A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ... (cue music)
This fifth installment in the Star Wars saga takes place 10 years after the events of Episode I - The Phantom Menace. After serving her maximum tenure as Naboo’s queen, Padmé Amidala now represents her people as a prominent senator. Anakin is bristling under the tutelage of his Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is critical of his increasingly arrogant, undisciplined and restless young apprentice. Anakin is brash and immature, and hopelessly smitten with Amidala, whom he hasn’t seen since he was knee-high to a womprat.
The trio is drawn back together amid political unrest. Several thousand solar systems threaten to secede from the Republic. Fear of separatist aggression and some diabolical posturing by Sith Lords have led to mysterious attempts on Amidala’s life. Anakin is assigned to protect her. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan investigates the assassination plot, only to stumble upon an army of clones that have been secretly created for the Republic—unbeknownst to the Jedi council. Ostensibly, the clone army is meant to help the limited Jedi keep peace should the separatists cause trouble. But Star Wars fans know better. The ambitious Palpatine (now Chancellor, soon to be Emperor) has been manipulating members of the Senate and preparing this cloned fighting force to do his bidding as he takes over the galaxy. The fact that Palpatine provides an understanding shoulder for the angst-ridden Anakin further foreshadows the boy’s eventual move to the dark side.
Elsewhere in Episode II, Anakin returns to Tattooine to reconnect with his mother; Jar Jar Binks gets sent on a political snipe hunt; Obi-Wan, Anakin, Amidala and Yoda square off against a corrupt Jedi named (insert maniacal cackle here) Count Dooku; and we meet the future adoptive parents of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, the Force-fed twins destined to be born of the Anakin/Amidala union. The film ends on a note that is both sweet and ominous.
positive elements: The Jedi are taught to serve others sacrificially and show compassion. They also shun material possessions so as not to be ensnared by them. Amidala is a true servant of her people, honorable and brave in her attempt to fight injustice and preserve peace. When Obi-Wan is in trouble, it is she who determines to save him. The friends and comrades bail each other out on several occasions. The bond of family compels Anakin to track down his missing mother. Although not seen through to its conclusion in this chapter, Anakin’s vengeance and hatred in one scene will prove to be pivotal in his move toward the dark side and his embracing of evil—a cautionary moment for fans. Positive statements are made about democracy and civility. Viewers learn that a farmer who purchased a woman as a slave later became her loving husband, liberating her. The institution of marriage is also upheld in the film’s closing moments as Anakin and Amidala tie the knot. A tense relationship between the critical Obi-Wan and the headstrong young man he’s trying to mentor offers parents and teens a chance to discuss their own power struggles related to maturity and independence.
spiritual content: Skewed theology continues to bind the galaxy together via The Force. In this film—as in the others—good and bad Jedi levitate objects, manipulate matter and use the power of suggestion on the weak-minded. Here Yoda is even shown teaching a class full of young children to clear their minds and "feel" The Force.
"I put The Force into the movie in order to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people," Lucas told Time magazine prior to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. "I would hesitate to call The Force God. It’s designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery. . . . What form their faith takes is not the point of the movie."
While the Star Wars saga acknowledges a type of spiritual warfare similar to that described in Ephesians 6:12, the concept of The Force clearly contradicts biblical truth. It’s a derivation of New Age pantheism. Instead of a personal God of divine character, The Force is an impersonal stream of energy that only a select few can tap into. This will no doubt alienate many Christian families. Others, however, will view this pervasive pop-culture mythology as an opportunity to discuss the differences between "biblical fact" and "Force fiction" (for more than 10 years, professor Roy Anker and his students at Calvin College have been analyzing Star Wars’ religious themes in his course, "Finding God in the Movies").
If only someone had helped a curious kid named George Lucas make the distinction years ago. He claims, "I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, ‘If there’s only one God, why are there so many religions?’ I’ve been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that all of the religions are true." That theological hodgepodge is reflected in The Force.
sexual content: Padmé wears formfitting and sometimes revealing costumes. Her cleavage and midriff is exposed at times. Scantily clad women populate a club.
violent content: Flurries of action violence occur throughout the film, including hand-to-hand combat with lightsabers, shootouts with blasters, etc. A climactic battle lays waste to countless battle droids, clone soldiers, winged critters and a few Jedi. Placed in an arena to be killed by wild beasts, Anakin, Amidala and Obi-Wan are forced to fight their way out (the creatures devour or impale a couple of guards). In a fit of rage, Anakin slaughters an entire tribe of Sandpeople, mostly offscreen. He also cuts down the local vermin of Geonosis in self-defense. A human character in armor gets decapitated by a lightsaber (bloodless, but disturbing when the man’s son retrieves the head). Anakin loses an arm in battle. Venomous worms are released in the sleeping Amidala’s bedroom, but are sliced in two before they can strike. A bounty hunter is killed with a poison dart. Count Dooku shoots electricity from his fingertips, incapacitating his enemies. A Jedi falls to his death. Jango Fett fires on Obi-Wan’s ship with intent to kill. An assassin’s bomb destroys Amidala’s transport, causing the death of her decoy.
crude or profane language: The usually vulgar phrase "what the ..." is not completed.
drug and alcohol content: Obi-Wan requests a drink at a bar, yet declines "death sticks" (the equivalent of cigarettes) in a humorous moment that is clearly the film’s anti-tobacco statement.
other negative elements: Anakin is assigned to security detail as the lone protector of Amidala, which adds up to two unchaperoned adolescents bouncing around the cosmos and sharing a secluded villa (they couldn’t at least send a droid along?). Also, young viewers may be attracted to Anakin for all the wrong reasons. He is an intergalactic James Dean—Top Gun’s Maverick with a smoldering self-importance. Of course, the same could be said of Han Solo in the original Star Wars, but the beauty of that character was how he evolved from an arrogant mercenary to a selfless patriot in his three-film arc. Anakin is headed in the other direction. He resents the authority placed over him and trusts only his raw talent. No one can teach him anything. Since he gets the girl in the end, that cockiness could be misconstrued as a virtue rather than a liability. Young viewers need to understand that it’s not noble or attractive, but rather a character flaw that will ultimately lead to the young man’s downfall.
conclusion: Having addressed several issues that had die-hard fans wondering if Lucas had lost his touch following The Phantom Menace, this follow-up is a wild, satisfying adventure. It has, however, lost the carefree, organic quality of the earlier films and adopted a calculating, connect-the-plot-dots efficiency that seems overly aware of its own cultural significance. You wish the young actors would just relax, have fun and stop treating the material as sacred. Cornball dialogue sounded much better coming from Han Solo (Harrison Ford knew it was lame and didn’t take it so seriously) than intimidated young actors who treat it like Shakespeare.
As always, the effects and locales are visually stunning. And while the story is a bit sluggish early on and the love story suffers from clunky dialogue and a lack of chemistry, Attack of the Clones is entertaining when it shifts into high gear. Who knew Yoda was such a whirling dervish with a lightsaber? Parents who permitted young children watch the more kid-friendly Phantom Menace should think twice about this installment. There’s a darker tone with more potentially disturbing conflict. And while some families will feel comfortable navigating the dubious spirituality of The Force, others may decide it’s not worth the effort. Five down, one to go.