4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 127 minutes
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Lucas takes his time with the Star Wars films, and this time he also has taken on board the complaints about Episode I. The action picks up 10 years later, when Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has grown unto a burgeoning late-teen chafing to get independence from his Jedi master Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor). The duo are reunited with now-senator Padme (Natalie Portman) when they’re assigned to guard her after an assassination attempt. And as they try to discover who’s after her, they uncover a deep-rooted conspiracy to undermine the Republic. This involves a renegade Jedi (Christopher Lee), a relentless bounty hunter (Temuera Morrison) and a planet full of clones.
After an early round of scene-setting dialog, the film kicks off with an action chase scene that puts everything in Episode I to shame — energetic, freewheeling and, most importantly, integral to the plot. And it barely pauses for breath after that, careening from planet to planet as we not only tie up loose ends from the previous installment, but continue setting up events that lead to 1977’s Episode IV. The action is astonishing, the scenes are beautifully designed (and perhaps a bit too animated — this sometimes feels like a Roger Rabbit-like blend of live action and cartoons), and the romance even works despite the lame lovey-dovey dialog. The political intrigue is as impenetrable as ever, but adds to the general dark tone.
Christensen shines at the center; at first he seems arrogant and mean-spirited, but both his performance and the script deepen considerably until we can understand why Padme falls for him. Portman and McGregor settle brilliantly into their roles, complex people caught up in increasingly portentous events. Other returning cast members get the chance to broaden their characters as well. And new characters are fascinating, each bringing a saga-defining revelation (Lee’s role is perhaps a bit too reminiscent of his work in The Lord of the Rings, but he’s still great). There are even surprises in store for fans of Threepio, Artoo and most of all Yoda, who’s computer-generated for the first time (and it shows). Best of all, the film has that Star Wars atmosphere fully in place, complete with a thematic resonance and a reliance on strong personalities interacting to drive the events forward. It’s going to be a long three years’ wait for Episode III.

Posted on May 16, 2002 in Reviews by

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