Best for: Kids 8 and up who are mature enough to handle the "dark side."
The plot: Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, 10 years have passed since The Phantom Menace. An assassin threatens the life of Sen. Padmé Amidala (Nathalie Portman). The Republic asks Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) to guard the young senator. Obi-Wan orders Anakin to protect Padmé while Obi-Wan tracks down the assassin, and Anakin and Padmé fall in love. When powers collide and evil leaders use clones to destroy the Jedi, only the force can save the Republic. Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Kenny Baker, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Smits and Anthony Daniels.
The good: Director George Lucas creates a memorable visual buffet with spectacular special effects, colorful creatures, beautiful scenery, creative costumes and a cast of characters who begin connecting the storylines of the current and former trilogies.
This latest episode, with its creepy creatures, thousands of clones attacking thousands of soldiers, and incredible and beautiful scenery, reminded me of the old Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts movies. Some of my favorite scenes were filmed at Lake Como in Italy, with its breathtaking waterfalls and locations.
Anakin is now a teenager, so Episode II spends time on the budding romance between Anakin and Padmé. Christensen and Portman do an excellent job of creating romantic tension, but I kept thinking, "If this is 10 years later and Anakin is only 16, isn't Padmé in her twenties? And would an older twenty-something woman fall for a 16-year-old?" Not in today's galaxy, but I guess it works in theirs.
A few of the characters we grew to love in Menace are back (McGregor, Jackson) as well as one that wasn't so popular (the annoying Jar Jar), but my favorite character in this installment has to be the spry and younger Yoda, spouting his sage wisdom and nimbly kick-fighting with the dark forces.
Half the fun of seeing a Star Wars movie is the audience experience and reaction. From the opening theme song to the large white letters that begin, "Long ago in a galaxy far, far away," the audience I saw the movie with was pumped. But by the time R2-D2 and C-3PO get to trade their verbal barbs and a final battle that plays like a sci-fi Gladiator complete with Jedi knights defending themselves against bizarre and hungry beasts, the audience seemed less emotionally involved, as if they were just trying to keep up with the storyline.
I liked that Lucas doesn't dwell on the dark side very much in Episode II. There isn't any scene too ominous or heavy. Watching the many computerized battle scenes is absolutely fascinating. No one can beat Lucas for special effects that push the envelope. This movie works because the audience so desperately wants it to. Lucas has a built-in cult fan base that will enjoy this movie no matter what he puts on the screen.
Ardent fans lined up for days to be the first to buy a ticket and see a midnight screening, just so they could say they saw it first. But all this movie really does is prime the pump for Lucas' last installment, which I hope will deliver on a different level than this one. I hope that story will harken back to what worked in the original: an exciting plot mixed with characters we can laugh at, cry with and grow to love. And hopefully that movie won't be too far, far away!
The bad: I eagerly anticipated this latest installment, but the exhausting plot details leave little time for character development. Remember how we fell in love with Han Solo and Luke? Remember how Chewbacca made us laugh? How Liam Neeson was really cool? And how could we forget America's crush on the Ewoks? Well, that's precisely my point! No one character really stands out in this movie (besides Yoda), and the audience I saw it with hardly laughed at any of the "humorous" moments (not a good sign). Usually there's one character that the audience is rooting for, but this episode has little suspense; we know the outcome.
Offensive language and behavior: A couple of curse words. We see Anakin's temper gradually develop until he explains how he wiped out a village of creatures who held his mother prisoner.
Sexual situations: A couple of kissing scenes but nothing sexual.
Violence: Several battle scenes, but the violence is more along the lines of laser sword fights, creepy carnivorous aliens trying to devour Jedi knights and a scene where Anakin seeks revenge for the death of his mother by wiping out the whole camp (off camera).
Parental advisory: If you have little ones who get bad dreams from seeing creepy creatures, or if they are frightened by lots of fighting, then you probably shouldn't take them to see this movie.
It's a wrap: I enjoyed this movie and found it to be not nearly as dark as I thought, but it's not one of my favorites from the series. I took my 15 year-old son along, and we tried to get into the spirit of the movie. But with the lack of any real character development and a plot so busy it keeps the viewer from connecting with any of the characters, I'd have to say this episode leaves you feeling a little on the "dark side." May the force be with the next one!