There’s been a recent school of thought that it’s actually AOTC and not Phantom Menace that’s the weakest of the underloved Star Wars prequels but it’s not theory I in particular pescribe to.
Oh sure, George Lucas’ second crack at filling in the early days of the “Skywaker Saga” has more than it’s fair share of faults, that’s true; story and tone wise it’s a less polished affair than Phantom with a scrappy uneven tone but in the plus column it has far more drive than it’s sluggish predecessor.
After numerous attempts on Sentor Padmé’s life, the Jedi council assign Obi-Wan Kenobi and his padawan, Anakin Skywalker to protect her. While Kenobi planet hops in order to get to the bottom of whatever insidious bullcrap is going down, Padmé, Anakin and a shitload of unprofessional teenage emotions sods off to the senator’s picturesque, impossibly romantic home planet to keep her safe, frolic in fields and surf alien cows that are 75% butt. As the conspiracy tightens and plot threads finally converge, forces will eventually collide, clone troopers will rise and the Star Wars will finally begin.
To start, let’s cast a quick eye over the glaringly negative. Anakin and Padmé’s wooden and stilted forbidden romance is as awkward as a fart in a funeral and while Lucas’ talents are many, keeping the audience focused on Obi Wan’s Raymond Chandler-esque conspiracy search apparently isn’t one of them. The overcomplicated unravelling of the villain’s overarching masterplan is muddled and unclear with an endless chain of assassins, robots, Jedi turn coats and even killer millipedes crammed into an overstuffed backstory (does the Star Wars universe have a union for bad guys or something?). Plus there’s a uncomfortable sense of the derivative about the some moments of the film peaking with an aerial car chase through the planet sized city of Coruscant that’s stolen clean from Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element or a battle through a droid factory that feels more like you are watching a play-through the video game version of the film rather than the film itself. Another major niggle is while the annoying disciple of unfunny slapstick known as Jar Jar Binks is thankfully sidelined, he’s regrettably passed the mantle of “unnecessary annoying Star Wars comedy character” to C-3PO.
The good news is that AOTC is a little looser and therefore a more fun experience and whereas TPM sometimes felt too removed from the Star Wars universe as a whole, this movie embraces more recognizable elements wholeheartedly such as sights, musical themes and sound effects that trigger those bits in your brain that make you a fuzzy little kid again. The film is also handily stacked with those stand out moments that only Star Wars movies seem to provide, be it a surprisingly brutal, rain lashed Obi-Wan/Jango Fett fist fight or Yoda unsheathing his lightsaber for a brief but fist pumping scrap with Christopher Lee’s Sith mouthpiece, Clones really nails the action. It’s final third, an ever escalating set piece which starts with our leads facing down a menagerie of muder-animals in an area and then periodically adds Jedi, Battle Droids, Clone Troopers and a swaggering, purple Lightsaber-ed Samuel L. Jackson whooping herculean amounts of ass until we are finally in that full blown clone war that we’d only heard about.
Yes, Hayden Christensen isn’t great, yes, Natalie Portman underachieves also, but McGregor finally looks like he’s having fun and so do you; for the most part, but things still feel, for lack of a better word, a little forced.