Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
dir. George Lucas
Opens Thurs May 16 at various theaters.

Point: Star Wars Kicks Ass by Sean Nelson

Watching the first hour or so of Attack of the Clones, I remembered a scene in an Albert Maysles documentary on Richard Meier. Concert of Wills chronicles the design and construction of the new Getty museum in Los Angeles, a startlingly beautiful structure. The most telling scene comes after the museum has been built. While inspecting the business offices, Meier has an apoplectic fit over the fact that some of the staff members have decorated their cubicles with plants and personal photos. When the staff argues that they're the ones who have to work there every day, the architect just bellows that they've ruined the whole thing and continues his inspection. Surrounded by the majesty of all he's created, all Meier can see is the placement of the chairs in the cafeteria.

There's a lot of that obsessive myopia in George Lucas, who seems to have abandoned human storytelling in favor of digital innovation. The first hour of Episode II is all about the landscapes created by Lucasfilm technicians; other concerns are pushed to the sidelines. It's easy to find fault with this approach, despite how dazzling those landscapes (towering cities, sweeping meadows surrounded by waterfalls) may be. Lucas's fixation on the details issues from the fact that he is building the film's visual reality out of nothing but his imagination, but it's supposed to serve something larger-- an idea all but lost on The Phantom Menace, and seemingly, its follow-up, too.

But then something happens: After an hour of steady exposition, Attack of the Clones becomes a proper Star Wars movie, and it doesn't let up.

From the moment Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, who has clearly been studying his Alec Guinness videos) lands on Camino, a planet made entirely of roiling oceans and electrical storms, with winged beasts emerging from the depths, Clones strives to fulfill its destiny as an utter, juvenile joy. The convoluted plot about clone armies and conspiracy suddenly gains a darkly interesting twist, and the action sequences, cold and formal up to now, begin to reflect the love of classic adventure movies that made the first two Star Wars films so monumentally compelling.

The actors let loose, and so does the director, rediscovering his jones for Ray Harryhausen and the serial swashbucklers of old. Whether he had this up his sleeve all along remains to be seen, but for now, I'm delighted to report that George Lucas has finally given us something to chew on besides bitter disappointment.

(Unless of course the trauma of Episode One was so traumatic that my enjoyment of some of Episode Two is just Stockholm Syndrome blinding me to the shoddiness of the digital effects and the overall poverty of the writing. Hard to say. But because I don't want to lose my faith completely, I'm sticking with having enjoyed myself.)

Counterpoint: No, Star Wars Kicks Total Fucking Ass by Bradley Steinbacher

Yes, there will be obsessed, rabid fans who will still be disappointed. And yes, there will be intellectual types who will announce that they'd much rather read Thomas Mann than watch a Star Wars movie. But neither of these camps--both annoying in their own special ways--will be able to diminish the fact that Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a great--no, a fucking great--summer blockbuster.

Is this high praise? Of course not. The term "summer blockbuster" carries a lot of baggage, after all. But as a movie, Attack of the Clones delivers exactly what you should expect from a Star Wars movie. It is big. It is fun. It is an event. From the opening surge of John Williams' familiar score, to the final optical zooming out to the words "Directed by George Lucas," Episode II lives up to the Star Wars myth--a myth that has always meant "stupid fun." Don't agree? Go back and watch the first three.

Something Star Wars fans have never been willing to admit is that as films, Lucas' epic series is more forehead-slap-inducing than absolutely-jaw- dropping. Dripping with inept, corny dialogue and annoying, clunky characters (Han Solo excluded, of course), they have always been more about hype than quality.

Attack of the Clones, like The Empire Strikes Back and the original Star Wars, makes good on the hype--more so than Return of the Jedi and, of course, more so than that abomination known as The Phantom Menace. Swift, loud, expensive, and above all else ridiculously entertaining, Episode II is worthy of residing under the Star Wars moniker (even if Jar Jar makes an appearance). It is also meaner than any previous Star Wars movie--perhaps the most adult of the bunch--which helps to propel it away from the Muppet-riddled affair Lucas has been angling toward since Jedi.

Yes, the inept, cornball dialogue is still there (especially during the well-publicized romantic sequences), but a dark, brooding tone has begun to show in the series' cracks. The birth of Darth Vader is going to be a nasty affair evidently (which only bodes well for Episode III).

Plus, Yoda fights. And he kicks ass. He kicks serious ass. And amazingly, it works.