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Much better than Episode 1, but still lacking heart
First off for all those people who liked this movie and are urging people to ignore the critics, think for a second. You are a critic when you give any review, even a good one. So, by that logic they should ignore you. A discerning potential moviegoer will survey a variety of opinion, both good and bad, and decide accordingly. Trying to divert this process by discrediting other people's posted opinion does everyone a disservice.
Secondly, special effects and battle sequences alone can't make a movie. Star Wars fans, such as myself, that question Lucas' abandonment of characters and dialogue aren't asking for a Merchant-Ivory production. We are simply asking for what we got with the first trilogy; bold, defined, and likable characters as well as a decent plot. I judge Star Wars episodes against the high standard the series set for itself, not against other Hollywood genres.
That said, here's my impression of the movie.
-Some great action sequences. Namely, Obi-Wan's fight and later pursuit of Jango Fett. The gladiator sequence and subsequent Jedi battle. As unbelievable and unrealistic as it was, the Coursecant flying car chase sequence. And of course the final battle with the oft mentioned light sabre duel between a Jedi master and his former pupil. These scenes had proper gravity, unlike the wooden and fake battle scenes against almost exclusively droids in Episode 1.
-Good character work by MacGregor, even if the part is underwritten. I liked the way that Obi-Wan has become kind of a unlucky fellow who has to deal with his not so stellar skills. Kind of the series' over-achiever. This shows us the roots of the wisdom he exhibits as an older man in the first trilogy. This poor man had nothing to do in Episode 1 but mimic Sir Alec Guiness. It's nice they put him to work here.
-Despite many opinions, I think Christenson was a good choice for Anakin. He seems athletic and energetic enough. And he also mines some emotional nuggets in a poorly written part. He should get some sort of reward for having to read the insipid psuedo-romantic lines to Padme. I think most believe that Jake Lloyd was a huge mistake for Anakin in Episode 1. Cute kid syndrome was rampant in the earlier film, and the kid was a terrible actor to boot. Much improved here.
-I liked some of the ways they foreshadowed the episodes to come. At a few points, you do get to feel some of the dread that the impending dark time will warrant. The feeling of dread was one of the great things about the first trilogy. You really felt the prescence of repressive evil. This was missing completely in Episode 1, but was hinted at here.
-The effects were often breathtaking. It made Epsiode 1 seem absolutely barren. At times, the CGI was very apparent and took you out of the story, but on a whole I saw visual imagination of a high order.
-Minimal Jar Jar Binks. But why'd they put him in a position of power? Are they insane?
-Dialog. If another reviewer here says that dialog isn't important, I'm going to scream. No, I don't expect the characters to sound like Hamlet, or even to utter colorful original words as in Pulp Fiction. However, they should have dialog that distinguishes their character and invests some depth and sympathy in them. Think about Han Solo, perhaps the best written character of the trilogy. He said things that made him sound nothing like the other characters. He had a chauvinistic streak, he had mixed loyalties etc. None of the characters here seem like people. And their line readings seem stiff as a board. With the caliber of actors here, I can only blame Lucas who made the James Cameron mistake of thinking he could write dialog himself.
-Over use of CGI. The things they can do with CGI are incredible. However, too much use of it and you are overcome with a strange detached vibe from the screen. You get the weird feeling you are watching a feature length video game. And that's not good. I'd take the somewhat limited traditional effects of the original trilogy over this any day. At least you felt the actors were on actual sets in actual locations. This makes me wonder why he shot in Australia. Can't you setup a green screen just about anywhere?
-Complicated plot. The great thing about the original trilogy was it was easy to follow. You have a repressive regime, and the good guys are trying to topple it. In this one, I came out of the theater still questioning the loyalties of several characters. It's almost as if you have to read all of the post-trilogy books that fill in the back story to make heads or tails of it. The motivations of the characters just don't make sense often. Actually, Palpatine is the only understandable evil character in this respect. He just wants power. Easy enough to understand.
-Clunky love story. A good movie containing a love story can get you to understand the chemistry with little or no dialog. This movie seems to be trying to make up for bad chemistry by soaking us with terrible cliche-drenched words. I don't think you have to show us why Anni likes Padme. After all she's beautiful, loyal, brave, resourceful and pure good. Who wouldn't fall for her? But they failed to show why Padme would fall for this petulant, irresponsible, and often down-right hostile little boy. And thus, I felt they will get together only because they must in order to produce Luke and Leia.
In conclusion, I enjoyed the pic. It was good escapist entertainment. It shined far and above the abysmal Episode 1. But, I still think Lucas is a ship far off course. After almost 20 years, he lost what made the first three movies great. Unfortunately, here he gains only a little bit of that magic back.
7 out of 10