A short time ago, in a pubescent fantasy not quite far enough away...
Last week I finally saw Star Wars, Episode II, "Attack of the Shitcans." Stephanie Zacharek of Salon elicited a chuckle from your humble narrator when she said the movie's love scenes were "shot to look like douche commercials." Yer darn tootin' they were. She was also correct when she said the backdrop of one of said love scenes, where Anakin Skywalker and Natalie Portman roll around in a flower-speckled alpine pasture in a ridiculously cliche moment of romantic frolicking (he plays hurt after bronco-busting on a computer generated space bovine, so she runs to his side very concerned, then his eyes snap open while she's leaning over him and he commences the death-roll as they laugh like two drunken robots), looked like it was ripped straight out of "The Sound of Music." I probably would have begun the catcalls or started singing, "The hills are alive ...," but for the fact that I was on a date and therefore keeping the door to my cynical depths not altogether shut but slightly ajar, not wishing to reveal all at once the true measure of this fully armed and operational Asshole Station to a charming and unsuspecting young lady.
The worst aspect of the movie? Given the opportunity to dramatize the Macbethian psychological process that transforms a talented Jedi knight into one of the great villains of American culture, Darth Vader, George Lucas completely blows it. Let's start with the actor, Hayden Christensen. He has a sweet stroke with the light saber, reminiscent of Gary Gait or Ken Griffey Jr., which is important and all, but unfortunately more was demanded of him: namely, delivering Lucas's awful dialogue. The only person who's up to the challenge in this department is Ewan McGregor, as Obi-Wan, but he too gets bogged down. (Cristopher Lee turns lemons into lemonade as Count Dooku. He must have gone into a deep hypnotic state in order to avoid mental paralysis induced by the contradiction between his menacing character and his silly name. Surely Count Dooku is an appellation to be bestowed upon a pet hamster and not a Jedi Master?) I suppose because he can't think of a better, more subtle way to do it (explain Anakin>Darth), Lucas makes Obi-Wan come across as a nagging dillweed whose didacticism spurs Anakin towards what he conceives of as independence and, ultimately, towards the dark side.
Episode III, "Anakin Polishes His Helmet," yet looms around the corner, so we don't know what else Lucas has in store for us as far as the elder Skywalker's development. But so far, the factors pushing him toward evil appear to be about as profound as a child's frustration at having to eat his or her vegetables before going out to play. Returning to Christensen's performance: his leaden response when Senator Portman admits her love for him calls to mind an imperative command from the beginning of "Strange Brew" - "Psst! Act!" Of course, Lucas is a director who, legend has it, possesses only one cue for actors on-set: "Faster! More intense!"
One of Lucas's major errors here was deciding to drive the story with a needlessly byzantine plot rather than with character development. It ought to be a pretty straightforward story and Lucas renders it almost incomprehensible. If only Lucas had filled the spaces in between the action scenes with some acting rather than exposition. What acting there was was largely filmed against a blue screen. I found the meeting between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett compelling if only because the tension between the two characters and the brightly lit and vaguely creepy white interior called to mind the scene at the beginning of the original Star Wars when Darth Vader storms Princess Leia's ship. This scene between Fett and Kenobi -- which was positively claustrophobic in comparison with the rest of the film's wide-open, animated landscapes -- evoked the possibilities for true drama and suspense that Lucas managed to let slip through his fingers.
Here's a question: at the end, when Count Dooku returns to confer with Darth "Yo yo yo I'm In-sid-i-ous" Sidious (who is, of course, the alter ego of Senator/Chancellor Palpatine), what planet is he on? I presume it's Coruscant (though this is never stated), because in the next scene we witness Palpatine and the Jedis on Coruscant overseeing the departure of the Army of the Republic. So, assuming that Palpatine can't be in two places at once and that Darth Sidious is on Coruscant, what are the logistics? Does he have two offices in the same building, one "evil" and one "good"? Does he doff his heavy, woolen, black, hooded Emperor cloak, spray some Binaca in his mouth, walk through a pair of sliding doors and enter his regular office, where Yoda and Samuel L. Jackson are waiting for him? In which case, not awfully perceptive for Jedis, they are. What if one day he's in a hurry and he forgets to take off the hood?
Aide: "Um, Senator Palpatine?"
Palpatine (hisses evilly): "Yes?"
Aide: "Your, uh, your clothes ... Is it hailing outside by any chance?"
Palpatine: Impudent fool! What are you ...? Ah, yes. (resumes normal speaking voice) Why, of course. It was hailing outside. Naturally. That will be all, thank you."
Aide: "Yes, sir. Your secret is safe with me, sir."
Aide: "Your secret, sir. I won't, uh, I won't tell anyone."
Palpatine (defiantly): "What secret?!"
Aide: "Nothing. It's just, if you ever need to, you know, have someone assasinated, I'm your man."
Palpatine (with a nervous gesture he accidentally emits a crackling bolt of electricity from his fingertips that strikes and incinerates his pet Cockatoo, which falls to the floor of its cage, smoking): "Oh drat! I've killed Count Dooku. (turning to aide) Ahem. I don't know what you're talking about."
Postscript: Like everyone else in the world, I thought the Yoda fight scene was kick-ass.
Post-postscript: When young Boba Fett picks up and examines his father's helmet ("I'm going to carry on your tradition, Dad!") after Samuel L. Jackson decapitates him, Jango Fett's head must still have been inside, right? And I guess the fact that blood was not gushing from the helmet (this applies to Anakin's arm too, when Dooku lops it off) is explained by the light saber's instant cauterization of the wounds it inflicts? How annoying is Boba Fett, anyway? "Go get him, dad! You're the best! Your death and the fact that I look up to you so much will define my adult character!" Also, why does Anakin get a gold claw for a hand? Is it just for the obvious symbolism that he's going to become more machine than man? In "The Empire Strikes Back" Luke gets a real-looking prosthetic hand. I guess maybe there's a tremendous leap forward in prosthesis technology coming over the next 20 years.