The writing is so horrible, it forces one to turn away from the screen, much like one would in a truly terrifying horror film. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, John Williams’s otherwise pretty love theme rises up with such force and grandeur that the minimal writing withers further in comparison. The Sound of Music locations don’t help either.


It would seem that the yes-man entourage surrounding Lucas once again failed to warn him that he was making a colossal mistake. As noted in our Phantom Menace review, Lucas has cut off everyone who provided uninhibited feedback (Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, Empire director Irvin Kershner, Empire screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, and ex-wife/editor Marcia Lucas). Instead, he hired Rick McCallum as producer, who owes his career to Lucas, and for this outing brought on Hales who is in exactly the same boat as McCallum, complete with the same Young Indiana Jones oar. Without anyone to temper his creative vision, it apparently metastasizes out of control. One can only hope that he brings in someone with an independent background to steer him back on course for the third film.


Getting back to Clones, once the storylines recombine, things thankfully recover somewhat. The scenes of total Jedi warfare that we all expected in The Phantom Menace are out in force. While there is a bit too much cut-and-pasting of troops in the battle scenes, the computer effects have thankfully improved enough to deliver one incredibly satisfying conclusion. It wouldn’t be fair to describe it any further, the surprise of it should be your reward for getting through the love scenes.

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